Healthcare gets personal: How health is shifting into the hands of patients

This year’s CES displayed a huge array of new developments and possibilities from the health and medical technology market. Many are not ready for public use, but they give us a glimpse into the future of healthcare. CNET’s ‘Next Big Thing’ panel was centred around “The Invisible Doctor” and what it means for consumers and the wider industry. It’s evident that the shift in healthcare monitoring (from hospital to patient) could overhaul the entire structure of patient care. 

From a physician-centric treatment to patient-preferred healthcare, technology is creating a positive impact on the ability to manage lifestyle diseases and personal health. As consumers take a pro-active interest in their own personal health and wellbeing, there’s huge potential for greater technology adoption and the creation of new devices. The results are beneficial to both parties, as patients generate more data which doctors can then use to make more accurate diagnoses and inform new research.

Personal health devices

Wearable medical devices sales are expected to globally top $55 billion USD in revenue in 2022, increasing from $10.5 billion USD in 2017, according to ABI research. Medical technology companies will need to keep up with creative, regulatory and quality compliance and value-driven engineering and manufacturing solutions if they want to enjoy growth in both expanding and emerging markets.

The continuous stream of physiological data received from devices such as glucose monitors, pulse oximeters, and BP monitors is playing a key role in helping doctors monitor post-hospitalisation recovery and other long-term health conditions.

Using Bluetooth technology, healthcare professionals are able to provide diagnostic monitoring, apply physical therapy and even adjust ongoing therapy of implantable devices. For example, caregivers can track movements of elderly patients and receive health measurements. Patients, on their part, can promptly send measured body values wirelessly to their doctors.

Data is then collected and transmitted to facilities such as monitoring centres in primary care settings, hospitals and intensive care units, skilled nursing facilities, and centralised off-site case management programs. Health professionals monitor these patients remotely and act on the information received as part of the treatment plan. Soon, there will be less of a need for someone to visit the GP’s practice.

Monitoring programmes are tools to help achieve the "triple aim" of healthcare, by improving patient outcomes, expanding access to care and making healthcare systems more cost effective. These devices then provide the clinicians access to current and ongoing data to track the health of their patients for developing and managing individual health plans or to study trends across a defined population.

Additionally, quality of life and patient experience are constantly improving through medical developments like minimally invasive surgeries and better monitoring systems, along with more comfortable scanning equipment.

Driving efficiencies in healthcare

Healthcare technology is also drastically reducing the need for travel time from a patient’s home to the place of treatment. Patients – especially those in areas not well served by certain physician specialties – can be monitored and their treatment plans adjusted remotely or at a local primary care facility, rather than traveling back to a specialty clinic a long distance away. The UK’s NHS also made moves to reduce the growing pressures on GP surgeries by launching the Babylon Health app in December 2017, which offers video consultations with GPs.

Additionally, inclusive or specialised medical devices support custom fitting and designing unique size body parts, such as hips and knees, using technologies like additive manufacturing for replacement and implantation of orthopaedic (musculoskeletal) body parts. The positive environment created by these technologies helps accelerate post-operation recovery in patients.

All these advancements in medical device manufacturing are enhancing personalised healthcare in numerous ways.

Learning from innovation in other industries

There is potential for medical device and imaging markets to leverage new technology platforms to reduce development time, save investment costs and lower barriers to market entry. Medical technology design must rely on distinguishing features and market adoptability to ensure it is in-line with global megatrends, with many innovations carrying forth a technology convergence that is prepped for a "smart" world.

This trend is creating an openness to innovation in a highly regulated industry, allowing new technologies and products to be developed by companies outside of the healthcare industry. The likes of Google and IBM, for instance, are investing in technologies and building partnerships to be a part of this growth. Google’s DeepMind now works with the NHS in the UK to provide mobile tools and AI research to get patients “from test to treatment” faster and as accurately as possible. We are moving to an age where knowledge spill overs and blending innovation between sectors will become more frequent. How each sector learns from the other will remain a strong factor in delivering value to patients by using data gathered to develop better experiences, delivered efficiently.

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