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A Megabyte a Day Keeps the Doctor In-Play… Or at Least Connected From Afar

Is data gathered on medical devices being used to its full potential?

As our lives become increasingly connected to personal devices, data is constantly streamed and used by industries to optimize and personalize their offerings. Yet medtech, it seems, has not kept up with the times in this regard. Certainly, data is being gathered on some medical devices, but is it being used to its full potential?

As noted in EY’s Pulse of the Industry report last year, medical device firms aren’t investing sufficiently in staving off the threat from tech companies moving onto their turf. Many need to start with data-gathering opportunities as a baseline, before they can even consider the benefits that connectivity can offer.

While global medtech sales are projected to hit 595 billion USD by 2024, annual growth in the sector has been in single digits for the past 10 years, down from an average of 15% between 2000 and 2007. This can be partly explained by tech giants with deep pockets capturing growth through M&A. But what about those medtech firms that want an independent future in a thriving industry where they call the shots?

To remain competitive, medtech firms need to fully embrace data-gathering capabilities, including the capture of data, facilitating the connectivity of devices and generating insights to improve devices and healthcare outcomes. While gathering data on non-connected devices can offer considerable value, adding connectivity unlocks the full potential.

Deloitte predicted the market for connected medical devices, including wearable, implantable and stationary devices, will grow from 14.9 billion USD in 2017 to 52.2 billion USD in 2022. But the value of connected medical devices cannot be fully represented in dollars on a chart.

The increased data-gathering capabilities of connected medical devices offers medtech firms a chance to catch up and improve their offerings based on real-world insights. Data-driven insights have the potential to inform impactful and more tailored devices, that improve healthcare outcomes, save clinicians time and empower patients to take greater control in the management of their health.

More holistic IoMT-based solutions can autonomously gather data and seamlessly integrate with our increasingly digital lives. This type of meaningful change can lead to more widespread adoption of devices and solutions as they meet the needs and exceed the expectations of all parties more than ever before.

A delay now in adding connectivity and using data to its full potential could be the undoing of some medtech firms as they lose out on this crucial market and fall further behind.

Data insights can help improve not only the device, but services around and beyond the device

For some medtech companies adding connectivity to their devices is a stretch. As a starting point, medical devices can be digitally enabled to capture and store data locally to be downloaded later.

For example, data from device logs on usage, performance and user activity can be collected and used to generate insights to optimize the device or develop new improved versions. With medtech companies often upgrading or replacing products every 18-24 months, using real-world data to inform future updates can provide meaningful value to patients and end-users.

Data gathered in the hospital setting can generate insights that identify the most effective users of a device. For example, the clinician achieving the best outcomes for a certain procedure using a device. Data collected on clinicians’ activity (actions that they do on the device) and patient outcomes can help hospitals to identify state-of-the-art practices, which can then be used to train other staff members to perform better.

Adding remote connectivity to a medical device adds increased value for all parties and provides more detailed and actionable data. At a basic level, connectivity allows for the tracking of consumables and parts which require periodic replacement in medical devices. Data can then be quickly shared with providers, manufacturers, clinicians, and patients to optimize the supply chain and ensure devices are operating without interruption.

Connectivity on a device can also enable technical support to rapidly identify and fix problems by remotely viewing device logs on support calls with clinical staff. Without this connectivity, the clinical staff who contact technical support must describe the status of the device and the procedure based on what they can see on the screen. This is often not accurately communicated, insufficient and delivered under stress – such as while a clinical procedure is ongoing, when the patient is connected to the device, and sometimes when patient lives are at risk.

Connectivity can also take data-gathering outside of the clinical space and monitor patients remotely. In 2016, the number of patients being remotely monitored grew by 44% to 7.1 million. This is predicted to exceed 50 million by 2021. Real-world data gathered in day-to-day life can show how and when patients use their device and even provide information remotely that enables home-based diagnostics.

We have seen great results with adding connectivity to hearing devices and sharing insights with the users themselves, their caregivers (e.g. parents) and their clinical staff. This enables personalization of the rehabilitation process and programs. Clinical staff can tailor programs and encourage both patients and caregivers to increase usage or adjust settings of a device to achieve performance targets (e.g. at school). Both patients and caregivers can be assured adjustments are made based on real-word data, specific to their hearing – removing any subjectivity or reporting errors. This creates trust and co-operation between all the stakeholders of the rehabilitation process and leads to better patient experience and improved outcomes.

Adding connectivity enables the gathering of data to show adherence and inform clinicians about patients between visits. In neurology, we have developed a solution based on a connected drug-delivery device that reports medication usage – in this case the number of injections administered. Data is then compared with prescriptions and presented as adherence reports to clinicians before patient visits. This creates a more informed dialog between the patient and the clinician regarding outcomes and overall disease management (e.g. onboarding phase, side effects, etc.). Adherence records based on real-world evidence like this also support reimbursement and enable the move towards value-based contracts.

Examples like these make it clear that in medtech future value will only partially be determined by the device itself; the real benefits will come from the data the device generates. To remain relevant and competitive, medtech companies will need to develop strategies to harness this data to its full potential and demonstrate the value their devices are delivering to patients, payers, and healthcare providers.

At the very least, data on device utilization, performance and user activity facilitates improvements in device operations, supply chain, technical support, and R&D. This first step is both ambitious and pragmatic and can provide a direct competitive advantage in the form of optimized costs and better service for healthcare providers. Adding connectivity truly allows data to be used to its full potential and can enable patients and clinicians to treat conditions quicker and more effectively.

By harnessing the power of data gathered on medical devices, medtech firms can enrich their offerings in this growing and competitive market. Adding connectivity not only enhances their ability to provide better, more adoptable devices but offers a real opportunity to drive the type of meaningful change in healthcare that people increasingly want to see.

Piotr Sokolowski

Piotr Sokolowski is Head of Services Strategy at S3 Connected Health. He has 17 years’ experience in development and engineering management in healthcare. S3 Connected Health design and develop award-winning connected medical devices, systems, and solutions for their medtech partners. They specialize in implantable, wearable, and hospital-based medical devices; SaMD (Software as a Medical Device) and IoMT (Internet of Medical Things) based solutions.

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