Healthcare is hot. Tech is hot. Put them together and you have a sector that generates a lot of enthusiasm in the investment community.
We asked three of our top healthcare contributors to share which healthcare technology excites them the most. Here are their views on which areas investors should follow closely.
Cheryl Swanson: We've made some major leaps forward in medical technology this year, in every area from bionic eyes to digestible sensors. But the innovation I'm most excited about is the bioprinting of tissues and organs to cure a myriad of injuries and illnesses.
While people can get a little giddy about the 3D printing of plastic and metal items, using a bioprinter to reproduce human organs is what could really rock our world. Applications for 3D bioprinting include:
- Body parts -- Cornell scientists have printed an artificial outer ear that looks and acts like the real thing. Organovo Holdings (NASDAQ:ONVO) is developing 3D technology that creates functional human tissues for research, with the ultimate goal of creating a human liver for transplant.
- Replacing cartilage and bone -- Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh are 3D printing stem cells to form human cartilage. If successful, this could eventually lead to a cure for osteoarthritis.
- Printing skin -- Scientists from Wake Forest University have developed a way to print skin cells directly onto burn wounds.
There are complex problems to overcome with 3D bioprinting, but the science is advancing and the promise is incredible.
Leo Sun: Wearables are a top area to watch in healthcare tech. With the recent flood of wearables into the consumer market, which sync daily activities, heart rate, hydration levels, and sleep cycles to our smartphone apps, monitoring our daily health is becoming as easy as checking the weather forecast.
To tie together all of these wearable devices and fitness apps, we're seeing a rise in "unified health apps" -- like Apple's HealthKit, Google Fit, and the newly introduced Microsoft Health app -- which collect fragmented data onto single dashboards. Of these three apps, investors should pay the most attention to HealthKit, since Apple leveraged its mobile market share to convince top EHR (electronic health record) companies like Epic, Cerner, and Athenahealth to synchronize their records with the platform. This means that when Apple launches its Apple Watch next year, mobile health data can be directly synchronized to EHRs in hospitals.
This revolutionary system -- delivering healthcare data from the wrist to the cloud, then back to the doctor -- could have explosive growth potential. According to Grand View Research, the mobile health market (fitness apps and wearables) is expected to grow from $1.95 billion in 2012 to $49 billion by 2020.
Keith Speights: While telemedicine has been around for years, the technology has only recently emerged as one of the hottest "new" developments in healthcare. From remote patient monitoring to video consultations between physicians and patients, use of telemedicine technology is gaining significant momentum.
A survey of healthcare provider executives released by Foley & Lardner LLP found that nine out of 10 have begun implementing a telemedicine program. 84% of the survey respondents said that telemedicine "will be central to the success of their organizations".
That's not surprising considering the benefits that telemedicine offers. Reaching more patients at a lower cost while making health care access more convenient -- what's not to like?
This surging interest in telemedicine has attracted plenty of vendors. Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) stands out as one of the leaders with its 2net Platform. 2net enables a wide variety of medical devices to connect wirelessly with remote systems. Over 100 applications and devices integrate with Qualcomm's 2net technology.
Reimbursement continues to be the primary obstacle for adoption of telemedicine. The scenario is improving, however, as government and private payers realize that paying for telemedicine can ultimately lower overall costs. As reimbursement increases, the use of telemedicine should soar.
Cheryl Swanson owns shares of Apple and Qualcomm. Keith Speights owns shares of Apple. Leo Sun owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Athenahealth, and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (C shares), Microsoft, and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.