Though COVID-19’s far-reaching effects have ushered in a “new normal” around the world, the greatest influence has been in healthcare. It has affected the future of healthcare delivery in the long run, but it has had an immediate impact on medical technology, with an emphasis on digital technologies and a transition toward a more collaborative product creation process.
The advent of technology in the healthcare sector is transforming the world for the better. AR/VR, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, 3D printing, and Nanotechnology are all transforming the healthcare industry’s operations. The year is 2021, and the situation surrounding the pandemic is still uncertain; however, technical advancements will never stop facilitating the transition and resulting in a better outcome in the healthcare industry. Let’s take a look at some of the technologies that will have a major effect in 2021.
Trend #1: More investments in diagnostics and point-of-care platforms
COVID-19 testing will continue to increase this year, with volumes remaining high until vaccines are widely distributed, due to the rise of the pandemic and the recent appearance of new coronavirus strains that are claimed to be 56% more infectious. New and enhanced diagnostic tests are being produced daily by many leading MedTech companies, giving the diagnostic testing sector a massive boost.
Matter of fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recent announcement of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) over $22 billion offer to finance the United States’ COVID-response plans shows that this market niche still has space for improvement.
Despite the introduction of coronavirus vaccines, Abbott, Hologic, and Quidel are increasing their production capacity in anticipation of another record-breaking year for COVID-19 research.
In the future, digital point-of-care research systems will play an important role. To accelerate the next step of infectious disease point-of-care (POC) research, these systems would benefit from leveraging AI and machine learning.
Trend #2: Growing customer adoption of telemedicine
One of the biggest health-tech development to watch in 2021 is the growing use of remote medicine, which was directly influenced by the pandemic in the past year. The most pressing issue about telemedicine before COVID-19 was patient acceptance. The pandemic has completely changed that, and experts agree that telemedicine has a promising future ahead of it.
At the start of the pandemic, 71% of patients in the US considered telemedicine, and 50% had already used virtual appointments. More significantly, the development of telehealth appears to be set to continue well after the pandemic has passed. The pandemic provided a significant boost to the industry’s development and by 2026, the telehealth boom is expected to reach $185.6 Bn.
Telemedicine startups raised about $1.8 Bn in venture capital funding in 2019, according to Mercom Capital. In reality, VCs invested $3.2 Bn in telemedicine companies in just a nine-month stretch in 2020. In the telehealth industry, companies like Teladoc have had a lot of success. In Q3 2020, Teladoc recorded revenue of nearly $300 million. In comparison to the third quarter of the previous year, this reflects a 109% increase.
Trend #3: Artificial intelligence augmenting healthcare processes
AI has been everywhere, and the healthcare industry is no exception. In reality, COVID-19 appears to have boosted health AI in 2020. Various predictions about the applicability of AI in tracking and identifying epidemics have been made in the past. Fast forward to December 31, 2019- BlueDot, a Canadian health monitoring firm, used an AI-driven algorithm to send the first alert about the coronavirus outbreak, about a week before the WHO or the CDC.
The US FDA has accepted AI to a large extent. They are currently working on several initiatives aimed at developing and updating AI-specific regulatory structures. There were 64 FDA-approved AI/ML medical devices and algorithms as of early 2020.
Vaccine creation, simulation-driven drug discovery, thermal screening, and diagnostics applications are just a few of the areas where AI is already being used in healthcare. In addition to health technology, more and more insurance providers will likely use data-based and AI-driven predictions to help identify risks and improve the plans they sell. A wide range of AI-powered digital health solutions can be expected to emerge in 2021.
Trend #4: Mental health apps are gaining traction
The Covid-19 pandemic has been eye-opening not only in terms of physical health, but also in terms of mental health. For many people, the past year has been a time of financial hardship, shifting relationship dynamics, and a lack of human contact, all of which have contributed to a variety of mental health problems, such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
Headspace, a meditation app centered in Santa Monica, started providing free subscriptions to healthcare providers and teachers earlier this year. Calm, Talkspace, and BetterHelp are only a few of the tech startups that offer mediation courses and more accessible therapy options. Since the beginning of the pandemic, employers and insurance providers have sought to make mental health services more available, and both Calm and Headspace provide a corporate commodity.
According to a study from ORCHA, the pandemic in the UK has resulted in a 200 percent increase in health app downloads, especially mental health apps, as people struggle to cope during the crisis (Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Applications)
Trend #5: Rise of AR/VR in healthcare
Virtual and augmented reality are valuable innovations with a lot of promise for improving telehealth efficiency during the COVID-19 pandemic. This technology is transforming science fiction into reality, from improving patient and provider visits to assisting medical students in procedure simulations. By 2026, AV/VR in the healthcare market is expected to reach 7.05 Bn USD showing that Mixed Reality is finding increased application in the healthcare industry.
Healthcare services will benefit immensely from the use of augmented reality. Since information can be seen in 3D space in a surgeon’s or doctor’s vision, they will get real-time access to data that will help them with their procedures. Students may be able to learn more about procedures through overlays, and doctors may be able to easily compare data to aid in diagnosis. Advancements in robotic surgery are another part of AR technology that is useful in the healthcare industry.
Trend #6: The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)
For several patients and physicians, various devices and smartphone apps have become important in monitoring and preventing chronic illnesses. A new Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) has emerged by integrating IoT production with telemedicine and telehealth technologies. This method makes use of a variety of wearables, such as ECG and EKG displays. Other common medical tests, such as skin temperature, glucose level, and blood pressure readings, may also be recorded.
The Internet of Things is expected to be worth $6.2 trillion by 2025. In 2020, the healthcare sector was so dependent on IoT technology that it will account for 30% of all IoT product sales. With the introduction of innovative delivery technologies, such as the FDA’s approval of the first smart pill in 2017, practitioners will have a plethora of exciting options for delivering more efficient treatment.
Trend #7: Growing use of biosensors and wearables
Apple Watches helped raise initial awareness of ongoing health monitoring and paved the way for widespread adoption of wearable technology. Today, a slew of MedTech firms are developing a variety of technologies to monitor anything from physical activity to women’s health. 52 percent of digital healthcare decision-makers are developing or planning to develop wearable devices, according to a survey.
Because of their potential analytical instruments for detecting analytic with the aid of a physiochemical detector, biosensors have emerged as a key technology in wearables and POC (point of care) diagnostics.
Traditional laboratory techniques, while providing accurate measurements, are time-consuming, complicated, and costly, and require the biological sample to be pre-treated. Biosensor-based instruments, on the other hand, allow for immediate, on-site, and time-based monitoring without the need for sample preparation. Biosensors can predict a patient’s clinical condition deteriorating and monitor the effect of necessary clinical treatments. Analytes include sweat, blood, and other biological agents.
Trend #8: Additive manufacturing and 3D bioprinting gaining steam
Additive manufacturing (also known as “3D printing”) was priced at $1.1 Bn in 2019 and is expected to hit up to $4 Bn by 2027. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 3D printing saw a surge in demand in the healthcare industry, owing to supply chain disruptions and the need to produce more PPE, research, and medical devices to fight the disease.
3D bioprinting, which is similar to traditional 3D printing but is specifically designed to print biological materials, is another concept that is gaining market share. Aspect Biosystems, a Vancouver-based startup, is one of the pioneers in this field that specializes in 3D bioprinting of human tissues. In 2020, the company announced a $20 Mn funding round.
What lies ahead
In 2020, COVID-19 had a major effect on the MedTech industry is still reshaping it. The pandemic accelerated consumer acceptance of many emerging innovations, emphasizing the value of adaptability in the medical field. As a result, in 2021 and beyond, we should foresee even more MedTech creativity.