The future of MedTech – Applying the power of innovation
As technology continues to evolve, it is essential that healthcare professionals and organizations stay up-to-date with the latest trends and embrace new technologies to improve patient outcomes and enhance the overall patient experience.
The field of medicine has witnessed tremendous advances over the years, especially with the advent of technology. MedTech has played a significant role in enhancing patient care, increasing efficiency, and improving outcomes. In recent years, medical technology trends have been rapidly evolving, with new innovations emerging almost every day. Some of the most prominent medical technology trends that are expected to shape the healthcare industry in coming years are discussed.
Technological advances in medicine have been gaining an ever-increasing importance in leaving the Covid-19 pandemic behind. Healthcare technology has leaped to the fore to help healthcare providers manage their patients better by reducing the dangers inherent in personal contact, waiting in crowded waiting rooms or laboratories, and hospitalizations. Here are some medical technology trends that are expected to gain further traction in 2023.
Advanced tools for training medical professionals. Now more than ever before doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and other medical professionals need access to information for training, certifications, and expanding their skill sets. Older tools were clunky, analog, and hard to access. Nowadays, there are robust learning management systems with video training, exam study questions, and more to ensure that these medical professionals have everything they need to succeed and provide quality patient care. The tools for a nurse practitioner review, for example, include more test questions, including working with special populations.
The years ahead will, therefore, see a growing demand for education-as-a-service, supporting ongoing education and continuous learning as the pace of digital transformation in healthcare further accelerates. In addition, hospitals can drive proficient use of new and existing technologies by appointing super users, who act as early adopters and ambassadors that other staff members can turn to when they have questions or need help.
The way in which education in healthcare is delivered will also evolve. Having grown accustomed to personalized and convenient digital experiences in other areas of life, healthcare professionals increasingly expect learning experiences to be on-demand and tailored to their needs. 2023 will continue to see a rise of blended learning methods, combining the best of in-person training with self-directed online learning – from self-paced tutorials, such as e-learning, webinars, and gamification, to more advanced delivery methods, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
Addressing workforce shortages with workflow automation and artificial intelligence (AI). Staffing is healthcare leaders’ top concern. If we do not act urgently, burnout and staffing shortages will continue to weaken healthcare systems. For example, in radiology, studies have shown at least half of the practicing radiologists in the US experience chronic work-related exhaustion and reduced efficacy. In nursing, an estimated global shortfall of 13 million nurses is expected by 2030. Compounding the stress and strain, healthcare professionals now face a backlog of routine treatments set aside during the pandemic. Given these workforce challenges, healthcare providers can leverage automation, enabled by AI, to increase efficiencies and augment the capabilities of staff.
For example, radiology departments can increase productivity with healthcare technology that leverages AI to enable faster scan times with higher resolution in imaging modalities like MR, even with patients who are in pain or struggle to hold their breath during an exam. As a result, radiology departments can scan more patients in a day, while supporting diagnostic confidence and improving the patient experience at the same time. Similarly, AI can improve productivity and reduce intra-user variability in ultrasound use, with automatic measurements that save the healthcare professional tedious manual work while keeping them in control of diagnostic decision-making.
Automation is a healthcare technology trend that could also help reduce the burden of repetitive administrative tasks for physicians, nurses, and technologists so that they spend less time in front of computer screens and more time with the patients. This can include basic but highly impactful workflow improvements, such as enabling automatic export of patient monitoring data directly into electronic medical records – a potential boost for the staff’s experience and productivity.
Interoperability solutions. As healthcare becomes increasingly connected, different systems and devices need to be able to speak to one another to create seamless experiences for patients and healthcare professionals. Hospitals typically procure equipment and devices from many different vendors, which has often resulted in fragmented digital infrastructure – and as a result, fragmented healthcare experiences. To help overcome this fragmentation, 2023 is expected to see increased adoption of vendor-neutral and interoperable informatics solutions.
For example, what makes the concept of a centralized radiology operations command center so powerful is not only that it can distribute expertise across sites (see trend #3), but also that it can connect to imaging equipment from multiple vendors. That means radiology departments can orchestrate and standardize imaging operations across sites, irrespective of the brand and type of equipment that has been installed. Similarly, vendor-neutral real-time data analytics and radiology workflow solutions can help improve operational performance and reduce costs in radiology departments, while supporting continuous optimization.
As another example, in acute and post-acute care, vendor-neutral medical device integration platforms can aggregate and analyze data from a network of connected devices to generate actionable insights and alerts that support patient care management. The better such platforms are able to integrate into hospitals’ existing EMR systems and clinical communication and collaboration tools, the more value they offer to care teams – giving them a more holistic picture of each patient’s health condition. When data flows more easily between interoperable systems and devices, care teams also gain back time that they would otherwise have to spend on retrieving patient information across sites and departments.
The internet of Medical Things (IoMT). It comprises a network of devices and mobile phone apps that track and prevent serious events in the course of chronic illness, linking patients and doctors for better monitoring and management of such conditions. For instance, wearable electrocardiography (ECG) monitors can allow patients with troublesome changes to be identified early enough to abort heart attacks.
Other wearables may help monitor fever, blood sugar levels, or pulse. It is estimated that almost a third of the IoT (Internet of Things) market worldwide will henceforth come from the IoMT.
AI for medical imaging. AI-based techniques have been applied to aid the diagnosis of Covid-19 pneumonia by chest X-ray (CXR), the first-line and cheapest imaging modality, available worldwide. In this regard, a CXR-based deep neural network (CXR-Net) has been recently developed, on the basis of an encoder-decoder-encoder architecture. When tested on real-world CXR datasets obtained from public and private sources, the CXR-Net algorithm proved it was capable at identifying Covid-19 pneumonia with a sensitivity, specificity, and accuracy of 0.992, 0.998, and 0.985, respectively.
Aside from diagnosis, imaging has been also applied for Covid-19 patients’ prognostication, particularly for the prediction of disease progression. It has been reported, in fact, that the quantification of the extent of lung involvement in Covid-19 pneumonia by chest CT examination (CT score) strictly correlates with laboratory and clinical parameters with meaningful impact on clinical decision.
However, manual semi-quantitative lung scoring on CT images is a time-consuming approach, requiring well-trained dedicated radiologists. In a recently published multi-institutional study, three different methods for CT scoring were compared – semi-quantitative manual scoring by three experienced radiologists; deep-learning-based segmentation of ground-glass and consolidation areas obtained by CT pulmo auto results prototype plugin on IntelliSpace Discovery; and threshold-based segmentation of involved lung utilizing an open-source tool.
Manual segmentation showed meaningful limitations, especially in case of more extent disease; by contrast, both deep learning-based and threshold segmentation had excellent performance for an accurate CT scoring, abolishing inter-readers’ variability and significantly impacting on time-saving of trained medical personnel.
Patient monitoring. A more distributed healthcare system that links the hospital to the home and the community will be made possible by the continued adoption of cloud-based digital solutions in the healthcare industry. Healthcare leaders now rank extending care delivery outside of hospitals as their top priority, behind staff retention and satisfaction. Offering the right care in the right place at the right moment will be critical in supporting a seamless patient experience.
In the hospital, clinical surveillance technologies can produce actionable insights, based on live-streaming data by giving timely insights into a patient’s condition across care settings. This will enable caregivers to stop responding to unfavorable events after they have already happened, and instead take proactive measures to address upcoming, potentially fatal events when combined with predictive analytics.
Remote patient monitoring, which connects the hospital to the patient’s home and ambulatory facilities, is also anticipated to continue its exponential growth in 2023. For instance, wearable patches for stroke patients can be used to detect heart rhythm irregularities early on, allowing for intervention and reducing the risk of repeat strokes. As these patches become less noticeable, patients are able to maintain an active lifestyle, while having their health monitored remotely by care teams. Based on more than 20 million ECG recordings, cloud-based AI can identify early indications of heart rhythm disturbances, allowing care teams to take preventive action as necessary. Aortic valve replacement (TAVR), a common cardiac procedure, is another example of how ambulatory cardiac monitoring may support better patient outcomes and cost savings by keeping an eye out for arrhythmic disturbances and prompt timely intervention.
Ultrasonography. 4D sonography is here, bringing a whole new dimension to ultrasound exams. An ultrasound or sonography imaging uses high-frequency waves to produce an image. Providers use diagnostic ultrasounds to view internal parts of your body to see if something is wrong or not working correctly. An ultrasound can give your provider information about what is causing a wide range of symptoms, such as unexplained pain, masses (lumps), or what may be causing an abnormal blood test.
Virtual reality. Augmented and virtual reality is being used in novel ways to distract nervous patients from surgical procedures or help train medical students outside the hospital and without the risk of harm to actual patients. A hands-free mode of operation is also enabled, allowing providers to access patient records or other information without leaving the patient or stopping the procedure they are engaged in.
Digital twins. The ability to pair objects in a computer-generated virtual world can help to manipulate both objects at the same time – digital twins. This is important in the plethora of medical devices being marketed today, which are designed virtually in the confidence that the real-life object will be exactly like it in every way.
Moreover, models can be created for testing, with the results being quite reliable. Remote surgery is also based on this technology, saving time and expenses.
Blockchain The use of blockchain technology is still controversial, but its potential to improve the secure, convenient, and rapid sharing of healthcare information between authorized providers and patients is becoming clearer by the day. The design of this tool allows for large numbers of users without compromising the safety of using a single ledger. This poses a formidable challenge to the current use of electronic health records, putting it alongside the IoMT and cloud computing as a worthy colleague.
Cloud computing. With patient data being a dynamic thing, it is essential that healthcare providers have a safe and smooth method to share and store this data on which their clinical decisions are based. Cloud computing offers an excellent way out, whereby data collection, storage, and management can be achieved using a single point. The resulting improvement in patient care, with the saving of time, is among the benefits of this approach.
Cloud adoption in healthcare has traditionally lagged behind. However, in recent years, the industry has seen fast-growing acceptance and adoption in many parts of the world – a trend expected to continue in 2023 and beyond. In tandem, a further proliferation of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions delivered through the cloud can also be seen in near future.
For example, in cancer care, cloud-based SaaS solutions can help generate a unified and longitudinal patient view by pulling together data from different hospital systems, thereby supporting in-person or virtual tumor board meetings for collaborative decision-making. Cancer care teams also get to benefit from recommendations for specific therapies or clinical trials, tailored to the patient’s characteristics. As new clinical knowledge is gathered, new software updates can be deployed through the cloud to cancer care teams worldwide – putting up-to-date best practices at their fingertips.
In addition, healthcare-compliant cloud platforms offer a flexible foundation for rapid development and testing of new digital applications. Cross-functional teams working in short and agile cycles can put new digital applications into the hands of physicians or patients more quickly, and then add new or improved features as they collect further user feedback. That means healthcare organizations get to innovate faster and in smaller, more digestible increments.
BioGPT. On January 26, Microsoft announced that the AI tool BioGPT demonstrated human parity in analyzing biomedical research to answer questions. But like many recent advances in AI, evaluating what the new technology actually means for healthcare can prove challenging.
BioGPT is a type of generative language model, trained on millions of previously published biomedical research articles. This means BioGPT can perform tasks, such as answering questions, extracting relevant data, and generating text relevant to biomedical literature.
For example, as a potential drug-development application, BioGPT can generate descriptions of a specific therapeutic class – such as Janus kinase 3 (JAK-3) – or of a specific therapy – such as apricitabine. (In a demo version of BioGPT, users can test the text-generation feature in a limited capacity).
Still, to fully grasp the implications of BioGPT, it is important to understand what researchers know and do not know about the potential breakthrough AI technology.
Future healthcare delivery. Despite the fact that Covid-19 hastened the adoption of digital healthcare technology, increasing access to care, particularly for those living in remote and rural areas, the pandemic also disproportionately affected the most vulnerable populations and widened global health gaps. Existing health inequalities within and between countries, such as higher rates of illness and poor health among some racial and ethnic minority groups, are coming into sharper focus. As a result, there has been an international call to address systemic inequality.
Emerging technologies have a great deal of potential to close care gaps in maternal and child health, such as mobile ultrasound with AI support and remote high-risk pregnancy monitoring options. Innovative mobile health technology solutions offer new ways to bring critical care closer to more patients. Life-threatening diseases, such as lung cancer, can be identified earlier in people, who might not have had access to screenings, thanks to mobile screening solutions.
Innovators in health technology and financing partners, socially responsible businesses could contribute significantly to the development of more equitable health systems in the future. Private-sector businesses can assist in raising money for healthcare projects in low-resource settings by partnering on impact investments with organizations like the Health Finance Coalition. Platforms like the Digital Connected Care Coalition connect public and private organizations to help speed up digital health projects in low- and middle-income countries.
Future medical technology advancements are anticipated to improve access to equitable care and promote everyone’s well-being, regardless of their background or place of residence. It takes a collaborative, inclusive strategy that keeps people at the center of the innovation process to ensure that nobody is left behind. And doing so, will require close collaboration with those who are currently experiencing the worst effects of inequities.
Smart factory manufacturing solutions. There are many skills a medical device salesperson needs to succeed in his career path – embracing technology in the workplace is one of them. Manufacturing medical devices are not only about producing advanced tools for the industry. It is about improving processes to develop the best products. This is why many health sectors have introduced smart factory solutions to the development chain.
Smart systems monitor manufacturing processes while gathering data that can be used to determine the most efficient steps forward. Now, scientists and medical salespersons have access to on-demand, real-time performance information that helps to create superior devices quickly and at a fraction of the cost.
Nanotechnology. The development of nanotechnology has given rise to many innovative systems of treatment. Xenobots, or self-replicating tiny organic robots, were reported by the end of 2021. A wide range of applications lie open to nanotechnology in medicine, including nanobots for the detection of disease by traversing microscopic blood vessels and nanoparticle drug-delivery systems to accurately deliver toxic drugs to the cells that are their targets, avoiding or reducing off-target effects.
3D printing for medical devices
The ability to build body parts, such as artificial veins, implants, bionic prostheses, customized surgical instruments, and produce pills is just part of the future with 3D printing. Many medications are using this technology for faster, cheaper production. This technology is truly revolutionizing medicine in ways that were once unimaginable.
Wearable and implantable technology
It is not physically possible for doctors to monitor each individual patient all day, every day.
Mobile health technologies like wearable devices, implantables, wellness apps, fitness trackers, and biometrics are offering faster, more accurate, and efficient ways to obtain clinical data. Not only can this reduce costs and improve patient outcomes, but this technology can also improve quality of life for more patients.
The industry has already seen some of the newest innovations in the future of healthcare technology that can transfer data to a remote center, direct patients to take specific actions for their medical conditions, or automatically perform a function based on what the sensors are reading.
For example, insulin could be automatically administered if blood glucose is running high. Or blood pressure can be automatically and continuously monitored.
Through the valuable information provided by this type of advanced technology, the process of managing our health becomes more personal and impactful.
Companies are vying to bring out microelectrodes that can be implanted safely into the brain to restore some degree of functionality to people who have lost sight, for instance, or voluntary muscle activity.
Big data to improve health outcomes. The storage of data in huge volumes in secure data siloes will help analysts to mine it for useful information that could help drive new research, using AI and machine learning. Both of these identify and interpret patterns in the data that could be invisible to humans but could offer a chance to intervene for the patient’s benefit. Data sharing and interoperability norms will also be enforced to benefit patients.
2023 presents new uncertainties as optimism generated by a gradual recovery from the upheaval of Covid-19 is being met with new challenges, such as staffing shortages, energy market disruptions, and rising interest rates. More than ever, MedTech players need agility and foresight to adapt to an increasingly dynamic global industry.
Deglobalization. The most used indicator for globalization – the global trade to GDP ratio (as measured by the World Bank) – has declined from 61 percent in 2008 to 52 percent in 2020. The trade restrictions between the US and China, the Covid-19 pandemic, and Russia-Ukraine conflict have emphasized the importance both of having sufficient stock of critical components and raw materials, and of having a well-diversified supplier base.
While manufacturers will likely invest in further supplier diversification and stockpiling efforts, these initiatives have certain limits. If the current global trade environment and trajectory persists, both governments and market players may resort to near-shoring or friend-shoring, which would benefit certain geographies as production and logistics hubs, depending on their proximity and/or friendliness to a certain geopolitical bloc. Another potential scenario is that fragmentation at the global level may promote further integration at the regional level, leading manufacturers to further regionalize their production and supply chains.
MedTech investment. The drop in M&A deal making, a severe dip in capital raised, and pressure on R&D investments will dominate the global MedTech scene, but different geographies may face unique manifestations of these challenges. Regardless, MedTech firms in each region must be quick to adapt to the economic slowdown and find enablers of innovation and investment, including for instance, new cross-sector partnerships and collaboration with academia.
In the US, M&A deals and venture capital investments have dropped sharply from their peak in 2021, according to PitchBook data. However, many US investors are optimistic that the markets are simply returning to pre-pandemic levels.
In the UK, as healthcare staff shortages intensify, the NHS is pressed to divert investments that would have gone into technology and re-focus them elsewhere. This will make it more challenging for MedTech to enable new revenue channels and cost savings.
In Germany, Europe’s largest MedTech market, unease is permeating the previously flourishing Berlin health-tech startup scene. The German MedTech industry prides itself on a higher resilience to recession than the automotive industry; however, in a market where a substantial portion of MedTech sales is driven by products under three years old, any innovation slowdown may have long-lasting consequences.
Based on PitchBook data, China accounted for almost 75 percent of the total APAC MedTech investment (~USD 15.3 billion) in 2021. Investment activity is expected to slow down amid rising cost of capital and decreasing risk tolerance in VC and M&A. The investment focus will continue shifting away from pandemic-related topics (e.g., telehealth, PPE), to those that improve access, affordability, and quality of healthcare (e.g., point-of-care testing, low-cost minimally invasive products, surgical robots, health data, and AI).
Direct-to-consumer (DtC) advertising for MedTech. DtC advertising of medical devices became more visible than ever in 2022, with Abbott Laboratories becoming the first healthcare company to give a public keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show, followed by Cue Health and Hologic airing national TV ads during Super Bowl LVI. This trend extends beyond the US, with Insulet running TV ad campaigns in the UK, Germany, and Canada to promote their latest insulin pumps.
DtC advertising will continue to gain momentum as an adoption driver for devices that patients interact with directly. This includes insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors, oxygen concentrators, at-home diagnostics, and dental devices – and the category will broaden with the introduction of more smart devices, which continuously collect data and leverage patient-facing apps.
As more devices are introduced as alternative to pharmaceutical therapies, DtC advertising will also be an important tool to drive consumer awareness. For example, Boston Scientific ran a DtC campaign to introduce the WATCHMAN implant as an alternative to blood thinners to reduce stroke risk in patients with atrial fibrillation.
Expanding scope of the volume-based procurement (VBP) policy. Based on an IQVIA analysis, the initial national or province-alliance VBPs conducted in 2020 to mid-2021 saw a median public reported price cut of ~70 percent and whopping 80–90 percent reduction for selected high-value consumables like coronary stents and joint replacements.
However, both MedTech players and the authorities (i.e., the National Healthcare Security Administration) may consider these new price levels unsustainable in the long run, as they remove some traditional players from the market. The same IQVIA analysis showcased that in certain product categories, the elimination rate reached 50–60 percent. Therefore, a slight upward correction can be reasonably expected in the next rounds of VBP, covering existing and new consumables. Nevertheless, the political agenda in China will likely remain the key driver of MedTech pricing dynamics, and market participants need to follow it closely.
Regulated diagnostics reimbursement. The breadth and diversity of diagnostic tests, the complexity of coding and billing policies, and the introduction of highly complex tests (such as next-generation sequencing and multianalyte assays with algorithmic analyses) means that even manufacturers and clinicians acting in good faith are sometimes unsure of the proprieties surrounding test administrations, billing, or both.
At the same time, limited regulation provides the opportunity for fraud and abuse. Recently, high-profile announcements by the US Department of Justice have put the spotlight on abuse associated with claims submitted for Covid-19 testing and add-on diagnostics. However, there are larger potential issues in genetic and molecular testing. A combination of widespread coverage of tests for eligible patients, high designated payment rates for certain tests, and the recommended use of generic or unspecified codes all create an environment with a far higher potential for exploitation than the Covid-19 fraud.
While logistically burdensome, the expanded use of test-specific codes or subcodes and more clarity about proper practices will likely become more prominent. Evidence for this prediction lies in the uptick in detailed Medicare billing guides and private payer benefit policy documents for specific branded diagnostics and test classes. The dual push of federal enforcement and bureaucratic entities is creating a system, imperfect as it might be, that will eventually catch the most egregious violators, and support a more orderly diagnostics landscape.
Decentralization of healthcare. The Covid-19 crisis has made it painfully clear how difficult it is to leverage multiple sources of data and sites of care to predict outcomes or improve the treatment of a disease. Attempts have been made to integrate electronic medical records, wearables, and health-tech innovations to create personalized outcome and/or risk predictions for patients, but these have ultimately struggled to outperform generic epidemiologic guidance.
However, the pandemic did motivate healthcare stakeholders (including homecare settings, pharmacies, and testing labs) to leverage more digital solutions to better communicate and connect. These tools opened new frontiers in telehealth, but healthcare professionals have struggled with increased competition for their digital time. Technologies that enable healthcare data exchange, interconnectivity, and diagnostic support are currently insufficiently advanced to meet the needs of a rapidly decentralizing system.
While policy differences will vary the speed of innovation across markets, these technologies will likely adapt and evolve in three main directions – the emergence of highly customizable, yet standardized, platforms that integrate data generation (including imaging and in vitro diagnostics), dissemination, and analytics (including condition-specific clinical decision support); machine-assisted inferences to focus on digital timesaving across stakeholders; and increased integration with non-standard healthcare data.
A high interest in sustainability. According to the Association of Medical Device Reprocessors, the healthcare industry remains highly carbon-intensive today, generating more than 4.6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Medical device manufacturers are a major driver, due to a large share of supply chain emissions and single-use devices and consumables in their portfolios. According to recent research, reprocessing of single-use medical devices can reduce ozone depletion by 90 percent and reduce total hospital costs by up to 50 percent.
There is increasing pressure from both regulators and investors on industry players, especially public companies, to have a clear pathway toward carbon neutrality. GE, Stryker, Medtronic, and Roche have already set their ambitious ESG targets over the next 20–30 years. As investors increase their scrutiny of environmental footprint that gets reflected in the access and cost of capital, there is evidence that suggests that a higher ESG score is correlated with a lower cost of capital. While addressing the supply chain issues associated with deglobalization and reshoring, MedTech companies also need to make sure that their new supply chain partners’ sustainability ambitions and practices are in line with their own corporate ESG targets.
Going forward, MedTech trends are transforming the healthcare industry, enabling healthcare professionals to provide more personalized, efficient, and effective care to patients. Wearable technology, artificial intelligence, telehealth, 3D printing, and virtual and augmented reality are just a few of the technologies that are shaping the future of healthcare. As technology continues to evolve, it is essential that healthcare professionals and organizations stay up-to-date with the latest trends, and embrace new technologies to improve patient outcomes and enhance the overall patient experience.