Healthech business ideas: the best for 2022 – Startups.co.uk

Healthtech is due for a huge year ahead, and small businesses looking to launch in this sector have plenty of cause for confidence. The technology can be complex, and sensitivity to patient needs must be paramount, but developing digital tools to make people healthier and happier has a clear appeal for emerging entrepreneurs.
Last year alone, the UK healthtech sector attracted over £2.9bn in funding. In fact, healthtech is the UK’s second-biggest tech sector in terms of venture capital investment.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced an immediate evolution in healthtech, and one that will have long-term impact. It demonstrated just how well remote medicine can work, and the vital role tech has to play in disease prevention and treatment.
Healthtech is a big, diverse sector, but we’ve picked out four areas that are expected to grow rapidly in 2022 and beyond and could be great to get involved in:
Last year, we picked out on-demand health and wellness as a business idea, which covered things like Zoom gym classes and wellness apps.
Now, there’s the on-demand pharmacy.
Pharmacies haven’t really changed much for hundreds of years. You get sick, you go to the place with the medicine to make you feel better, you pay for it, and you (hopefully) feel better. And, if you have an ongoing condition, you go there again and again and… well, you get the idea.
Now though, a bunch of startups are dragging the pharmacy into the 21st century, and the COVID-19 pandemic means this new approach is needed more than ever.
You sign up, select the medicine you have a prescription for and how much you’ve been prescribed, pay for it, and then it’s delivered to your door. If you have a repeat prescription, then the service will remind you when it’s time to order again. You still need a GP to write the original prescription (although as we’ll see later, you might be able to do this online too), but as for the rest of the process, you need never step into a pharmacy if you don’t want to.
During the past two years, these services rapidly went from handy to vital, with vulnerable patients able to stay at home and still get their medicine.
This triggered huge growth in online pharmacy, with the dispensing volume increasing by 45% from 2019 to 2020 alone.
Like so many things, once we got a taste for the convenience of simply having our prescription medications delivered, we didn’t really want to go back to the old ways.
A number of startups have benefited from this shift, including Echo (No. 36 in the 2020 Startups 100), Pharmacy2u and Medicine Direct.
Jon Higham, managing director of Medicine Direct, says that prioritising patient safety and creating personal relationships are key.
On patient safety, he notes that Medicine Direct has identity checks in place “to make sure that people are who they say they are when ordering with us”.
Moreover, “it is essential that online consultations are more comprehensive and provide our prescribers with a full picture when it comes to a patient’s health, symptoms, diagnosis and medical history.”
In terms of building relationships with patients, Jon explained that:
“The online pharmacy sector is still a growing space, with many people yet to warm to the idea of their healthcare being managed by a doctor or pharmacist that they have never met.”
To try to build that trust, Medicine Direct ensures that patients know exactly who is assessing their online consultations, gives them direct access to healthcare professionals, fact-checks every medical claim, and lists a named author for all of its content.
Start an online pharmacy
This does require some specialist knowledge. But while companies like Echo and Medicine Direct have made their mark, the sector still has huge potential. Despite the growth already recorded, the online pharmacy sector still only represents approximately 4% of the overall UK pharmacy market, so there’s plenty of opportunity for new entrants.
Help existing pharmacies get online
If you don’t fancy starting an online pharmacy from scratch, then you could work with the UK’s existing network of pharmacies. For example, if you’re a web designer, then you could specialise in creating stylish and informative pharmacy websites that easily let people order online, and offer guidance for online consultations.
We’re in the midst of a social care crisis, with Age UK finding that 1.6m people aged 65+ don’t receive the care and support they need for essential living activities.
And it’s only going to get worse. There are going to be more and more elderly people as we progress through this century, who are going to have a range of needs to be catered to.
The existing setup is quite frankly not up to this. Decades of funding cuts means it’s often extremely difficult and time consuming to access care (which can be anything from help with chores like shopping or washing up to administering treatment for debilitating conditions), and only a small percentage of people get government help.
For example, research by The King’s Fund think tank found that, between 2016 and 2020, the number of people requesting social care support increased by 120,000, but the number of people receiving long or short-term support fell by 14,000.
The upcoming increase in national insurance to help pay for the UK’s rapidly mounting social care bill should help a bit, but tech has a crucial role to play too.
For example, Cera Care placed second in this year’s Startups 100 and combines an army of professionally trained care assistants with an app-based approach that means carers spend less time filling in paperwork. Patients can even arrange home visits within 24 hours.
The really clever bit is that Cera’s tech can predict and prevent health deteriorations before they occur, helping to manage conditions like dementia and diabetes without the need for hospitalisation.
To solve a different need, Lisa Robinson founded Companiions after a long career in advertising. Again, the service is app-based, and people can quickly and easily book the help they need. However, as the name suggests, this is less about advanced medical care and more about ensuring that people can easily access help with basic daily tasks – or just a friendly face for a few hours to ensure their safety and help stave off loneliness.
The app connects “organisers” (generally the children or partners of the people who need assistance) with self-employed “companions” that offer their services at times that suit them. Companions explain the skills they have in their profiles and organisers can then choose accordingly, guided by reviews and geographic locations.
There’s no long-term commitment, making Companiions a great fix for elderly people that just need occasional assistance rather than regular care.
Companiions founder Lisa Robinson shared her thoughts on the sector and gave some advice for any potential new entrants.
Firstly, she pointed out the simple demographics that are driving the growth of the care sector, citing ONS (Office of National Statistics) data that over 60s currently make up 23% of the UK population, and that the number of 85+ year olds is expected to double by 2041.
Just as importantly, “increased globalisation has resulted in people working longer hours away from their loved ones, and this has put extra pressure on a care sector that now needs to grow exponentially to meet the demand”.
Lisa therefore argues that “there’s a requirement for a new category of care, one that combines health and wellbeing, social interaction and common interests rather than the previous ethos of go in, get the job done and leave”.
Finally, Lisa had the following words of wisdom for anyone thinking of starting a care app business:
“Think about what differentiates you from the norm – what are the customer pain points in the current system (lack of supply) and what do loved ones want (to stay safely and affordably at home). Make sure you build a business around the needs of your customers and use feedback to build a truly helpful platform.”
Develop a care app
While this might sound like it would require some serious technical expertise, you can always outsource that part if you need to.
The crucial part is the idea behind your app, so try to think about problems in the current care system and how they could be solved – it might be a good idea to focus on how people manage specific conditions rather than trying to provide a universal fix.
For example, assistive technology company How do I? worked with the Alzheimer’s Society to develop the Refresh app. It aims to support people with dementia by linking personalised videos to objects in the home, helping people remember daily routines and even reminding them of cherished memories.
Start a digital training business
It feels like the real barrier for care apps is that the elderly demographic they’re supposed to help doesn’t, for the most part, use apps.
You could help combat this by setting up a business that will teach people how to use advanced technology like smartphones and help them to find their place in a modern world that is becoming increasingly reliant on digital devices.
Telemedicine – talking to a doctor via a video or telephone call instead of in person – is not exactly new (the first attempts were made in the early 1900s).
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the perception of telemedicine. It suddenly went from a strange novelty to a necessity, especially for vulnerable patients that could be endangered by a visit to their doctor.
The shift was dramatic, with one GP telling the New York Times that “we’re basically witnessing 10 years of change in one week”. He added “it used to be that 95% of patient contact was face to face, but that has changed completely”.
All of a sudden, GPs were spending lots of their time doing online consultations via video chat to help patients that were either unwilling or unable to come to them.
Initially, this was a bit of an ad hoc solution, with GPs using tools like Zoom to conduct basic video calls with their patients, and then responding accordingly.
Then, clinics moved to using accuRx software, which offered basic video calls and was already familiar to doctors as they previously used it to send text messages to patients.
However, Babylon Health, which is one of the biggest names in healthtech and recently went public with a £3bn valuation, sees things rather differently.
Video and telephone consultations are a core part of its business model, with patients able to pay to see GPs within a few hours rather than waiting days for an appointment at their local surgery.
Like on-demand medication, this is another trend that looks like it’s going to outlast the pandemic that made it common practice, and could be a big opportunity for new healthtech businesses.
Telemedicine training
While there are definitely similarities, delivering telemedicine effectively requires different skills to the ones traditionally taught to GPs. Those practicing telemedicine have to communicate differently, interact with their patients in new ways, and find a different way to develop the trust that is so crucial in a patient-doctor relationship.
For example, a GP doing a video chat consultation can’t give a nervous patient a reassuring pat on the shoulder – so they need to find an alternative way to calm patients, perhaps by lowering the tone of their voice, speaking more slowly, or even telling a joke.
This is even more important in the case of remote GPs, who will probably never meet their patients in person.
Therefore, with the rise of telemedicine, communications specialists or psychologists could find a great niche in teaching GPs and other medical staff the best way to interact with their patients over video chat.
Telemedicine apps
Telemedicine is still at a relatively early stage of its development, and has only been widely adopted in the last couple of years. This means that it’s far from set in stone how best to go about things, and this is a great opportunity for innovative approaches to online consultations and groundbreaking telemedicine communication apps.
There’s a real argument that the whole process should be reconsidered from the ground up, with an emphasis on how to help patients explain their symptoms and how doctors can best quickly diagnose them and give appropriate advice.
If telemedicine is going to gain widespread acceptance, then we also need to think about how it can help all of society – including people with more complex conditions and those who don’t speak English as a first language.
Both of these are very exciting areas for new businesses.
People are getting pregnant later in life – with official figures showing that the average age of mothers has been steadily increasing since 1974 and stood at 30.7 years in 2019 (the most recent data available). This means they’re also needing more help to conceive, and there’s a huge market opportunity for any tech that helps this process along.
Globally, analysis by Grand View Research found that the total IVF market is expected to be worth approximately £25.6bn by 2028, more than double the 2020 value – and a number of startups are bidding to take advantage of this growth.
Among these is NOW-fertility, which is set to launch in Spring 2022 and bills itself as the “next generation of IVF” – a hybrid approach that’s going to combine in-person treatment with telemedicine to produce a less stressful and more efficient IVF experience.
Luciano Nardo, NOW-fertility’s founder, points out that “assisted conception helps diverse groups of people, including same-sex and trans couples and individuals, single people, post-cancer patients, older women and patients with hereditary conditions or diseases”.
However, “fertility treatment remains emotionally and physically exhausting” and clinics are limited by the number of patients in their local area and the number of patients they can physically accommodate.
Instead, Professor Nardo sees a future where “fertility services, and indeed other healthcare services, will be typified by a digital portal run by experienced physicians, nurses, and counsellors, offering 24/7, personalised and supportive consultancy and care”.
The ultimate goal is for patients to feel in control of the process, and able to access support whenever they need it.
Another key area in fertility tech is male infertility, which is a largely untapped market and one that has huge potential.
Dr Benjamin Tee and Prusothman Raja co-founded twoplus fertility after Tee experienced his own fertility problems, and say that it’s far too often dismissed as a female problem.
In fact, Raja points out that “average sperm count among men has halved in the last 40 years, while couples still struggle to get accessible fertility care” – but relatively little has been done to combat this.
Consequently, he argues that “focussing on solutions that make fertility care more accessible, frequent and affordable will help to unlock tremendous value for couples”.
And twoplus has already started down this road with its first product, the twoplus Sperm Guide, an at-home fertility aid that is designed to help sperm get to the right place during sex.
Fertility counselling
No matter how the assisted conception process changes in the next few years, it’s always going to be a stressful and emotionally draining experience.
Many couples will therefore need specialist support to get through it on a psychological level.
Given that the usage of such services is only expected to increase, there is a real opportunity for counsellors and therapists to specialise in this area and provide expert support and understanding.
With the rise of telemedicine, you should ensure that you’re able to deliver this crucial service in multiple ways, whether that’s in person or via a video chat.
Male fertility education
Men are gradually facing up to the vital role they play in the conception process, and many are now keen to take co-ownership of the reproductive health journey.
However, there’s a knowledge gap here. While female reproductive health has been discussed for decades, its male counterpart has been largely ignored.
Something that tackles the subject from a male perspective, then, could have a big audience – whether that’s a simple book or even a mobile app that guides men through what they should be doing to help their partner conceive.
Healthtech is not just a business idea for the next few years – it’s going to be a hugely important business trend for (at least) the next few decades.
The shift towards an aging population isn’t changing anytime soon, and that means finding new ways to combat health problems is going to surge up the agenda.
We’ve picked out a few key growth areas here but there are loads of others, from menopause tech to high-tech period pants.
Healthtech affects us all, and so it’s hugely fertile ground for the next generation of superstar startups.

Alec is Startups’ resident expert on politics and finance. He’s provided live updates on the budget, written guides on investing and property development, and demystified topics like corporation tax, accounting software, and invoice discounting. Before joining, he worked in the media for over a decade, conducting media analysis at Kantar Media and YouGov, and writing a wide variety of freelance pieces.
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