The year 2020 was replete with surprises, many of them unpleasant. On the bright side, it also brought us more opportunity to solve complex challenges and the opportunity to more quickly adopt new ideas and technologies. The world of medical devices is a perfect example of both.
Medical devices in the medical industry have constantly changed as long as the field has existed. These devices, from a simple stethoscope to a complex MRI machine, are what drives medicine forward and makes more positive outcomes possible for patients. In 2021, as we begin to adapt and recover from a global pandemic, medical devices play as big, if not a bigger, role than ever in healthcare.
Looking at the state of medical devices at the beginning of 2021 and anticipating where they may be headed by 2020, some trends are clear. While these trends aren’t set in stone, they should help you know what to watch in the coming year if you are interested in medicine, technology, or investing.
1. Telemedicine is here to stay
Pandemic or no pandemic, telemedicine would have made this list either way. Since we are coming into a post-pandemic world, though, telemedicine is at the top of this list. In 2020, with medical facilities working at capacity and in-person visits being dangerous, telemedicine was thrust to the forefront of medicine.
Doctors and patients were forced to use this technology regardless of their thoughts on this innovation. And guess what? They found a lot of value in it. Telemedicine made medical professional’s lives easier and decreased overhead for practices. It also is more convenient for patients and allows access to healthcare for people who might not otherwise have it. This technology is the number one element that will revolutionize healthcare in 2021.
2. Further growth in SaMD
Software as a medical device (SaMD) is a technology poised for a big explosion in 2021. As stated in this Orthogonal guide, SaMD has been on a growth trajectory for some time now. The home and personal healthcare implications of the pandemic have increased this trajectory and, as we recover from the pandemic and start to return to our new normal, the growth should go even faster.
SaMD refers to any medical device that works independently from any other medical device. It has many uses from both the clinical and patient perspectives. The clinical side should keep growing steadily as healthcare professionals continue to adopt technology that makes their professional lives easier and creates better results. It is on the patient side that we could see a real boom in the coming year.
Having complex and effective medical devices on your phone, tablet, wearable device, or home computer is a game-changer for personal healthcare. The ability to calculate medicine dosages or monitor your own vitals from an app gives people more control and ownership over their healthcare. It also helps reduce the need for a physical doctor’s office visit and produces better overall outcomes. As more people see how much SaMD improves treatment, the more popular it will become.
3. Artificial intelligence will (almost) replace medical professionals
That may be a bit of an exaggeration. We are still quite far from intelligent machines replacing medical professionals but in 2021 AI computers will be able to do more of what doctors do. The use of AI is growing at a rapid rate, as are the machines’ capabilities.
AI software can now do everything from easily scheduling appointments to chatting about symptoms like a human, to diagnosing simple conditions. It can even facilitate easier payments at the end of the process. As AI grows in the healthcare field, it will free up everyone from the front desk attendant to the top surgeon at the practice to spend less time on busy work and more time growing the practice and getting the best patient outcomes.
4. XR finds even more uses
XR, the broader term that is used to define virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) will continue their growth as the medical profession finds more and more uses for the technology. Right now, these technologies are used to teach doctors, educate patients, and treat a range of mental health issues such as depression. It is also being used to help make surgeons more accurate and save lives.
In 2021, more uses will continue to be found for this incredible technology that adds to and creates an alternate, digital reality for users. One such use may come in the form of using VR for pain management and to treat chronic pain. VR can distract and retrain the brain to not feel as much pain. Much research is being done on this right now and some hospitals are putting it into practice. This could be a major win in the battle against opioid addiction.
5. An increased focus on security
Security has always been (or at least should always be) a top priority in any healthcare situation. Personal healthcare information is among the most sensitive data we have as a society and should be protected as such. Unfortunately, the pandemic helped expose some of the vulnerabilities of the healthcare industry’s cybersecurity weaknesses and show that no one’s data is safe from criminals, even in a time of crisis.
As the use of internet-connected medical devices increases, more information is stored online, and medical devices become more complex, the opportunity for security breaches increases. Medical device developers must now design security features into every aspect of each device. This starts with the most security-driven coding and extends all the way to giving the device the ability to be quickly updated in response to security threats we can’t yet even comprehend.
Medical device technology has always propelled the medical industry forward. In 2021, this will be more apparent than ever. Telehealth, SaMD, AI, XR, and security are just a few of the technologies we will see grow throughout the year. More technology is in the offing – some which we expect and some which we don’t – and that will be a great leap forward for the industry and the patients.