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Pandemic puts MedTech on Steroids

As the world desperately seeks a remedy, the medical technology industry is in the thick of unprecedented growth opportunities

The Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating technologies at an unprecedented velocity, driven by the need to deliver services and goods remotely. In 2018-19, consulting firm E&Y estimated global MedTech business to be around US$407 billion, and as per Statista the industry was growing at an average clip of around 5%. Covid-19 has, however, put this industry on steroids and its volume is likely to double in a few years.

The global wearable healthcare devices market alone is projected to reach US$46.6 billion by 2025, up from US$18.4 billion in 2020 at a CAGR of 20.5% between 2020 and 2025, according to analyst firm MarketsandMarkets. The firm also forecasts that IoT in healthcare market by component (Medical Device, Systems & Software, Services, and Connectivity Technology) and application (Telemedicine, Connected Imaging, and Inpatient Monitoring), is expected to grow from US$72.5 billion in 2020 to US$188.2 billion by 2025. Indeed, IoT in healthcare will generate Big Data, which in turn will drive the analytics business, resulting in a huge demand spike for healthcare analytics professionals.

Technology transforms healthcare

Technology has made huge inroads into healthcare due to Covid-19. Artificial Intelligence is now being used for screening, diagnosis, predictions and contact alerts. Doctors in the UK are using Augmented Reality goggles to reduce exposure to the virus, yet being able to broadcast patients’ examination images to colleagues outside the room or to dispersed locations for consultancy. Fitbit has launched its own Covid-19 study leveraging data collected through its wearable devices to detect viral infections at their onset. Microsoft has launched Microsoft Cloud for healthcare to facilitate communicating with patients and to improve operational data insights for quicker decision-making. Additive manufacturing has supported the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as goggles, face shields and masks for healthcare workers, and drones have been used to deliver Covid-19 tests and PPE to remote areas.

These trends will persist, with the MedTech sector building on the insights and skills learnt during the period of crisis. Covid-19 will be a key inflexion point for the integration of technology within the healthcare sector, accelerating the development of innovative solutions – leaving healthcare systems around the world better equipped for future pandemics and similar emergencies.

Creating a technological ecosystem

All this has created a rich technological ecosystem within the healthcare industry – with no single technology taking the lead. This is not surprising, as disruptive technologies are interdependent and do not operate in silos, with constant innovation affecting the whole technological spectrum. However, 5G will be a key enabler for the advancement of MedTech. The new connectivity standard will accelerate the development of AI and cloud computing, allowing for improved, faster data processing and analytics.

Use cases are still being tried out, as the MedTech industry is only just beginning to explore ways of incorporating 5G, and telecom operators are increasingly becoming key research partners. As extensive 5G networks will underpin the uptake of new technologies in healthcare, developed markets will be the first to benefit from innovative medical applications, but only in the medium-to-longer term.

5G will enable the convergence of technologies

5G will underpin the use of other disruptive technologies, such as AI, IoT, cloud computing, robotics, and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) – bringing about far-reaching industry changes, with such technologies playing a decisive role in ensuring constant connection and data exchange.

Telecom operators are increasingly collaborating with a variety of partners to develop innovative healthcare solutions based on 5G connectivity. The success and the wider adoption of new medical technologies will depend on the reach and security of 5G infrastructure. Consequently, the healthcare industry is foremost among the sectors where 5G use cases are currently being developed. The new technology will be a key enabler of medical innovation that could potentially transform the access and delivery paradigms of medical services across the world.

Low latency, gigabit per second

The characteristics of 5G connectivity is what makes it better than previous standards and crucial for future developments in healthcare. It presents several advantages such as low latency (in the single-digit millisecond range) and high speed (in the gigabit per second range). Both these aspects are vital to the application of other technologies. Remote-assisted and robotic surgery will rely on 5G to connect the necessary medical equipment virtually with no latency and ensure real-time video streaming of the operation, while AI will require high speeds to process large datasets in a small amount of time.

Connecting multiple devices

5G allows for substantial extra bandwidth. A significantly large number of devices can be connected simultaneously, without affecting the quality of the connection. This will be particularly useful in hospitals where multiple devices will be connected to the network, and in the application of IoT solutions. It will also facilitate network slicing – where portions of the network bandwidth could be dedicated to particular tasks, allowing prioritization of mission-critical functions and emergency operations in hospitals and ambulances.

Private networks, too, can be implemented in 5G. This will allow for greater control and flexibility of the connection compared to other technologies such as Wi-Fi, allowing hospitals to better secure sensitive data and the flow of operations. Telecom operators have, thus, become essential partners in the development of new technologies in healthcare, as they control the network and the frequencies supporting 5G.

As drug prices and the affordability of healthcare increasingly gain a lot of attention, cost-saving and improved patient engagement are key areas where technology could be used. The healthcare technological revolution hopes to benefit from a double push towards innovation, with both industry players and Big Tech committing their money and effort. Of course, the biggest push will come from an aging population in developed economies, generating huge demand for assistive MedTech that will allow for delivery of high-quality remote care.

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