Medical technologies: a revolution for physician and patient
The rapid development of MedTech is having a seismic impact upon health and care delivery and looks set to transform the patient experience.
The continuous development of technology is disrupting the healthcare industry in profound ways. New innovations are challenging conventional medical practices to keep up, impacting everything from the patient experience within the healthcare system, to the way healthcare professionals can plan and deliver care. Embracing such technological advancements and learning to adapt for the benefit of both the medical professional and patient is one of the greatest challenges the health industry faces.
In recognition of the demand for new technologies, the 2018 NHS Long Term Plan (LTP) committed to introduce a MedTech funding mandate, recognising the need to improve the speed at which patients gain access to innovative medical technologies. However, as the sector continues to be pressured to deliver more with less, technology has been forced into a primary position within healthcare thinking.
Furthermore, although the Long Term Plan committed to increase funding across medical technologies, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is forcing the industry to rethink and revaluate the role technology will play in the future.
Embedding digital technologies into diagnostic processes increases our capacity to conduct and deliver remote diagnosis as a fundamental feature of the patient journey. The use and introduction of devices, such as glucometers, is not new to the healthcare industry. However, recent advancements are bridging the gap between the patient and physician without the need for face-to-face interaction. Enabling remote at-home testing via the use of smartphones, for example, allows the patient to be diagnosed from home.
Medical technologies are set to form the backbone of healthcare delivery, specifically during the diagnostic process. Technologies are aiding earlier cancer diagnosis, improving survival rates and, ultimately, relinquishing some of the pressure imposed upon healthcare providers. Point-of-care (POC) testing, for example, has the power to reduce the accessibility gap in healthcare. In an already strained healthcare infrastructure, the need to ensure quality and effective care delivery becomes magnified. Where resources are limited, remote diagnosis has the power to create a more equitable healthcare system.
A shortage of pathologists is forcing the need for innovation and modernisation in the manner with which pathology services are delivered. The sector faces a challenge, balancing the speed with which lots of technological advances are made and the pressing need for rapid technological deployment. In consideration of this, there is a crucial need to evaluate the extent to which the integration of medical technology has impacted the the patient journey.
Emerging digital technologies in pathology have the potential to increase diagnostic accuracy, workforce efficiency, improve workload distribution and increase the amount of information that can be drawn from tissue sample images.
The Long Term Plan stated that by 2021, “pathology networks will mean quicker test turnaround times, improved access to more complex tests and better career opportunities for healthcare scientists at less overall cost”. The commitment to improve the medical technologies available within the practice of pathology align with the development of clinical data banks to “fuel research and innovation”.
The determination to increase availability and access to medical technologies is articulated by the commitment to create a pathology network by 2021. However, the Covid-19 outbreak delayed the launch of the MedTech Funding Mandate. Therefore, even though the pathology networks would equate to faster test turnaround times, the negative domino effect of the pandemic is yet to be truly revealed.
The development of medical technologies has made a significant contribution to the improvement to global health. The overwhelming costs of drug development has forced pharmaceutical companies to explore novel and emerging technologies as a way of researching and producing new medicines in an affordable manner. Such advancements present the opportunity to reduce costs, expedite the development process and alleviate the pressures imposed upon the workforce.
Artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printers and machine learning, among others, are a few of the technologies that are beginning to transform and reshape the industry. For example, AI is being used throughout the industry to aid with data entry and storage, the analysing of test results and data, as well as revolutionising medication management. It also has the potential to generate millions of simulations of the effect a drug in development might have, based upon the records of past patients.
The Long Term Plan outlined the need for an “uptake of proven, affordable innovations” to be accelerated through the aforementioned MedTech mandate. Following a similar trend to other fields, the commitments made in the plan highlight a recognition of the primary role medical technologies will play in the pharmaceutical sector. The need to embrace such technological advancement in design, research, manufacture, and distribution is becoming indisputably evident.
NHS annual spending of about £6 billion on MedTech reflects a clear commitment to maintain investment. However more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has torn valuable resources away from the fields of medicine and healthcare, placing great pressure upon the demand for cancer services. This could result in more than 3,000 potentially avoidable deaths from the four main cancers – breast, colorectal, lung, and oesophageal – in England by 2025.
Medical technologies play a crucial role in enabling the personalisation of medical treatment. Digital health has facilitated the tailoring of prescriptions to the needs of individual patients, improving both diagnosis and the ability to deliver effective treatments. In 2017, global spending on cancer medicines increased from $96 billion USD to $133 billion USD. However, advances in technology, data and information will begin to impact oncology treatments and their costs. For example, advancements in AI have the power to reduce the size of the required oncology workforce.
Oncology will be enhanced by the increasing use of medical technologies, including surgical robots, AI and medical imaging. However, the extent to which they will be adopted and the benefits this will bring remains unclear.
The true potential to which medical technologies will revolutionise the provision of healthcare remains an unknown. Nonetheless, existing signs points to the industry’s need to cement their use in healthcare pathways in order to both cut costs and maximise the care journey for both the patient and practitioner.