By Alex Kulitski, Smart IT and MEDvidi
The medical technologies market grew by 10-14% since the beginning of COVID-19. In contrast, during the pre-pandemic period in 2017-2019, the market hardly showed an increase higher than 4%. To respond to the unprecedented challenges presented by the pandemic, medical device providers extensively implemented disruptive innovations like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, 3D printing solutions, and others. Hence, healthcare companies and public hospitals altered the way they manage data and treat patients. To help you keep pace with the emerging trends in the medical device industry, we compiled a list of the technology trends expected to grow in this specific market.
The number of cybersecurity attacks targeting U.S. healthcare organizations doubled in the first half of 2022 compared to 2021. Small and midsize hospitals are most at risk of cyberattacks, according to a survey carried out by CyberMD. The reason is the lack of cybersecurity expertise among employees. That is why medical device manufacturers must continue to stay vigilant about designing user-friendly healthcare products that are well protected against cybersecurity risks.
Another factor associated with cybersecurity is the interconnectivity of medical devices within a hospital. The wider a medical network is, the more it is prone to the risk of an attack. While a cyberattack starts from one device, with more web-connected and mobile tools in use, an attack can easily and quickly spread to the other devices on the network, significantly increasing the cyberattack’s reach.
To withstand cybersecurity risks, I recommend that medtech companies strengthen authentication schemes. Some companies use mechanisms for verifying authenticity when the user inputs data or connects to external servers. It is also helpful to put limits on the duration of sessions when an off-site device connects to an on-site server. In addition, it is good to regularly check whether data that originated from external sources is compliant with applicable protocols. Finally, it is worth overhauling the workplace password policy, as it may require improvement.
2. 5G Technologies
In recent years, healthcare providers benefited a lot from abundant digitally stored data. Nevertheless, they still struggle to connect medical specialists like physicians, surgeons, and radiologists to the data-driven insights they need at critical decision-making moments. Now, they can take advantage of 5G-enabled technologies to access that information.
5G networks streamline real-time data transfers, which is crucial for a fast and accurate diagnosis. A 5G device is two to five times faster than one based on Wi-Fi or 4G.
In general, 5G networks have broadened the possibilities for remote patient monitoring. For instance, such technologies were applied in China at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, hospitals had to diagnose infected people in rural areas from a great distance, on a real-time basis. However, medical imaging files taken from MRI and CT were too large to transfer for remote analysis. Such circumstances prompted engineers to equip CT scanners in remote hospitals with 5G.
Typically, 5G applications are targeted at vulnerable people who live in rural areas where Wi-Fi connectivity is limited, as well as for elderly populations who prefer to receive treatment in their homes. In addition, suburban hospitals that lack specialized expertise also frequently employ 5G devices to connect to metropolitan clinics. Armed with such tools, surgeons can consult experts during surgery and transmit high-quality surgical microscope images for instant feedback.
3. 3D Printed Devices
Manufacturers of medical devices moved forward during the COVID-19 pandemic despite facing a number of hurdles. International supply chains were disrupted because of local lockdowns and reduced numbers of employees. For this reason, additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, started to grow at a rapid clip. By 2026, the global 3D printed medical devices market is expected to reach $4.5 billion at an annual growth rate of 13%, according to The Business Research Company report.
Additive manufacturing substantially simplified the supply chain in the healthcare industry. To substitute for imported medical devices, hospitals and medical facilities can produce necessary components and equipment within the hospital. Using 3D printers, doctors, together with biomedical engineers, digitally create customized prosthetics, implanting joints, and instruments for surgeries. These technologies are expected to keep surging in coming years.
4. AI And Machine Learning
Among current trends in the medical device industry, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms also play a significant role. The necessity of these technologies grows with the increasing number of medical devices in health facilities.
The new AI and ML features provide healthcare workers with new and important insights deriving from the growing amount of data from medical records. Consequently, these tools lead to improved diagnostic decision-making while providing high levels of precision. Also, with the help of AI and ML, doctors can develop more efficient interventions.
During the last few years, medical device manufacturers have implemented AI technologies to rethink their product development. Mainly, this involves using software as a medical device (SaMD) for chronic disease management and medical care administration. In 2022, artificial intelligence is mostly applied to detect and treat diseases in oncology, cardiology, gerontology, and endocrinology, which includes diabetes.
5. Medical Robotics
With the global nursing shortage on the rise, medical device companies in developed countries started to invent robots to help nurses perform their tasks. The need for extra assistance has intensified after the pandemic. According to the COVID-19 Two-Year Impact Survey conducted by The American Nurses Foundation, 52% of U.S. nurses have considered leaving their jobs because of heavy workloads and burnouts. Such is also the case in many countries.
Introducing robots in a healthcare facility frees medical workers from routine tasks such as performing venipuncture, monitoring patient vitals, lifting elderly people out of their beds, disinfecting patient rooms, and protocoling.
Targeting home-quarantined patients, Worcester Polytechnic Institute developed a remote-controlled medical robot in 2022. Such remote assistants protect healthcare workers against the risk of contamination from infected patients.
Also, robotics technologies are widely spread in the physiotherapy sector to help patients recover from injuries.
The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the medical device market to an unprecedented degree. The consequent digital disruption in the industry has redesigned healthcare delivery, data management, and the supply chain.
The current medical device technology trends stem from the major challenges the industry is facing, including the tight labor market, increased hacker attacks, logistics concerns, and risk of misleading diagnoses. Medical device innovations will continue to overhaul the market in the forthcoming years.
About The Author:
Alex Kulitski is founder and CEO of Smart IT and is the co-founder and executive CTO at MEDvidi. Being a serial entrepreneur, he is a keen investor in technology startups and runs several successful side projects besides Smart IT and MEDvidi.