A new dawn
The COVID-19 healthcare crisis has been felt more acutely in healthcare than perhaps any other industry. The pressure to address the immediate threat to people’s lives led to the redeployment of doctors and nurses, reducing capacity elsewhere in the system.
Meanwhile, lockdowns led to a vast increase in remote diagnostics and the closure of outpatient clinics. Growing backlogs of elective surgeries have now reached a record high, with the subsequent impact on people’s productivity and well-being, as well as serious questions over how this backlog gets addressed. Other consequences for healthcare have been less obvious but just as impactful. The closing of outpatient clinics has stalled new clinical care trials which could delay the introduction of new care pathways.
A more positive outcome, however, has been the increase in the speed at which innovation has been adopted by healthcare systems. It is no exaggeration to say that innovation which – before the pandemic – would have taken a decade to adopt, is now being fast-tracked into healthcare systems – particularly if it achieves the dual goal of better clinical outcomes and reduced cost.
Predicting the future is a risky business at the best of times but there are some clear trends likely to emerge in healthcare during 2023 and these have important considerations for the medical technology (MedTech) industry.
Telemedicine consultation takes a backstep
One of the key consequences of the pandemic was an explosive growth of telemedicine – with consultations being widely moved to online and video platforms. During the worst COVID outbreaks this helped physicians and nurses ensure they remained safe despite the risks to wellbeing.
2023 may mark the year that this trend begins to reverse. Without the immediate threat of a COVID outbreak, healthcare professionals are facing a backlash from patients who are struggling to get appointments or are frustrated with remote diagnostics.
The reality is that many serious and chronic conditions simply cannot be identified over a telephone or video call – something specialists increasingly recognize. Telemedicine and remote diagnostics will continue, but the future will be about a far more hybrid model that recognizes the convenience of remote consultations for many but respects the need for real face-to-face meetings for others.
Self-monitoring and management
As the inevitable pressure on the US healthcare system intensifies, expect to see increased deployment and use of MedTech that enables patients to monitor their own conditions more effectively.
While much discussion has been based on the potential of ‘internet of things deployments in healthcare for remote patient monitoring, the more immediate opportunity is offered by portable equipment that helps patients understand how they can help themselves manage their conditions remotely. Reducing the need for more regular check-ups enables healthcare services to monitor, identify, and then treat those patients where the need for intervention is flagged up by the technology. Just as the US population has embraced smart fitness watches, so the deployment of clinical-grade monitoring equipment will become the norm for an increasing number of patients.
In addition to monitoring technology, the deployment of remote treatment will grow – helping patients address issues in the home that previously would have required a hospital or clinic visit. Combined remote healthcare monitoring and management offer patients the ability to remain at home, manage their well-being effectively, and receive the attention they need when they need it. In a world where millions have experienced delays in surgery, this will become an increasingly important part of making patients comfortable while they wait for treatments.
Healthcare services have traditionally been slow to adopt new treatments and standards of care. There is a good reason for this: changes need to demonstrably deliver better clinical outcomes to be adopted. This can be hard to prove and takes time to demonstrate. When most new treatments were pharmaceutical, there was always a concern about potential long-term side effects, particularly if a new treatment was only marginally better than the previous standard of care.
With the development of the MedTech industry, treatments can demonstrate real patient benefits far more quickly. MedTech solutions can speed up healing by double or more, and several have adapted or modified medical techniques in new formats or applications. The necessity driven by the pandemic has encouraged faster and more frictionless adoption of technology, supported by healthcare professionals who that recognize only technology can effectively bridge the gap between increased medical demand and limited budgets and staff resources.
Healthcare will not be immune to the growing global climate crisis and 2023 will see an emphasis on sustainable solutions that drive a more circular healthcare system.
The COVID-19 crisis demonstrated sharply the issues the US healthcare system faces. On one hand, it needs to ensure the least possible risk of sharing transmissible diseases among patients, yet recycling requires products to be sanitized to reduce this risk. During the height of the pandemic, reducing transmissions was rightly deemed more important than sustainability, with large volumes of medical waste incinerated. In 2023 healthcare systems will look for solutions that address both a reduction in transmission and improved longevity and sustainability. The next big challenge will be to reduce clinical waste volumes significantly.
For the MedTech industry, this means creating solutions that can deliver effective treatment without environmental harm, be that innovative UV lighting technology, sterilization fog rooms, or similar. MedTech companies find themselves increasingly challenged to demonstrate compliance with high levels of sustainability as part of them becoming preferred suppliers. Clinicians will look to MedTech innovation that can reduce the environmental impact of the care they provide, solutions that are good for the planet – not just those that do less harm. Clinicians will want to feel they are doing their bit.
Less supply chain vulnerability
The fallout from the lack of suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) available at the start of the pandemic demonstrated the critical importance of a robust and effective supply chain in healthcare.
This has wider implications than PPE alone. The recent supply chain issues in China, combined with the impact of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, have demonstrated that an uncertain world has global implications. Healthcare systems are looking to ensure they can deliver continuity of care in an unpredictable world, particularly ensuring that drugs and MedTech solutions that help people heal are always available.
One key trend of 2023 will be MedTech companies being challenged to demonstrate how they will ensure continuity of supply in all circumstances. As the world becomes less predictable, healthcare systems will need to take less of a ‘just in time’ approach to the delivery of critical products.
A world of opportunity
As MedTech further matures in 2023 and beyond, there will be challenges and opportunities for the industry. Better solutions for patient care that can demonstrably tick the dual boxes of improved outcomes and reduced cost will enjoy less barriers to adoption.
This adoption, in turn, will provide additional opportunities to deliver value to healthcare services across the US and challenge the standard of care status quo across both inpatient and outpatient treatments. At the same time, the industry needs to consider important new challenges such as a robust and reliable supply chain as well as demonstrating improved sustainability over time. If the industry continues to showcase its potential to deliver better clinical and financial outcomes, 2023 and beyond will remain the age of MedTech.