5 trends in the future of MedTech
Information & Communications Technology and Media | 06 Aug 2020
5 MedTech trends
The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis like no other. At the time of writing, we saw more than six million infected and more than 300,000 deaths according to WHO’s statistics. The challenges for economies across the world are especially clear on the frontlines of healthcare. In this article, we look at 5 MedTech trends and explore some changes we can expect in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Some trends to watch for
There has been a strong mix of government and private interest in nanotechnology in the last two decades. In the US, the cumulative federal funding since 2001 is approaching $29 billion. The medical applications for drug delivery using nanotechnology is an important milestone for pharmaceutical companies. The ability to use particles as small as a virus to deliver medication to cells could significantly reduce the amount of a drug needed.
Nanotechnology also promises advancements in wearable technologies. Flexible sensors can be easily attached to skin tissue, the largest organ in the human body, to measure a variety of patient details such as blood oxygenation, hydration, or glucose levels. The shrinkage in the devices’ size will also enable exploring new ways of powering the technology.
Wearable technology is already a flourishing market. People using devices such as smart watches have dramatically increased in the last few years and with it, the amount of data generated. For example, Apple attempted to pivot the Apple Watch into a diagnostic tool for heart-related conditions. Subsequently, Apple announced that users can opt to allow their data to contribute to medical research. Three studies were announced, focusing on menstrual cycles and gynaecological conditions, heart rate and mobility, and everyday sound exposure’s effects on hearing.
According to Strategy Analytics, Apple shipped over five million smart watches in the second quarter of 2019 alone. Imagine the collective amount of data Apple Watch users can produce. It is little wonder why medical research institutions are collaborating with businesses, representing a new kind of medical public-private partnership.
As wearable technology becomes widely accepted and used, a related use might be seen in the advancements in robotics, such as exoskeletons. For instance, researchers from the University of Grenoble, France, helped a man to move all four of his paralysed limbs using an exoskeleton. This also showed a side of wearable technology that focuses on rehabilitation and human-centred design.
The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) reporting over 400,000 robot installations worldwide in 2018. As both information and mechanical technologies advance steadily, we may start to see more robotics with wearables.
4) Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Besides rehabilitation, innovation is central to diagnosis, maintaining and restoring health. Since 2011, cloud-based AI IBM Watson has been marketed as a revolutionary tool for healthcare. Researchers at the Hardin Memorial Hospital, US, partnered IBM Watson to improve the quality of its radiology centres by structuring data that would otherwise be ignored by doctors, into something helpful for diagnosis.
With wearable technologies, it is likely that always-on sensors will be in, on, and around us. Health data collected by these sensors may be joined with other data sets (e.g. population-health data and environmental data) to generate highly personalised and actionable insights, according to the future of health that Deloitte envisions.
Before COVID-19 was reported, we now know that there were AI algorithms that look at epidemiology and population, that had flagged the novel coronavirus. AI algorithms will only get smarter and better, sifting through massive amounts of clinical data and finding patterns that humans might miss. Technology that extracts valuable information will grow in popularity as the amount of data increases. Further implementations of AI in diagnosis will go hand in hand with the increased use of wearable technology.
5) Digital twins
A digital twin is a digital recreation of systems regularly informed by sensors. For example, simulated hospital wards can predict potential complications, allowing medical workers to prepare in advance. In Singapore, this technology has been used to predict energy consumption, minimise waste and maintain appropriate power across the city’s grid.
This technology can be used to predict when patient intake is likely to change. The tech will aid in staff scheduling, decreasing the downtime of machinery, enabling more efficiently hospital operations, and increasing the number of patients at a given time. In future, sensors can even be used on digital twins of individual patients to give doctors an updated, regular, and predictive simulation of their patient. This advancement will require an environment native to Industry 4.0, with high standards of cybersecurity, to protect patients’ health and data.
The fourth industrial revolution has swept through many industries including MedTech. Related to Industry 4.0, IndSights Research previously polled Singapore ICT companies on Services 4.0. Read our report here.
Changes in MedTech after COVID-19
We may still be in the early stages of the COVID-19 health emergency, but many MedTech companies have already shifted their attention to address the onslaught of demand for diagnostic tests, personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and other critical medical supplies. MedTech companies are also looking beyond their normal sector boundaries to explore innovative solutions to further supplement capacity, such as partnerships with companies outside the sector, e.g. a MedTech company may partner an automobile-parts manufacturer to produce ventilators, open-source equipment design, and deploying medically trained staff to support public-health needs.
The MedTech industry has nimbly recalibrated across the value chain to serve healthcare’s critical needs. The plans and actions taken now will have a significant impact for MedTech’s continued resilience in the crisis and shape its long-term recovery.
How MedTech may change after COVID-19
1) Changes in demand (response)
COVID-19 has seen priority of treatments and equipment being given to COVID-19 related cases. Many hospitals across the globe have asked patients to reschedule elective surgeries to maximise available beds and staff to care for infected patients. As a result, some MedTech companies have seen a drop in demand for non-COVID-19 related products, such as joint replacements and other implantable devices, and an overwhelming demand for devices to help hospitals keep up with a surge of COVID-19 patients. MedTech companies should anticipate a return to normal operations and be agile and ready to respond to a re-balancing of product consumption for services and products when the crisis subsides.
2) Supply-chain management and reliability
Global supply chains are more connected than ever. COVID-19 has forced MedTech companies to consider supply contingency plans, reposition inventory to areas of greatest need, and make reasonable attempts to protect the health and safety of workers on the manufacturing floor.
We are seeing shortages from hospital beds to surgical masks even in developed economies but storing extra supplies and adding redundancies can be expensive. In the future, MedTech companies might use 3D-printers to produce some devices or parts on-site, e.g. a valve for a broken ventilator could be printed at a hospital rather than having to order directly from the manufacturer. The MedTech industry could help develop products and technologies that allow certain inpatient procedures take place in lower-acuity environments, even at home.
While most companies focus on managing the immediate crisis, they should also plan to ramp up production of products so they can capture the rebound from non-COVID-19 treatment cases.
3) Digitizing your business
In future, the new norm for patient interactions will likely begin with a digital engagement. If further help is needed, the patient can then schedule a virtual visit with a clinician and subsequently an in-person consultation. MedTech companies should position themselves for this shift and consider how they can support digital and virtual care.
In addition, some MedTech firms are rapidly expanding other digital capabilities, such as investment in digital media, digital detailing, or creating digital product demonstrations, to further strengthen go-to-market models. MedTech companies may apply design thinking to reimagine patient journeys, retrain or upskill their work teams, and being flexible with customers who may have special needs or concerns.
Companies that can keep physician and patient engagement high, quickly scale up their capabilities, and more accurately anticipate when and where to deploy resources, are most likely to emerge stronger and well positioned for the post-coronavirus recovery.
4) Clinical trial design and strategy, and product design
Most MedTech R&D programs progress over a long period of time with fewer quick-pivot options. In the recovery after the pandemic, executing clinical trials will continue to be a challenge. Site selection, patient activation, and trial recruitment may require new strategies and capabilities. MedTech companies were working on these capabilities in pockets pre-COVID-19, and the pandemic has created momentum for more seamless monitoring, communication, data analysis, and provider interfaces.
While the COVID-19 outbreak is an overwhelming humanitarian crisis, it also presents an opportunity for reform in healthcare. As services, case volumes, and MedTech operations stabilise, the industry will be challenged to rethink business and operating models to adapt to the healthcare needs of the future.
The crisis will require tough operational choices. Forward-thinking firms will respond with new products, services, and operating models that support healthcare organizations and the patients they serve when they need it most. MedTech companies can take steps to reimagine the system, the patient journey, and their interfaces and relationships with healthcare providers. This is both the right thing to do and will position companies for success in the years to come.
Read more about how Singapore’s MedTech industry has been pushed to the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 here.
This article is contributed by Moses Ku, Manager (Engagement), IndSights Research.