8 technologies driving health care M&As

Forty-eight percent of respondents to a West Monroe survey cited using technology to disrupt incumbents as one of their top drivers for making health care acquisitions. Here’s a look at what they’re buying.

intro healthcare technologies for ma
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Tech is good medicine for heath care acquisitions

The U.S. department of labor forecasts that the healthcare industry will add 4 million new jobs by 2016.

That should be a daunting prospect for anyone working in that industry — particularly given that the rising cost of healthcare (18 percent of GDP in 2016, up from 10 percent 30 years ago) means that employees don’t come cheap.

Technology is often prescribed to cut labor costs and improve productivity — and rather than develop their own cures, many health care businesses are choosing to acquire them.

The potential side effects of swallowing technology startups include improved profitability and saving on IT and compliance costs.

But which technology companies make the best medicine?

In the absence of any randomized double-blind placebo control studies of the question, technology consulting firm West Monroe Partners asked 100 senior corporate executives and investors operating in the health care space which two health care technologies they thought made the most attractive acquisition targets. Here are the eight most popular answers.

Note that not all technologies will be right for you, and some may cause unpleasant side effects. Discuss potential acquisitions with your clinician.

1 mobile technology
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Mobile technology

Mobile technology was cited by half of all respondents, and that makes sense given the emphasis that phone manufacturers such Apple are placing on gathering health information from their users and feeding it back to researchers.

Phones can already monitor patients’ heart rate and track their activity thanks to wearables such as the Fitbit, Apple Watch or Samsung Gear. Soon phones will be able to monitor blood pressure too. But the potential of mobile apps is not limited to monitoring vital signs: There’s also room for efficiency gains in filling prescriptions, booking appointments — and perhaps even in conducting consultations remotely.

2 data analytics
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Data analytics

One of the big advantages of electronic medical records (EMRs) is that they transform the traditional stack of spidery scrawl into a lake of data that’s easy to search and analyze — but how many companies are actually doing that? Put EMRs together with patient-generated health data from mobile apps and the possibilities for generating insights from data are even greater. But there’s also useful data to be analyzed within the health care industry itself, as drug company Merck found when it looked inside its ERP system.

3 blockchain
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Blockchain

Sometimes seen as IT snake oil, applications built on blockchains really can cure some of the ills of the health care industry. By creating a distributed, immutable database of health care providers’ information, they can help get the data out of providers’ proprietary databases and into an interoperable format. That alone could cut costs and speed treatment for many. There are also applications in smart health contracts and genomic sequencing. And with blockchain infrastructure available from the likes of IBM and Microsoft, it’s much easier to take this area seriously.

4 wearables
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Wearables

Wearable sensors and trackers were named by a quarter of respondents in the West Monroe survey of which technologies health care execs wanted to acquire. While their use was initially plagued by a surfeit of data that just wasn’t getting analyzed, that’s changing with the availability of new analytics tools. But it’s important to figure out what you want to do with all that data before you start collecting it.

5 telehealth tools
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Telehealth tools

With medicine becoming increasingly specialized, it’s sometimes difficult for patients to find a local expert in whatever ails you. That’s where telehealth tools come in. Whether it’s a simple videoconference between patient and care provider, or a device providing diagnostic information remotely, IT can do away with distance to the nearest doctor. Linked with mobile technology and wearables, telemedicine has great potential.

6 robotics
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Robotics

While scalpel-wielding robots may be some people’s worst nightmare, they may also be the future of surgery: They don’t get tired, they’re easy to sterilize, and they can work through minute “keyhole” incisions that would be beyond the capability of human surgeons. But they’re still dogged by high capital and operating costs and, in most cases, the need for a skilled surgeon as operator, so many hospitals can’t yet afford them. Still, advances in artificial intelligence such as machine vision and deep learning may improve the ability of surgical robots to determine what to do without the need for a human operator.

7 artificial intelligence
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Artificial intelligence

Only one in six respondents to the West Monroe questionnaire on technology acquisition targets said they would consider buying an artificial intelligence company — about as many were interested in robotics. IBM has been promoting its Watson AI as an aid in selecting cancer treatment, and in radiology, but there’s also a role for AI in more mundane activities such as claim processing and customer service.

8 virtual or augmented reality
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Virtual and augmented reality

Surgeons may not be ready to hand their scalpel to an AI-controlled robot, but they can benefit from AI in other ways. French company Qwant is using machine vision to overlay 3D medical imagery on patients’ bodies in the operating theater. This augmented reality tool allows surgeons to visualize what lies behind the tissue they’re cutting into, avoiding blood vessels or delicate membranes. Virtual reality can also be used to diagnose and to treat patients, or to train medical staff.