The much-anticipated digital health boom has finally arrived. The promise of digital health, telehealth, and other medtech solutions have long been apparent, but the question was always: How fast would the world adapt to these technologies? Well, COVID-19 has forced that adaptation to happen at a rapid pace over these past few months—and there may be no looking back.

Global Market Insights, Inc. forecasts telemedicine to expand at a 26.2% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2020-2026. Meanwhile, Technavio expects 18.98% growth within the digital health market in 2020 alone and a CAGR of over 20% from 2020 to 2024. Even investors expect big things from this market and have already put $5.4 billion into digital health companies during the first six months of 2020, according to Rock Health.

For the most part, consumers are onboard with this shift. According to a digital healthcare report from GlobalWebIndex, 50% of internet users in the U.S. and U.K. are in favor of the ability to consult with a doctor by a phone or video call instead of in person. Additionally, 43% would use a wearable device that connects with their smartphone to monitor their health. Specifically, respondents most desire features that can monitor their blood pressure (53%), heart rate (51%), blood sugar (45%), cardiac issues (42%), sleep issues (42%), and breathing rate (41%).

However, half expressed privacy and security concerns with health data being used by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning programs. Consumers are also afraid the use of AI in healthcare will reduce face-to-face interactions (45%), and that same percentage is also leery of trusting a surgical robot over a human. Still, over half (51%) see the benefit in AI’s ability to detect patterns that humans might miss and its ability to offer greater preventive care (42%). These undeniable benefits are why so many people and companies dreamed about the future of medtech—and the present is only confirming that belief was well placed considering the value medtech has shown during the pandemic.

Medtech Helps Deal with COVID

Hospitals have been put under unprecedented stress due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, which resulted in the short supply of bed space, vital supplies (such as ventilators), and specialist staff. While many medtech companies stepped up to help with these issues, one example comes from S3 Connected Health which worked with senior respiratory consultants and clinicians to develop ACORRD. This web-based tool supports HCPs with triage, monitoring, and treatment of COVID-19 patients in hospitals by using a novel measure of patient status called the CCI (Critical Care Index).

“The CCI is a strong predictor of COVID-19 disease progression and can alert clinicians to patient deterioration 24 hours in advance with 79% accuracy, or 12 hours in advance with 85% accuracy,” explains Matt Norton, Director of Strategy and Client Solutions, S3 Connected Health. “This advance warning improves resource allocation and the management of patients within a hospital setting—ultimately increasing the capacity of the healthcare systems to deal with the number of COVID-19 patients without placing extra burden on clinicians.”

Meanwhile, solutions like voice technology and AI integrated into devices has helped address the detrimental effect isolation is having on the mental and physical health of people during the pandemic.

“Voice technology is helpful for the most vulnerable such as those with disabilities and chronic conditions who often rely on caregivers to navigate medical information and appointments or support medication compliance,” says Kelly Johnston, Chief Operating Officer, HandsFree Health. “The ability to contact a loved one, research healthcare options, or seek emergency services without picking up a phone or device provides a sense of security in uncertain times. Additionally, patient monitoring devices can feed information into platforms which can then provide alerts and notifications to users via voice, and caregivers via mobile.”

Tech-enabled patient hub solutions, which have been helping patients navigate the barriers within the healthcare system even before the pandemic, are now being used by biopharma companies to help patients deal with hurdles caused by the pandemic.

“Patient hubs can play a valuable role in supporting these efforts by ensuring that a patient’s journey starts on the right path as efficiently and seamlessly as possible,” says Josh Marsh, Program Director of Sonexus™ Access & Patient Support, Cardinal Health. “By leveraging AI, hubs can provide insights into the patient experience so that the support program can proactively identify potential hurdles that a patient will face during their journey and also intelligently evolve to meet the needs of patients.”

The Future of Medtech

You can also be sure to expect solutions that will deal with the aftereffects of COVID-19. For example, while telehealth has garnered a lot of attention, Partha S. Anbil, Business Area Leader, Medical Devices & Diagnostics, Integrated Accounts, IBM Healthcare & Life Sciences, says “service at a distance” is likely to become an expectation for customers in all areas of life.

“Society is transforming to expect products and services to appear on the doorstep, and this is true for medical and diagnostic products and services as much as it is for daily living needs,” Anbil explains. “Similar services are now being expected for sales and support representatives in (some) medical settings/situations and major healthcare conferences are also committing to or at least considering virtualization.”

A more distressing impact of the pandemic is the mental toll it has taken on healthcare workers—already there are multiple reports of suicide by front-line HCPs. That means treatment for PTSD caused by the pandemic must be as big of a priority as finding a solution to the virus itself.

“One opportunity for technology to aid in fighting this unfortunate byproduct of the pandemic is Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET),” says Carmine Jichetti, Head of the Innovation Lab, Ogilvy Health. “Using a head-mounted display, PTSD patients can be immersed in a computer-generated environment programmed to help the person directly confront their specific fears and reduce the anxiety associated with whatever triggers were borne from fighting COVID-19.”

On a more positive note, we may be able to expect future medtech to prevent the world from having to relive this experience. To accomplish that, Prodeep Bose, EVP, Growth and Innovation of The Bloc, believes the medtech industry’s new focus will be very sensor centric.

“In the age of pandemics, we can expect pathogen sensors for people, surfaces, and environments,” Bose explains. “Just as today we get reports on air quality detailing suspended particulate matter and ozone levels, tomorrow we must be able to sense microorganisms before they become the next pandemic.”

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