From 2000 to 2011, the U.S. population over the age of 65 increased 18%, a rate that is expected to continue for at least 20 years. This trend is significant for medtech because the elderly use more health resources compared with their younger counterparts.
Despite its inclusion of the medical device tax, the Affordable Care Act has provided another tailwind for the medical device industry. The law has been credited with reducing the number of Americans without health insurance by 8 million. In particular, it has extended coverage to people with preexisting conditions and low incomes, groups that tend to need more health treatments that require medical devices.
Service and Business Model Innovations
Due to lower reimbursement rates, many medtech companies are enhancing their products with service offerings that offer additional value for their customers, such as increasing operating room efficiency or reducing hospital visits. By having a suite of offerings designed to address the continuum of care in a given disease area, medical device companies can help provider groups meet important care metrics necessary for reimbursement and simplify the contracting complexity healthcare buyers face.
Innovation in Product Development
One way medical device companies are combating higher development and commercialization costs is through use of data technologies to increase productivity at each stage of product development. Companies are now mining information from tools in service, clinical trials, genetics, and demographics to perform analyses that provide insights into trials and generate new ideas, while reducing costs by drawing conclusions faster.
With the recent explosion in mobile platforms, interactive graphical user interfaces (GUIs) have become commonplace in medical devices. But research into recent patient incidents and product recalls has found GUI design most often the primary culprit. GUI development is therefore a critical element in most present day medical device efforts. Considerations of how systems can be designed for integration with medical platforms and end users are essential for the safety, efficacy, and ultimate success of new devices.
Application of New Technologies
Some segments of medical device manufacturing are being transformed by the use of 3-D printing, with medical applications accounting for 16.4% of the $2.2-billion additive manufacturing market in 2012, according to a study published by Deloitte University Press. Relatively small medical devices, such as hearing aids or dental retainer molds, are currently best suited for additive manufacturing, but future medical applications include grafting skin onto burn victims, printing blood vessels and heart tissue, making prostheses that resemble the original missing limb, studying cancer with printed cells, and even creating replacement organs for the human body.
Another technology with niche applications in medical device manufacturing is flexible automation. The robotics incorporated into these systems can provide the capability to process different products through the same system and are reconfigurable for new products, thereby reducing costs, improving production flexibility, and shortening product development life cycles. As a result, robots are being used increasingly in various areas of medical device manufacturing, including assembly, dispensing, quality control, and packaging.
Software development will also continue to play a major role in medtech innovation as the shift to mobile platforms allows personal electronic devices to transmit patient data to doctors, manage documentation and records, and provide identification and traceability of medical devices.
[image courtesy of SAKHORN38/FREEDIGITALPHOTOS.NET]