The pandemic-induced digital transformation has dramatically changed how industries across the world offer services to their customers.
But while it’s possible to book a flight to another part of the world in mere minutes or have groceries delivered in 20 minutes, the same speed and convenience of services have been much slower in the healthcare sector, where there remains a gap between what traditional services can maintain and what patients need.
“It’s always so hard to find the right solution for [patients] because classic and traditional clinics are working maybe five days a week and close quite [early in the day]. They [also] have lunch breaks and don’t have all the services that patients need,” Alessandro Ambrosio, CEO and co-founder of Italy-based digital health platform EpiCura, told PYMNTS in an interview.
However, while technology plays an essential role in innovating and improving healthcare services, Ambrosio said striking the right balance between technology and a human touch is crucial — what he referred to as a “phygital” omnichannel model.
“We want to disrupt healthcare, but if you [focus solely on] technology, you always lose the human side, so we want to merge the two sides by using technology to reduce the timings and provide more quality services, but still have people on the other side,” Ambrosio added.
Launched in 2017, the Turin, Italy-based startup currently serves over 5,000 customers in major Italian cities, offering a range of services, from standard healthcare services like medical doctors and nurses and physiotherapists to round-the-clock home care for the elderly, including short-term and live-in care.
Buoyed by a recent €5 million ($5.5 million) capital injection, the firm is looking to expand into new cities, opening two physical stores in Milan and Turin by April this year in line with the phygital model they’ve adopted so far, which Ambrosio said is the right approach to building trust when offering healthcare services.
“We want to be there where people need us, not only on the phone, not only on the app, but also in person because in the end, EpiCura is healthcare whenever and wherever you need it, [and that means] flexibility not only in time, but also in space,” he noted.
Regulatory Barriers in HealthTech
Navigating the regulatory environment is often a pain point for startups looking to innovate the healthcare sector in Europe. However, while it’s challenging to operate within such a heavily regulated sector, Ambrosio said new regulations put forward by Italy’s government showed that digital healthcare services were being made a priority.
For example, the government is now expanding the availability of teleconsultations and remote care in a bid to reduce people visiting hospitals for every problem. Thanks to public sector investment in the digitization of healthcare processes, the number of staff needed to perform administrative tasks has been reduced, allowing skilled healthcare professionals to focus on the most important tasks.
Yet still, given the lack of clarity in standards of practice, more needs to be done to ease the regulatory framework in favor of HealthTech startups.
“For example, teleconsultations and video consultations are not considered equal as in-person consultations, so it’s always unclear if you can get a prescription during a video consultation, even though you are sure that you can have it when you see the doctor in-person,” Ambrosio explained.
But overall, he said the value of virtual consultations has become increasingly clear in the wake of the pandemic, and businesses like EpiCura have risen to challenge.
At a time when hospital beds were in high demand, offering virtual appointments kept hospitals available for emergency cases, as several other cases like chronic diseases and seeking second opinions were delivered through digital means.
“The last few years have been a huge opportunity for us as health digital healthcare providers to let the government understand that our solutions are high quality and are much needed in an environment where people don’t want to go to the doctor’s office every time,” he said.