Roberto Ascione (Healthware) “Digital health: the future is here”

The founder and CEO of the leading Italian digital health group, addresses the reasons why the future of healthcare is in digital transformation, the strengths and the projects his group is going to pursue with BNP Paribas Cardif

Published on 19 Dec 2019

A recent report by Acumen Research and Consulting has assessed the value of the global digital health market at around $511 billion by 2026, with impressive growth in the coming years.

This industry includes mobile health technologies, telemedicine, solutions to improve the efficiency of health care organizations, cloud technologies, etc.

This is often not perceived by laymen, and the exponential growth we are talking about is driven by a long way for digital health reaching the last ‘patient’ on this planet.

However, digital health has already been part of our lives more than we can imagine: digital health records, smartwatches monitoring our hearts, video medical advice, the apps helping us to eat healthier, play sports, sleep better, just to name some of the most common ones.

Health and personal healthcare are by far the most important industries where new technologies, software and hardware, are leading to fundamental breakthroughs. Not only as far as medical improvement is concerned, closely connected to digital technology, to data, to the Internet as well, and the like; These are exactly new opportunities to care for and support people, thus making the health system more effective, accessible, human and viable.

The health system (public and private) has always faced two opposing needs: providing the service and keeping figures, enormous in the health system, at bay. Digital health can succeed in making ends meet, turning the tables and improving the health service. In the digital health sector, as in other ‘digital’ sectors, technology is ultimately just a tool, of course powerful, but only a tool, which also gives rise to new business models, new players and new ecosystems.

Among the most relevant players in the international digital health setting is Healthware, a company founded in Italy by Roberto Ascione, based in Salerno boasting main offices in Milan, London and New York, offering strategic advisory services, projects, applications and innovative services for the health sector and which has been expanding its offer in the field of digital health and, more recently, digital therapeutics for some years now. Last January, it raised €10 million in venture capital from FII Tech Growth (the Italian Investment Fund) to finance its development and growth.

About Healthware

“Healthware has been involved in digital health for a long time; we first started in Italy over 20 years ago, now we are in several countries both in Europe and in the United States. In short, Healthware is committed to apply technology, data science, innovation, improving human health. Therefore, we support doctors, life science companies, startups, health consumers, i.e. patients, and more recently the world of health insurance, helping them to use these technologies to create solutions, experiences, and in general solve people’ health issues that technologies can certainly overcome.”, said Ascione.

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For about a year now, Healthware has also been part of the BNP Paribas Cardif health network, partnering with it to develop new digital health solutions.

Ascione adds: “Healthware considers insurance industry can play a leading role in the development of digital health, even in countries with a social health structure such as Italy or France, among others. The partnership with BNP Paribas Cardif, which has started a process to develop a series of innovative approaches to the use of technologies in the digital health and health insurance sectors, both from the point of view of the management of some diseases and from that of the management of what we call ‘consumer health’, namely the precautionary management of health in people who do not yet have diseases and who, precisely with the aid of digital health solutions, can avoid any”.

How will digital health change the health systems? Which benefits will it bring?

“I think digital health is going to deeply change health management. We are used to have the same medical treatment for everyone, or for large groups of individuals. Digital health offers a great opportunity to customize: the great data availability gives the chance to tailor a range of solutions to the individual’s needs. Since our health is as varied as it can be individually, this tailoring of medical services, treatments and caring is expected to achieve huge results.

On the other hand, digital health will increase the sustainability of systems, currently hampered by uncontrolled access to the same and by poor processes: while the new approach favoured by digital health will lead us to be healthier and therefore have to make less use of the healthcare system, at the same time the patient will find a more efficient system, encouraging systems to make better use of the available data and information in order to streamline processes and provide patients with “quicker, better, timely” access.

There are, therefore, two benefit plans, namely individual ones and those from a more general ‘economic’ perspective, in terms of sustainability of health systems”.

The ethical concerns cannot be overlooked when it comes to data. BNP Paribas Cardif is very sensitive to such issue having chosen an ethical approach to data processing, mainly aimed at leveraging data to “return value” to the customer. Its Open Innovation Call Open-F@b Call4Ideas 2019 focused on Human Data Science.

“As BNP Paribas Cardif is pursuing the concept of Human Data Science, it is very interesting and close to our philosophy, to our background in Healthware. Not by chance in my recent book ‘The future of health’ I talk about how technology will lead to make treatments more human, there will be no cold techno-medicine, but rather an increase in empathy, humanization, thanks to greater customization and extra time for physicians to focus on patients. Human Data Science is a pivotal element, a pillar underpinning the promise of digital health, namely to improve access to and customization of care, including chronic diseases; data are an integral part of the process needed to realise such a promise.”

“Ethics and privacy issues are the other pillar: data ethics is extremely important in any sector, but perhaps even more so in the area of health, the most personal information we can collect, and data are highly sensitive. In Europe we are lucky in this respect, a step forward compared to other regions worldwide, since the GDPR has provided a valuable reference framework not only for individuals, but even for players involved in innovation, having clarified the procedures to be followed to meet rather high security standards.

However, we have all somehow mastered balancing the use of our data by third parties against the value we derive from it: health is the area with the greatest value for us to gain and where we, as individuals, have to compromise if, on the other hand, there is a company that complies with the regulations in force and returns value.

I’m optimistic about this, of course there will be challenges ahead, but we have the regulatory framework, great sensitivity, a shared ‘ethical’ approach to data use. Digital health is the future of health”.

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