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These 2020 Medtech Predictions Were Surprisingly Accurate — for the Wrong Reasons

COVID-19 threw a gargantuan curveball at medtech, but these industry predictions for 2020 have been surprisingly on point, so far. See what we got right and what we didn't.

Never has the phrase, "hindsight is 20-20" been more applicable than in the year 2020. Now that we're more than halfway through this wildly unprecedented year, we thought it would be interesting to look back at these 2020 medtech predictions to see just how far off the mark we were.

To our surprise, most of the predictions have actually been spot on, albeit for very different reasons than we expected.

Digital Health

Ralph Hugeneck, senior director of technology at Nypro, could not have been more correct when he told MD+DI Editor-in-Chief Daphne Allen that 2020 would be a big year for digital health.

“In recent months, we’ve seen big changes in reimbursement strategies that will influence this trend," Hugeneck said. "For example, physicians are now reimbursed for working with connected care platforms. There is a huge demand in getting data from patients, whether regarding clinical trials or the everyday life of the patient, which requires a significant amount of integration—sensors that capture data, additional components in constrained space, movement in the diagnostics space to microfluidics for DNA sampling and processing.”

While all of those factors have certainly played a role in preparing the healthcare industry at large for the digital health explosion that we've seen in the past six months, COVID-19 is what really fueled the rapid growth and adoption of digital health technologies such as telemedicine and remote monitoring.

5G

Closely related to digital health is 5G, so it comes as no surprise that Maria Shepherd, president and CEO at Medi-Vantage, cited 5G as a trend to watch in 2020. 

“Digital health is king and 5G is its crown,” Shepherd said. “Right now, greater than 46 million Americans, or 15% of the U.S. population, live in rural areas, according to the CDC and as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Rural care is the next frontier for large healthcare systems to provide care in remote areas through telehealth,” she says. “The quality and speed of a 5G network are imperative for positive outcomes. For example, 5G can support large healthcare systems through real-time transmission of large imaging files. Specialists will be able to review and advise on patient care and augment a local doctor's ability to deliver care that provide the best outcomes through remote and reliable monitoring of patients.”

Hugeneck also mentioned 5G in his predictions for 2020. He expected that the maturation of 5G in 2020 would "enable increased data flow without latency, including the video and audio capabilities vital to remote healthcare, thereby accelerating connected care strategy development."

Market researchers noted early on in the crisis could potentially delay 5G rollouts in some places. It's not so much of a supply chain issue, however, than a personnel issue.

Speaking at the ABI Tech Summit, Dimitris Mavrakis, a research director at ABI Research, pointed out that engineers and technicians could not visit sites because of COVID-related restrictions he said. Such restrictions could show delays in installations of small cells and other new equipment needed for 5G, Mavrakis explained.

On the other hand, Mavrakis also said that COVID-19 would also fuel the fire of demand for 5G going forward because the pandemic has created such a significant increase in WiFi and cellular traffic.

Wearables in Medtech

Another offshoot of the digital health trend is wearables, which Shepherd and other medtech professionals also noted as a 2020 trend.

Wearable technologies could help address some of our greatest healthcare unmet needs, Shepherd said, citing a survey that suggested more than 58% of people are willing to wear wearable tech, making wearable technology for healthcare the source of advanced care for patients. "Wearables will help patients get health support proactively and improve patient outcomes," she said.

Scott Thielman, founder and chief technology officer at Product Creation Studio, also talked about the benefits of wearable devices being widely adopted by consumers, especially when it comes to cardiac care.

"...There is an opportunity for the digital health industry to influence and enhance this trend with medical-grade monitoring that informs both care providers and patients in a reimbursable interaction," Thielman said. "Real-time feedback helps nudge patients toward healthier choices, but an engaged relationship between the cardiologist can be a life saver.”

Stephanie Whalen, product development manager at NewDealDesign and a mechanical engineering consultant, also talked about wearables as a trend to watch in 2020. “Due to the large body of work that’s been undergoing in these areas, we’re going to see droves of companies use Bluetooth and other wireless technologies to enter the medical wearable market, for both staff and patient use,” she said.

COVID-19 doesn't seem to have slowed down the adoption of wearables in medtech, and in some ways the pandemic has probably served as yet another driving force behind the trend.

"On the patient side," Tina Deng, a medtech analyst at GlobalData, told MD+DI during a recent interview. "There is a growing population of those who are comfortable with technology, a growing popularity of health and wellness, and an increased demand for patient-centered care. From the physician side, the trends include big data as well as treating patients using personalized, preventative, and remote care during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Macroeconomically, the aging population and emerging markets are the main market drivers, she added.

Data

Yet another trend category that is closely related to digital health, some experts MD+DI spoke with late last year about upcoming medtech trends emphasized the importance of data going forward.

“It’s all about the data,” said Mark Wehde, interim chair of the Mayo Clinic Division of Engineering. “The hot tickets on the street are artificial intelligence and machine learning. And while we will see steady advances over the next year leveraging these technologies, it will likely be well into the next decade before we see them making a significant impact outside of niche markets like radiology.”

At the time, Wehde predicted that the big story in 2020 would be cloud migration and patient access to data.

“In 2019, the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services proposed policy changes supporting interoperability of patient data with an aim of making it transferable through secure and standardized formats with a goal of empowering patients to better use their own personal data," Wehde said. "Moving patient data to the cloud is a small and achievable step already being pursued by the major healthcare systems and supported by major EMR vendors such as EPIC and Cerner. Couple that with the intrusion of tech companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft, and we could see some significant changes to how we manage our data over the next couple of years.”

Once again, we've heard from medtech experts who say COVID-19 has brought to light the importance of digitization in flexible manufacturing for medical devices.

"As medical technology manufacturers re-evaluate and adjust their processes to help address the global health crisis — and to prepare for the new normal that comes next — speed and flexibility will continue to define modern manufacturing," David Butcher, a content marketing specialist at MasterControl, wrote in an article MD+DI published last month. "The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the importance of digitization in flexible manufacturing. In manufacturing environments where peripheral, yet critical, processes continue to rely on slow, manual paper-based systems, digitizing DHRs can fill that gap."

Surgical robotics

“Intuitive Surgical’s success over the last two decades convinced the medtech world that robots will be taken seriously by surgeons. Now with startups like Virtual Incision and acquisitive-crazed strategics like J&J and Medtronic all poised to enter the market in 2020, things are going to heat up fast," Thielman said. "Expect the next robotic surgery wave starting in 2020.”

This is one prediction that has been somewhat impacted by COVID-19. While surgical robotics continues to be one of the hottest sectors of medtech, some companies have had to adjust commercialization timelines due to the pandemic.

Johnson & Johnson recently announced a slight change in plans for its surgical robotics platform, in part because of the impact that COVID-19 has had on the industry.  J&J has decided not to pursue a 510(k) clearance for the system and will instead focus on starting clinical studies of the platform in 2022.

"After analyzing time to market compared to overall value proposition, our goal is to initiate first-in-human studies with our robotic solution in the second half of 2022," Joseph Wolk, the company's CFO, said during the latest earnings call. "...The new timelines are based on what we know today, reflecting a world that is very different than what it was just a few short months ago.”

For more 2020 medtech predictions, check out "Medtech Trends to Watch in 2020."

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