Standstill means regression. No wonder, then, that the digital transformation in medical technology is continuing to gain momentum. The market is growing enormously: with over USD 450 billion, the market for medical technology is one of the largest and economically most interesting. Growth is being driven by socio-economic megatrends such as an ageing society, patient self-determination, progress in precision medicine and the shift towards results-oriented remuneration. New technological possibilities such as miniaturization, 3D printing, data analysis and intelligent, networked devices now allow completely different approaches to personalize and significantly improve the benefits for patients. Companies are increasingly being judged by this anti-regression promise. And rightly so, because the use of intelligent technologies is fundamentally changing the way companies develop products, retrieve information from products and improve future products.
Few industries are as heavily regulated as the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. Companies must prove that their products are developed and produced according to structured, repeatable and controlled processes. Despite these strict requirements, the market volume and technological possibilities are attracting more and more technology giants that have their roots in the consumer environment. For example, with the new generation of Apple Watch and the ECG integrated into it, Apple has for the first time approved a medical product in the USA. Google Fit also promises support for a healthier and more active life. Innovations in products and new business models will continue to be a key success factor in the future, especially for established companies – for example, to bring personalized medical products up to batch size 1 onto the market cost-efficiently. Digitization offers the prerequisite for future growth and is therefore the order of the day for companies to remain competitive. But how can digitization deliver value and growth? The answer: By using digital technologies to improve operational excellence, reduce costs, enable new business models and generate new revenue opportunities.
Optimizing development and manufacturing processes
Many processes or process steps of medical technology manufacturers are still carried out manually or in separate, unconnected systems. This leads to a considerable increase in effort, which can no longer be mastered due to the increasing shortage of skilled workers. From product development through production to the servicing of medical products: Thanks to the use of digital technologies, there are many possibilities for process optimization. The introduction of a comprehensive PLM and ALM system, for example, helps to bundle data from different sources in a single location and serves as a backbone for technical development, quality assurance and the administration of standards and regulations. Medtronic, one of the market leaders in medical technology, has been able to reduce its development times by 8 to 12 percent through extensive digitization and close integration of product development processes, for example.
High-precision medical devices are only successful if they are manufactured with consistently high quality according to defined specifications. The digitization of manufacturing is therefore one of the central adjustment screws for manufacturers of medical technology products. An integrative approach is central to ensuring that important details are not lost on the way from technical development to production. The intelligent networking of machines and systems in the so-called Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) always helps to maintain an overview. If the machine data is visible and can be displayed in the context of use, it can be used for analyses. For example, technologies such as Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to predict machine and process states. Fresenius Medical Care was also faced with the challenge of collecting data but not being able to reuse it. By simply processing and evaluating the production data, the company is now able to compare the efficiency of different systems and thus make decisions more quickly.
The service becomes digital
The availability of devices is crucial in medical technology. It is therefore more important than ever to focus on customer service. The networking of medical devices and predictive monitoring provides a completely new customer experience. Service technicians can use remote diagnostics or context-sensitive repair instructions to reduce the frequency and duration of service activities. By digitizing its service processes, the medical technology company Elektra has set itself the goal of increasing efficiency and reducing the maintenance costs of its products. Thanks to product connectivity, the company saves 20 percent on service calls and ensures higher device availability.
The use of Augmented Reality (AR) offers additional optimization potential in service. The visual provision of instructions – displayed step by step on the product – replaces bulky manuals and maintenance lists as well as time-consuming and costly training of service staff on the product. Companies like Sysmex offer customers the opportunity to perform some of the routine tasks on their diagnostic equipment themselves. Like the service technician, the laboratory employee uses a tablet that visually displays all steps on the respective device. This ensures, for example, that the blood analyzers are treated properly and in accordance with the applicable legal requirements and that they are available to a high degree at the same time. If you have any questions, the technology allows you to contact a service technician at any time, who can look at the same display from his respective location and provide advice.
Data fires new business models
The digitalization of medical technology is realigning competition in the healthcare system and putting the adaptability of proven providers to the test. In this dynamic environment with new competitors, cost savings will not suffice; instead, the product must adapt to changing market needs. Data is the new gold: providers who have consistently based their business models on the collection and processing of data are increasingly claiming the market for themselves. Established manufacturers of medical devices can only defend their position with new services based on product, user, patient and patient data. The use of device data for monitoring and optimization can be a good starting point for this transformation. Laboratory equipment manufacturers, for example, are already offering their customers applications that provide information about usage and performance based on current device data and point out possibilities for optimized usage. The use of artificial intelligence can help to avoid losing the overview in this data jungle. AI’s magic bullet: recognizing patterns and making intelligent predictions where human cognitive abilities are no longer enough.
Manufacturers of imaging procedures can use AI to analyse image data and support doctors in diagnosis and therapy faster and better. With this expansion of the portfolio, manufacturers have a completely new role to play: they are evolving from pure product providers to providers of value-added services that can be used to increase the efficiency of processes. Such data-based services also open new ways for manufacturers of medical devices and administration systems to communicate with patients. In the future, digitally networked products will complement innovative drugs to make therapies for patients more targeted, user-friendly and effective. Lack of adherence to therapy, for example, drives costs into the billions every year because patients do not take their medication properly. Digital helpers and mHealth applications can remind patients to take their medication correctly and control it, thus improving the success of therapy and at the same time making life easier for patients.
Reliable database lays foundation for innovations
During the development from medical technology manufacturers to providers of data-driven service models, large amounts of data are already available to companies. With the increasing number of smart devices, further growth is expected in the future. To enable manufacturers to draw valuable conclusions from these sheer volumes of data about the condition of their devices or the well-being of their patients, about the efficiency along the product life cycle and thus also about the need for maintenance, repair and investment measures in real time, they must understand the data and evaluate it using big data analysis procedures. This requires a reliable database as a basis for future disruptive innovations. Industrial innovation platforms such as PTC’s ThingWorx supports this mammoth task. They enable manufacturers to collect, contextualise, analyse and orchestrate data from networked products, processes and business systems. Manufacturers at the beginning of this journey should start small. A good first step is to identify the areas that could be optimized. The Design Thinking method can support in this way, to uncover potentials and improve the product with regular feedback from the target group in a practical way. In the sense of a future-oriented healthcare system that should promote innovation and bring it quickly to the patient’s application. – Medical Plastics News