Growth and innovation have led to a busy year for the healthcare sector, and it doesn’t look like either will slow down anytime soon.

There’s been a flurry of M&A activity this year – the first half of 2021 was the second highest total transacted revenue in recent years. Q2 alone had $8.5 billion in transactions, along with several “megadeals” as consumer healthcare spending also continues to rise.

The sector’s improving outlook can also be attributed to the increase in new initiatives that have recently launched. Driven mostly by players in big tech and retail, these initiatives are predominantly geared toward achieving one of three recurring missions: combating effects of the pandemic, reaching underserved communities and advancing digital health innovation.

Overcoming Pandemic Challenges

Multiple tech titans have recently launched new health programs geared toward managing challenges related to the pandemic, such as treating mental health, addressing feelings of social isolation, tracking COVID variants and more.

Recognizing a need to provide resources and connection to individuals impacted by the pandemic, big-tech companies like Facebook and Uber Health developed new initiatives to help. The social media giant launched Emotional Health, a global resource center on its app to provide tips and information from leading experts in mental health.

Meanwhile, Uber Health partnered with Papa, a startup focused on tackling loneliness among seniors, to improve health outcomes by facilitating easy transportation to medical appointments.

The rapid onset and unpredictability of the pandemic necessitated radical innovation in healthcare. As a means to track the variants and slow the spread, Google collaborated with Cue Health to bring its real-time monitoring to the cloud. The initiative provides crucial information about the spread of COVID-19, including its geographic distribution.

Tackling Healthcare Disparities

Access to care and other socioeconomic factors remain as health barriers for many communities, spurring several organizations to create programs that advocate for underserved populations and those disproportionately impacted by social determinants of health (SDOH).

In September, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced a $40 million initiative to “increase access to health services for underserved communities, address social determinants of health and leverage data to promote more equitable and inclusive systems of care.”

Walmart and OptumHealth created more targeted approaches: the big-box retailer launched a digital health program aimed at tackling health disparities among African American workers, and OptumHealth started a free online course to teach providers how to effectively care for LGBTQ patients.

Rural communities often face challenges regarding access to quality care. In an effort to strengthen rural healthcare options, Sanford Health has begun a $300 million initiative to expand its graduate medical education program, invest in community health and kick-off efforts to build a virtual hospital.

Advancing Digital Health Innovation

Investment into digital health improves care for both providers and patients, and recent initiatives aim to continue this trend by enhancing the efficiency, accuracy, cost and effectiveness of healthcare.

After continuing to open care centers across the country, Walmart Health’s latest initiative is  focused on improving its digital health offerings with the implementation of Epic’s electronic health portal in early 2022 to provide a unified health record across care settings, geographies and multiple sources of health data.

JPMorgan is taking another shot at transforming U.S. healthcare after its failed venture with Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway. This new initiative, Morgan Health, will invest $250 million in startups and technologies meant to make employee healthcare more efficient and effective.

Companies rising to meet the challenges in the healthcare system by creating new initiatives is a positive indication for where the sector is headed as 2021 enters its final months. These programs demonstrate interest from new players, increasing capital and overall expansion in the quest to enhance the future of healthcare.