The healthcare industry is experiencing rapid shifts. Some of this is due to the current pandemic, but much of this evolution was happening even before the COVID-19 outbreak. Understanding and embracing the introduction of new technology into the market will be important for healthcare professionals and patients alike.
Here are some of the trends worth keeping tabs on:
If you want to talk about major evolution and change within the U.S. healthcare system, look no further than telemedicine (also known as telehealth).
In a country as large and spread out as the U.S., telemedicine – or the practice of doctors meeting virtually with patients – is highly attractive and mutually beneficial. This is especially true from a cost perspective. Telemedicine lowers the cost of care for both patients and doctors by eliminating many of the physical barriers that take time and deplete resources. It’s also a much more efficient way of meeting – eliminating the commuting aspect and preventing wasted time in waiting rooms and lobbies.
According to one recent report, the global telemedicine market is expected to expand from its current size of $45 billion to $175.5 billion by as soon as 2026. That represents a robust compound annual growth rate of 19.3 percent. The growth drivers will include:
- Rising cases of COVID-19 and anticipation of similar future events
- Increased prevalence of chronic diseases in an aging population
- Growing number of smartphone users and internet-connected households
- Major technological advances in relation to mobile phones and internet (like 5G)
- Serious need for cost-savings in an expensive healthcare environment
- Long waiting times in hospitals for disease treatment
- Advantageous government initiatives
There are also some challenges and risk factors moving forward. In the United States, the biggest concern has to do with cyber security and privacy – particularly when it comes to sensitive patient data (which is carefully regulated under HIPAA rules).
Regulatory issues and compliance requirements – both on a macro scale (government) and a micro scale (healthcare industry) – will create issues moving forward. But once the red tape is dealt with, growth and adoption will skyrocket.
2. The Internet of Medical Things
According to Deloitte, medical technology companies manufacture more than 500,000 different types of medical devices. This includes wearable external medical devices (like insulin pumps and skin patches), implanted devices (such as pacemakers), and stationary medical devices (like scanning machines). And almost every interaction a patient has with a healthcare provider or system involves the use of one of these devices or pieces of equipment.
At the same time, the healthcare industry is becoming increasingly connected (in a digital sense). Cloud computing, big data, wireless technology, and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) are all working together to transmit, store, and interpret data.
What happens when you combine telemedicine with the internet of things (IoT)? Well, you get the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), of course!
“The IoMT brings together the digital and physical worlds to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis and treatments, and monitor and modify patient behaviour and health status in real time,” Deloitte explains. “It also improves health care organizations’ operational productivity and effectiveness by streamlining clinical processes, information and work flows.”
The IoMT market was valued at roughly $41.2 billion in 2017 and is expected to balloon to $158.1 billion by 2022. (The connected medical devices portion of the market – which is responsible for diagnosing, monitoring, and treating patients – will account for $52.2 billion of the market.)
Most healthcare organizations in the United States are already using IoMT technology in some capacity. The growth will occur from increased use and greater reliance on these devices and platforms over the next 24 to 30 months.
3. Low-Level Light Therapy
Now that we’ve addressed a couple of the major sweeping trends in the industry, let’s explore some of the smaller healthcare tech trends that are occurring within specific niches and industries.
Low-level light therapy (LLLT) is the first micro trend we want to discuss. It’s one of the most promising developments in the premature hair loss space (which impacts tens of millions of men and women on an annual basis).
LLLT, which is backed by years of research and several authoritative scientific studies, can be administered in a number of ways. One of the most common and convenient methods is through the use of a laser hair cap (which looks a lot like a standard baseball cap).
LLLT caps work by improving cellular respiration and stimulating hair follicle growth through the use of safe low-level lasers that are known to produce thicker and healthier hair. Until recently, the technology could only be administered in a physician’s office. But with advances in safety and the practicality of new laser caps, people are now able to perform regular sessions (usually 30 minutes) from the comfort of their own homes.
Considering that two-thirds of American men will experience some degree of hair loss by the age of 35 (and 85 percent by age 50), health-tech like LLLT is extremely important and relevant.
4. Wearable Health Devices
There’s a massive surge in the number of patients who want to be able to monitor their own health on a day-to-day basis. This swelling rise is coupled with an increased familiarity and willingness to use mobile devices and technology that track information and data. The result is rampant demand for wearable health devices, which health-tech companies are using as a license to innovate and manufacture new lines of products.
The wearable health market has grown significantly over the last couple of years and is a welcome trend for patients, doctors, insurers, and everyone else in between. Common devices include wearable fitness trackers, smart health watches, wearable blood pressure monitors, wearable ECG monitors, and even biosensors.
This latter product category is especially interesting. It includes things like the self-adhesive trackers – such as the Philips wearable biosensor.
“Research from Augusta University Medical Center showed that this wearable device registered an 89% reduction in patient deterioration into preventable cardiac or respiratory arrest,” BusinessInsider mentions. “This demonstrates the ability wearables have to improve patient outcomes and possibly reduce staff workload.”
According to one industry forecast, the biosensor market is expected to grow from $21.2 billion in 2019 to $31.5 billion by 2024. That amounts to a compound annual growth rate of 8.3 percent.
5. Augmented Reality
Currently valued around $850 million, the global market for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in the healthcare space is expected to scale up to somewhere north of $5.1 billion by as early as 2025.
While AR can be used in any number of ways, one of the primary healthcare applications will occur in operating rooms and doctor training/education.
Depth perception is something that’s very challenging in certain procedures, yet paramount to achieving successful outcomes. When blood vessels and nerves are in close proximity to one another, being able to have precise and accurate assessment of depth becomes critical. New technology is addressing this.
The Maryland Blended Reality Center is one of the leaders behind this charge. They’re currently in the development stages of an AR application that overlays computer images over the doctor’s view of the real world to help guide catheters into patients’ brains to relieve pressure after injuries. With the use of this technology, doctors can perform procedures like this within 0.5 millimeters of accuracy.
As the underlying technology improves, healthcare experts anticipate seeing even more revolutionary technology emerge. The next two or three years will be incredibly important for innovation in this sector of the health-tech market.
A Brave New Medical World
The innovation that’s happening in and around the healthcare industry is both unprecedented and astonishing. While this is an industry that’s always been characterized by innovation, the speed of iteration is blistering. As a healthcare professional, techpreneur, or trendsetter, these are exciting times.
Stay tuned in – as always, don’t be afraid to pivot, shift, or evolve along with the technology.