There is hardly any aspect of our lives that disruptive and transformative technology is not affecting. Home automation, self-driving cars, IoT-connected kitchen appliances, smart bikes and similar products have gone from breaking news to being around us wherever we go. As humans increasingly accept technology as a part of their everyday lives, “digital healthcare” (the use of information and communication technologies in healthcare provision) is quickly moving from the realms of sci-fi to an established discipline and commonplace practice. Already, we’re noticing this change, but medical experts and researchers of the market are expecting this segment to blow up over coming years.
But while it’s obvious that digital technology is transforming the healthcare industry, how exactly it is doing that is still evolving and therefore unclear. What products can we expect to see and use in hospitals and in our everyday lives in the coming years? And how should medical product developers prepare for, and adapt to this shifting healthcare technology landscape?
Connecting Patients and Healthcare
IHS has released a report titled The Connected Patient in 2015, analyzing areas of cutting edge medical technology expected to help grow the total healthcare IT market to $50 billion by 2020. Some of the trends investigated by the report affect core healthcare areas, such as medical imaging and other diagnostic devices, or Health Information Exchange (an integrated approach to health data interoperability). Genomics is another exciting area of research that digital technology can help accelerate: using DNA sequencing and analysis in medical diagnosis promises more advanced diagnosis, prevention, and cure.
Signal processing, and new and more accurate ways of patient monitoring, lead us to a key finding of this report. Aptly titled “The Connected Patient,” the paper reports on the convergence of consumer and healthcare/medical technology through the Internet of Things. Essentially, the emergence of connected, portable or wearable consumer devices with medical monitoring or diagnostic functionality may be considered one of the most fundamental trends that will be increasingly shaping medical technology going forward.
This trend is so disruptive and transformative to the way we perceive healthcare that it’s a good idea to analyze it in detail. Why so?
The ownership of consumer medical devices, or consumer electronics with medical-related functionality is ramping up. Modern smartphones, wearables such as smart watches, fitness and sports monitoring equipment, and other cutting-edge devices have the ability to monitor all sorts of basic health data (tracking heart rhythm, measuring your blood-oxygen or blood pressure, but you can even find apps monitoring mental health). All that data is readily available in tools that are connected to IoT — thus creating the Internet of Medical Things.
Let us help you connect the dots: Patients now have devices (sport and fitness products, health applications, consumer medical devices) that generate a wealth of medical data. These devices are connected to IoT, allowing them to share data with each other, or a central infrastructure in the cloud. As mentioned before, one upcoming trend in the healthcare industry is the increasing development of HIE, or Health Information Exchange. HIE aims to ensure the interoperability of health-related data, and could eventually culminate in the creation of an integrated health database with electronic medical records readily available anytime, anywhere, serviced from the cloud.
As a patient, 24/7 monitoring could help anticipate medical conditions, and alert your doctors to take action when necessary. If you happened to be in a car accident, for instance, all your historical data leading up to, during, and after the crash could be pulled from the cloud in a matter of seconds, giving doctors a comprehensive overview of your general health situation before the accident, notifying them of any allergies, and so on. In addition to remote patient monitoring, video consultations are also becoming an accepted means of medical checkups.
How Should Medical Device Developers Adapt?
What this shifting healthcare technology landscape means for healthcare IT and medical device developers is a complex question. They will be forced to facilitate data exchange between devices, and to take an integrated approach in the development of their products. First off, they will have to consider the requirement that their product will be part of a larger device ecosystem, sharing data whenever necessary. Second, there’s the possibly greater challenge of efficiently managing parallel development lifecycles. This allows these vendors to create organically integrated hardware, software, and services that will help them take advantage of new opportunities in terms of product innovation.
Data security, and the safe exchange of sensitive medical data, is one of the greatest challenges faced by developers of medical IT solutions. With the Internet of Medical Things expected to increase exponentially, this is projected to be a primary concern for developers in coming years. And not only developers: regulatory bodies are imposing more and more stringent guidelines and standards on developers of safety-critical equipment. The creators of such FDA, IEC, and ISO standards will have to monitor the risks of new technologies consistently.
Overall, the sector is looking forward to an exciting era of growth and innovation — but this “golden age” of digital healthcare comes with its challenges that need to be addressed first. Increasingly, innovative developers of medical devices (such as Medtronic Neuromodulation) are searching for cutting-edge tools that help them manage and future-proof their development lifecycles. That’s a first step for any vendor looking to compete in the shifting digital healthcare market.