The healthcare industry is going through a transformation, and to succeed in this increasingly competitive environment, organizations need to make significant investments in processes and technologies to cut down costs, increase access to care delivery, and improve medical care. Driving current healthcare trends are the costs of providing care and the outcome of this care. As healthcare providers face revenue pressures, they are adopting new care delivery models and shifting to outpatient services to reduce administrative and supply costs.
Various analyst firms and industry experts such as Frost & Sullivan, Forrester, Deloitte, IBM Institute, and IDC predict that the following five medical technology trends will be key enablers to solve these challenges:
- Artificial Intelligence
- IoT and wearables
In this blog, we take a closer look at each of these trends.
The demand for telemedicine is increasing, as it is a great way to bridge the gap between physicians and patients. The need to reduce healthcare costs and the growing number of elderly patients are also major factors propelling the rise in telemedicine services. A recent survey from Advisory Board showed that 77% of consumers are highly interested in receiving healthcare virtually, and 19% of patients have already done so. Whether it is a clinical encounter with a physician, health support such as medication-related reminders, tracking health indicators such as blood pressure and blood sugars, or receiving daily support to manage an ongoing health issue, patients prefer to get it virtually because telemedicine offers freedom and accessibility.
2. Artificial Intelligence
The role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is growing and is expected to be one of the major trends in healthcare in the upcoming years. The demand for precision medicine and cost reduction are the key drivers for AI in the healthcare industry. AI can transform any area of healthcare, from from hospital workflow tasks to diagnosing health conditions — and thereby providing process automation, improving workflow productivity, and increasing diagnostic accuracy.
Frost & Sullivan’s research and analysis on AI in healthcare reveals that the AI health market shows explosive growth, from $600 million in 2014 to an estimated $6.6 billion in 2021 with a CAGR of 40%. And according to recent data from a PwC survey, a majority of consumers are willing to consider non-traditional options for managing their health and substitute the care of human clinicians with the use of AI technologies:
As for service preferences, consumers were most willing to receive four types of services:
- Monitor my heart condition (e.g. pulse, blood pressure, electrocardiography, etc.), take note of my symptoms, and advise on heart condition treatment (37%).
- Administer a test that checks my heartbeat’s rhythm and makes recommendations based on the results (35%).
- Provide customized advice for fitness and health based on my personal preferences and health records (34%).
- Take and test a blood sample and provide me with the results (30%).
Many companies — from startups to major players like IBM, Google, and Microsoft — already have their own AI healthcare projects and are investing in this area more and more. Soon, AI and machine learning technologies will be used across the entire healthcare ecosystem, from simple consumer health applications to complex disease management and clinical decision support.
Robots are revolutionizing the medical world. The necessity to improve medical productivity and reduce routine errors increases the demand for healthcare assistance and automation robots. According to a Research and Markets report, the medical robotics market is projected to reach USD 12.80 billion by 2021 — growing at a CAGR of 21.1% from USD 4.90 billion in 2016. Furthermore, the IDC predicts that by 2020, one in four hospitals with 200+ beds will have deployed robotics to handle time-consuming tasks, reduce labor, and prevent errors (thereby enhancing the sustainability of their business operations and improving patient safety).
Robots can also be used for rehabilitation and physical therapy (e.g., bionics, exoskeletons, next-gen wearable robots), elder-care assistance, autism (i.e., to enhance social interaction skills) and simplifying surgery. In fact, surgical robots comprise the largest component of the medical robotics market. Frost & Sullivan forecasts that by 2025, 80% of surgical procedures are likely to be performed by robots.
PwC conducted a survey to identify people’s acceptance of robots for delivering different types of healthcare services. They asked participants if they would be willing for a robot to perform a surgical procedure instead of a doctor. The results showed that close to half — and up to 73% — of all respondents would be willing to undergo minor surgery performed by a robot (i.e., noninvasive or minimally-invasive surgery such as cataract surgery or laser eye surgery). Around 45% of respondents would be willing to undergo major surgery performed by a robot (i.e. invasive surgery such as replacement of a knee or hip joint, removal of a tumor, or heart surgery).
The major advantages of using robots for delivering healthcare services were named as follows:
And the major disadvantages were as follows:
And while there are still concerns for robots replacing people, AI and robotics is the future of healthcare.
4. IoT and Wearables
Patients are getting more and more involved in managing their own personal health. More than ever, our wearables and connected devices help us making healthy lifestyle choices and addressing specific diseases such as COPD, heart arrhythmia, asthma, pain management, and many others.
According to data from Gartner, the wearable technology market will grow 16.7% in 2017, with 310.4 million units sold. And they project that the wearable market will reach more than 500 million units by 2021. According to Research and Markets, the healthcare wearables market is expected to reach $14.4 billion by 2022, growing from $6.22 billion in 2017 at a CAGR of 18.3% during the forecast period.
The diversity of devices on the market is really tremendous. Some of the most popular wearable medical device usage is as follows:
- Smartwatches for health
- Wearable continuous glucose monitors (CGM)
- Wearable pain management devices
- Wearable cardiovascular disease management devices
- Wearable EEG monitors
And there are many other growing areas where IoT and wearables can be applied to improve patient’s health and overall lifestyle (e.g., smart pills, smart hospitals, patient identification, etc.).
There are always security-related risks associated with sharing information, especially in healthcare. And recent cyber attacks and data breaches only add concerns over the health data security.
Blockchain technology is getting more and more attention and can be a new approach and solution for secure patient data storage and transmission. According to the IDC, by 2020, 20% of healthcare organizations will have moved beyond pilot projects and will be using blockchain for supply-chain management and patient identity. Some vendors are already exploring blockchain technology, applying it to EMR/EHR systems like the Medicalchain platform or MedRec system. Major players like IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Google have even separate units dedicated to developing blockchain products, including for healthcare.
Blockchain-based healthcare systems can be the solution to various challenges, such as data interoperability, integrity, security, portability, and many more.
Although the healthcare industry reacts to changes very slowly, we will see more and more organizations adopting new technologies and innovation to survive in a competitive field. They will have to shift to a new outcome-based care approach — with a strong collaboration between all participants of the healthcare value chain — to create cost effective and patient-focused healthcare systems.