With the all-consuming influence of the COVID-19 pandemic diverting the predicted course of technology-driven change for 2020, the impact was felt, but in rather different ways than might have been anticipated. With various vaccines now available to the populous, we hopefully have a glimpse of normality returning as 2021 unfolds. All being well, the enforcement of fast-paced innovation that we saw in 2020 will feed into 2021, enabling it to become an exciting year for advances in the sector.
Although healthcare has sometimes been accused of lagging behind other industries in adopting digital tools, the pandemic has meant there's been a drastic change in uptake of modern technology. According to HHS data for the US, in February ’20 about 0.1% of Medicare primary care visits were provided using telehealth, by April ’20 that rose to 43.5%.
This sudden shift to digital care introduced consumers to a higher level of convenience and for many, there will be no going back. We saw providers rush to deploy new remote services to attract, treat and retain patients. The likelihood is that in 2021 we’ll see this push for a digital breadth of service continue, potentially with a particular spotlight on mental health support. Equally, increased capability within telemonitoring should allow doctors to “check-in” on various vital data from a distance. These at-home technologies make potentially life-saving interventions viable both while isolation restrictions persist, but also beyond.
Although the telehealth industry is predicted to surpass $185bn by 2026, there is an amber warning light to consider. There's a real danger of health inequity for patients that either lack the technology or don't have access to affordable internet, and so may be left further behind in the digital landscape.
AI seems to permeate every digitally engaged sector these days, but it has always had great potential for enhancing healthcare technology. Its positive effects are wide-reaching, from improving the precision, speed and efficiency of diagnoses to achieving early treatment through AI-driven analytics that can help healthcare providers find the right approach for a given patient. Equally the power of machine learning algorithms can improve drug development by advancing the search for chemical and biological interactions, thus helping to bring new pharmaceuticals to market quicker.
We expect to see 2021 bring a wide array of AI-powered digital health solutions to market with potential new synergies including smartphones, wearables, etc. In addition to health technology, data-based and AI-driven prediction will also likely be used by an ever-increasing number of insurance companies to better identify risks and further update their product offerings.
Over the last 7 years, the number of patients requiring an organ has doubled, while the number of available donor organs has barely moved. Although there are many hurdles to be negotiated with regards to the printing and transplanting of complex organs, simple organs (e.g. bladder) have been transplanted into patients since the early 2000s. To this end, surely focussed development of 3D bioprinting within regenerative medicine is a must for 2021?
Another direction 3D printing may take is within the development and preparation of personalised medicines. On-site 3D printers in pharmacies and hospitals would allow medical professionals to form a dose and delivery system based on a patient’s body size, age, lifestyle and sex. This would make medicine personal to the patient, with the added benefit of saving both money and resources.
A third potential focal point might be the growing R&D crisis with the pharmaceutical industry, with drugs failing at ever later stages. As outlined above, researchers can (and do) print fully functional organs made of human cells, allowing them to test a drug’s efficacy before using in vivo animal or human tests. This not only reduces the damage caused to animals but also expedites the entire R&D process.
Nanotechnology has been an ever-growing presence in healthcare for some years now, with global funding increasing by 40-45% annually; a point which is also highlighted by the seventh EU research program framework allotting almost €430 million to 84 preclinical research focussed nanomedicine projects. 2021 will no doubt see this burgeoning technology develop its applications further.
In the constant endeavour for greater surgical accuracy, the ability to simplify the identification of abnormalities such as damaged tissues or tumours is highly advantageous. Nanoparticles by their nature, make them ideal candidates for imaging applications by acting as contrast agents, so further development in this space would be a real boon.
Advances in antibacterial drug resistance will hopefully be achieved with the use of nanozymes given their ability to mimic major antioxidant enzymes and therefore help in combating both infectious and degenerative diseases. Equally, biologics that have poor bioavailability, such as insulin, have been shown to improve efficacy and accuracy by packaging it in hollow nanoparticles.
Major technological advances have seen an ever-increasing number of connected medical devices coming to market; all of these can generate, collect, analyse and transmit data.
This data, along with the devices themselves are creating the IoMT, a market which is estimated to be worth $158.1 billion in 2022. Although the connected nature of these devices presents challenges to developers (e.g. cybersecurity, regulatory change and scale), it also opens myriad new opportunities for innovation.
As a footnote, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced industry experts to evaluate if (and how) smart cities and the general Internet of Things can link with connected medical devices to monitor health data to potentially preventing outbreaks of future pandemics.
We hope you found this article thought-provoking; please do feel free to share your thoughts with us on the trends you envision playing a key part in 2021.
Equally, if you’d like to discuss how Chaseman Global can help your company achieve its organisational goals for 2021 then do get in touch.