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MedTech in a post-COVID world

The unprecedented nature of COVID-19 threw healthcare systems into overdrive. In absence of a vaccine or viable treatment for the larger part of 2020 when the pandemic struck, it was medical devices that were at the forefront in the fight against the pandemic.

We have since developed vaccines with varying levels of efficacy and have undertaken large inoculation programs; however COVID-19 continues to challenge healthcare systems around the world, testing their limits and compelling them to rethink and find solutions. With focus on COVID, non-COVID-19 healthcare services shrank drastically. Detection and screening programs for non-COVID-19 related conditions were halted; elective procedures were postponed as a result of government directives and de-prioritization by hospitals. Preventive measures, such as physical distancing and high demand for PPEs, added obstacles to the myriad challenges which the healthcare worker was already facing in delivering care. To overcome these hurdles and to continue to deliver the care patients need, healthcare professionals and organizations turned to innovative ways.

Measures taken to combat COVID-19
Taking cognizance of the gaps highlighted by the impact of COVID 2nd wave which engulfed the country during April-May 2021, the government allocated an emergency response package of ₹23,123 crore to combat COVID-19. This substantial package has been put together after deliberations with experts and healthcare industry and will include procurement of essential COVID products from both the domestic industry and global innovators.

Adapting to the Challenge
The MedTech industry initially focused on its immediate crisis response by securing employee safety, creating a safe working environment and ensuring business continuity to continue to serve patients.

The industry also had to adapt to the rapidly changing macro-environment. MedTech compa­nies swiftly moved to scale up parts of their business to meet the increasing needs of the healthcare community during this crisis, from production of masks and PPEs to diagnostic kits, testing swabs, oxygen concentrators and ventilators.

Healthcare is typically a conservative sector, where reforms proceed at a glacial pace. Therefore the sector is the slow renovator’s delight. However, when seismic events happen the sector witnesses a lot of change. The unprecedented nature of the pandemic catalyzed the adoption of telemedicine as industry looked to adapt to the changing patient behavior and shifts in the location of care.

MedTech in future
Another reform that COVID has obliged upon the Healthcare industry was to build and stress-test several scenarios for procedure and product demand. On one hand as demand for essential COVID products surged, on the other hand the demand for non-essential COVID products drastically fell. In future companies will put in place the mechanisms to have a detailed understanding of likely demand fluctuations, at the local as well as national levels. This will be crucial in managing risk and continuity in planning businesses and providing a better position to navigate the uncertainty.

We have already seen the Healthcare industry leveraging technology like Tele-consultations to address the gap in patient engagements during the pandemic especially in the last mile delivery in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities which has been a challenge even before COVID. In future, through technologies like Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning and Big data, healthcare industry will be able to provide patients with more precise, timely and personalized assistance and produce better patient outcomes. The access and availability of real-time data will also go a long way in improving long-term and elderly care. In the future, insurance policies will likely cover home healthcare which is when the sector will truly bloom.

As the recovery from COVID takes shape, healthcare is returning to its normal physical way of consultations as opposed to the digital world that they had to depend upon in the last 20 months. In the times to come, we may see med-tech adopting a ‘Phygital’ model of delivery- a hybrid of physical and digital interfaces which will truly bring access to transformative innovations in the sector.

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