Thoughts — 20 Apr 2021
By Cara Van Rhyn

Digital doctors and virtual exercise: the new era in wellbeing?

by Cara Van Rhyn

The past year has been nothing short of transformative for the health industry. Fuelling news headlines, impacting our daily routines and occupying our minds, it would be astonishing if the ways we think about and deal with our health weren’t affected. Wellness trends that were once at the fringe are rapidly becoming more mainstream as seismic shifts are being seen across all areas of our lives.

The world of work hasn’t been the only area that’s been given a digital makeover. Digital wellness is rapidly becoming more popular as we’ve been forced to stay inside. We’re used to hearing about how social media and increased screen time is leading to greater levels of depression and anxiety, but what if using our phones could impact our health in a positive way? Online healthcare services such as Push Doctor, which lets you consult with a GP over FaceTime, are seeing an increase in downloads. In fact, 26% of the UK claims they would rather use healthcare apps than visit a GP or hospital in person, and the usage of these apps has gone up by 37% since the pandemic began.

Even mental health services are expanding to the digital space. Many who are unable to seek face-to-face therapy over the past year have turned to online counselling. The search history for virtual therapists leapt up 124% when lockdown began. According to New York Magazine’s The Cut, businesses in the “digital behavioural health” space raised $1.8 billion in venture-capital funding last year, compared to $609 million in 2019.

While healthcare apps and digital appointments boom, the world of fitness is experiencing a gamification renaissance. Long gone are the days when Just Dance and Wii Fit were the only ways the gaming industry was keeping us in shape. Since gyms closed their doors, the fitness industry has seen an influx in digital disruptors like Peloton take the stage. The at-home cycling phenomenon was initially valued at $4 billion when they launched in the UK a mere three years ago. Today, they have a market cap of over $40 billion.

This has grabbed the attention of Silicon Valley as a swathe of gaming and exercise tech products are being released. Amazon’s Halo health tracking device, Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality headsets and Apple’s Fitness+ have all leveraged being stuck at home as a way to spice up our fitness routines.

The impact of the pandemic has been far reaching in the world of wellness and we can expect that these trends will create an opening in the market for a whole host of new players. So, while wellbeing hasn’t been the most positive space in the past year, we can expect its future to be innovative and bright.