Perhaps more than any other industry, MedTech has been transformed by the COVID crisis – and some of those changes are here to stay. These are the top trends to watch out for in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Both government and private investment in nanotechnology have soared in the past 20 years. For pharmaceuticals, the use of nanotech to deliver drugs represents an important milestone. Particles as tiny as a virus can deliver medication to cells, significantly reducing the amount of the drug the patient needs.
Nanotech is also behind the next generation of wearables, with flexible sensors that can easily be attached to skin to measure patient details like blood oxygenation, glucose levels or hydration. As these devices become smaller, new ways of powering them will become possible.
The wearables market (including such staples as smart watches) has been booming for several years, causing an explosion in the quantity of data generated. The Apple Watch has been used to diagnose heart conditions, and users have been invited to contribute their data to medical research. So far, Apple Watch data has driven studies on gynaecology, heart rate, and hearing.
With Apple selling tens of millions of watches a year (31 million in 2019, more than the entire Swiss watch industry), the amount of data their users could generate is astronomical. It’s no wonder medical researchers are looking to collaborate with businesses to leverage the power of wearables.
The increasing acceptance of wearables could open the gates to wearable robotic technology, such as exoskeletons. French researchers recently made an exoskeleton that enabled a man with quadriplegia to move all four of his limbs.
As both IT and mechanical technologies improve, we’re likely to see more robotic wearables focused on human-centred design and rehabilitation.
AI is finding vital applications in diagnosis, treatment, and maintaining good health. IBM Watson, a cloud-based AI, has been revolutionising healthcare since 2018. Researchers at Hardin Memorial Hospital in the US worked with IBM Watson to improve the hospital’s radiology centres by turning previously ignored data into a useful diagnostic tool.
This is another trend that connects with wearables, as AI is likely to power the sensors in our wearables, connecting individual health data with broader datasets to create personalised, actionable insights.
AI algorithms spotted the novel coronavirus before the news picked it up. And they’re going to keep getting better at spotting patterns humans might miss in massive datasets. As the amount of data grows, so will the popularity of tech that can extract valuable insights from it.
Any system that’s regularly informed by sensors can be recreated digitally. This simulation is called a digital twin. Digital twins of hospital words can help medical workers prepare for possible complications, predict changes in patient intake, schedule staff and operations more efficiently, reduce machinery downtime, and care for more patients at once.
Digital twins can even be created for individual people, allowing doctors to view a regularly updated predictive simulation of their patients.
New ways of working
Hospitals around the world have had to reschedule elective surgeries to prioritise COVID patients. That’s caused a fall in demand for non-COVID-related medical products, and an overwhelming demand for COVID-related products. Medtech companies have shown incredible agility in rising to the occasion; they’ll need to again when the time comes to switch back to normal.
Supply chain management
Global supply chains that fell apart during COVID are being built back better and more connected than ever. Medtech companies have been forced to put contingency plans in place and divert inventory to where it was most needed.
Keeping stashes of extra supplies and building redundancies into supply chains can be expensive, so MedTech companies in the future might 3D print parts or whole devices on site at hospitals and health centres. This could eventually lead to products that allow inpatient procedures to become outpatient procedures or even be done at home.
Companies also need to be ready to step up production of non-COVID products after the crisis, because all those elective surgeries and other treatments that have been delayed are going to cause a boom in demand.
Starting patient interactions online is likely to remain the new normal, and many doctor visits will be handled virtually. Medtech companies need to be ready to support this shift. Some are also expanding digital capabilities in areas like product demonstrations, digital detailing and digital media. They may be able to use digital design to improve patient journeys, upskill workers, and provide extra flexibility for patients with special needs.
Companies that can scale up their capabilities quickly, maintain high doctor and patient engagement, and anticipate where to direct their resources, are likely to come out on top post-COVID.
Clinical trial and product design
Medtech R&D hasn’t historically happened at speed or had many options for a quick pivot. That’s had to change, and clinical trials are likely to remain a challenge during the post-pandemic recovery. Companies may need to evolve new strategies and capabilities for site selection, trial recruitment, and patient activation. Some of this work was already being done pre-COVID, and the momentum created by the pandemic has driven demand for more seamless communication, monitoring, provider interfaces, and data analysis.