The doctor will see you now – wherever you happen to be. Telemedicine has existed for years, but in mere months, COVID-19 has moved the technology from the margins of health care to standard operating procedure.
“We are seeing a lot more medical care being delivered digitally, which has been promised for a long time and just got accelerated [by the pandemic],” said Walter Wodchis, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation.
Advancements in telemedicine and other technology, which are making delivery of health care more efficient and productive, should quicken investors' pulse, he says.
Earlier this year, Deloitte published a health tech investment trends report, which forecasts an increase in spending on health care delivery technology to the point that “by 2040, health care as we know it today, will no longer exist.”
That was in March. Since then, Peter Micca, one of the report’s authors and a partner in Deloitte’s life sciences and health care division, says, “Our proposition of the future of health has accelerated, and we believe that many of the changes that we were contemplating will likely occur much more quickly.”
Health care can be a cure for ailing portfolios, providing tremendous opportunities for growth thanks partly to technological advances in medical science. In these uncertain times, the health sector is also largely recession-resistant. Because of its nature, it’s less sensitive to the economic cycle and contains a diverse range of products and services.
But what holds the most promise as the next big thing? Paul MacDonald, chief investment officer at Harvest ETFs, recommends focusing on two areas in which innovation is exploding. One is in immunotherapies, which are drugs that effectively use your own immune system to target various diseases. And in the medical device space, robotic-assisted surgeries are at the forefront.
For Mr. Micca, telemedicine remains intriguing. Two reasons for its rise this year are the removal of regulatory barriers to allow physicians to treat across jurisdictions and reimbursements for telemedicine visits at a reasonable rate. It’s unlikely that we’ll return to the status quo, he says. “The barn door is open. It is going to be virtually impossible, I think, to roll back the changes that have occurred.”
Greg Button, president of global health care services at organizational consultancy Korn Ferry, says investors looking for the shortest-term gains should seek out the largest players already in the health care tech space. Pick them over new entrants, no matter how well funded the latter might be, he advises.
“There are some cutting edge companies that are just too far ahead of the market,” Mr. Button says.
For example, some advances tie into the shift in models from fee-for-service to outcomes-based or values-based care. That relies on data and might make sense, but the investment thesis “is a tricky one,” Mr. Button says. “Delivery of care is different from investing in some new drug or biotech company.”
Health care is one of the sectors being transformed the most by the “internet of things,” the phrase used to describe the interconnection of sensors and software with any number of devices.
The advances, from connected pacemakers to virtual visits, are unfolding rapidly. One way to reduce risk and capture the opportunities is to invest in global leaders that have proven businesses and the resources for research and development.
For example, Harvest Healthcare Leaders Income ETF holds 20 global companies with an average market capitalization of more than $200-billion. The biggest weightings are pharmaceuticals and health care equipment and supplies.
Investors looking for a less complicated and more profitable entry point should seek mutual funds and exchange-traded funds focused on health care technology, Mr. MacDonald says.
“My overriding message would be, ‘Don’t try to find the needle in the haystack. Instead, just own the haystack,’” Mr. MacDonald says. “Then, you can participate in the sector’s overall growth.”
*Harvest ETFs are managed by Harvest Portfolios Group Inc.
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