Healthcare in the next 100 years: 5 major challenges every startup will have to contend with

To make a lasting difference in the world, healthcare startups need to not only address the problems facing the continent today, but also plan for the challenges of tomorrow. Here the Accelerator of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany rounds up the top trends that are expected to transform the face of healthcare over the coming decades.

High rural population

While the rural population is steadily declining, nearly half of the world’s population still live in rural areas. In the least economically developed areas, including large parts of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, an average of 68% of the population still live in rural areas. In many of these remote areas, electricity and internet access is often unreliable, or simply absent, and the level of access to and/or affinity with digital technologies may be low. The lack of physical logistical infrastructure on many parts of the developing world, such as good quality roads, exacerbates the isolation of some of these communities, making physical access to healthcare a challenge for many across the continent. Successfully integrating the rural population into the general healthcare system will remain a challenge in the coming decades.

Startups will continue having to build leaner, more intuitive and – where possible – lay-operated devices and interfaces for these communities. They will also need to develop ways of delivering highly specialised and technically advanced treatments cheaply and effectively in and/or to the most remote areas with the most extreme climates. Compounding the challenge of caring for the rural population will be the continuing low penetration of reliable electricity and internet access in the coming decades – innovations designed for use in rural areas will need to be able to work offline and off-grid.

Growing Population

With life expectancy and infant mortality rates improving, the population increase across the globe is expected to carry on apace, contributing 54% of the world’s population increase by 2050. This will place an increasing burden on all parts of the healthcare ecosystem, making optimal efficiency at all stages of healthcare crucial to effective medical provision.

A growing population will also exacerbate the problem of low doctor density in many parts of the world. Even with rising standards in public education and access to information via the internet, healthcare startups have their work cut out for them make the one-on-one time between patients and doctors more meaningful, or eliminate the need for it altogether, to allow doctors to focus on circumstances where human-to-human care is strictly necessary. One way that this will be achieved (and is already being achieved) is by developing ways of carrying out routine tests and diagnostics remotely and/or digitally, or by using emerging technologies such as AI to provide some forms of primary healthcare.

The demographic and structural challenges facing e-health innovators not only make the continent the perfect cradle for the next generation of game-changing digital healthcare innovations, they also make it a perfect proving ground for scalable innovations in the rest of the world.

Ageing Population

While the young population continues to grow in some parts of the world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, falling birth rates and improved medical care mean that the ageing population is set to grow in the future, to 4.5% of the total population by 2030. An ageing population is associated with higher rates of physical and mental conditions, as well as a rise in chronic conditions. There will also be rising demand for innovations relating to conditions associated with old age, such as dementia and arthritis, and associated (self-)caregiving and health management.


While the urban population in Africa is expected to double between 2015 and 2035, increased urbanisation is not expected to be solely a product of rural-urban migration. Rather, a large part of the increased urban population will be the result of general population growth. This is going to lead to further strain on already over-burdened healthcare systems in urban areas and quicker spreads of infectious diseases. Logistical problems associated with large urban areas, such as access to clean water and sanitary facilities, and environmental sustainability will also become major health concerns in the coming decades. Improving monitoring and efficiency in all areas, but in particular with regard to quick, centralised data-sharing for strategic planning and containing outbreaks of communicable diseases, will be in higher demand in decades to come, as will innovations in efficient and renewable energy sources.

The changing role of women

As women take an increasingly prominent role in public and professional life, they tend to start having fewer children, and having their first child later. As a result, we can expect an increasing demand for services catering to the maternal health of older mothers and their children. The increasing financial power wielded by women will also support more demand for innovative services relating to women’s health, such as contraception, menstrual management and sexual health provisions.

The Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany Accelerator Programm

The demographic and cultural changes of a rapidly industrialising and digitalising world will make the healthcare startup sector particularly dynamic in the coming decades.
Our Accelerator is looking for ambitious startups in digital healthcare for its Fall 2017 program. The Accelerator runs from September 4, 2017 to December 15, 2017. The application deadline is June 26, 2017. There are only two weeks left to apply, so hurry! Please apply here for Germany and here for Kenya


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