The future of medical technology in 2023 – Med-Tech Innovation

by Dr Martin Stow
5 January 2023
13:41
Dr Martin Stow, chair and director at Nexus, a community of high-growth businesses across the globe which has a physical base on the University of Leeds campus, shares his predictions for the medtech industry in 2023.
Elnur Shutterstock
2023
The COVID-19 pandemic brought two revelations to light. Firstly, it highlighted the importance of a well-functioning healthcare system and secondly, global vaccination programmes reminded us that, when necessary, strong measures implemented rapidly.
The pandemic may have subsided, but now we must invest to tackle the most pressing issues our health services face, such as health inequalities and long wait times. The tech-centred “third industrial revolution” will play a major role in this, with potential breakthroughs in screening, monitoring, diagnostics, and treatment. 
Uptick in self-diagnosing
Within the medtech sector, there is an increasing emphasis on wellness – that is, getting people into a more health-conscious mindset by imparting knowledge through “nudges” in the right direction. The message central to this is that if small lifestyle changes are made today, they can have a major impact in the future.
Self-testing is set to become more common. During the pandemic, people across the globe incorporated lateral flow testing into their daily lives and have become more accustomed to carrying out these self-tests. As a result, we are likely to see increased use of IVD (in-vitro diagnostic) testing, through blood or saliva, which can produce rapid results and help individuals to take more ownership of their health. 
An advantage of this is greater awareness of one’s health, which may also help to reduce the pressure on health services including GPs. We are seeing this already with “wearable” tech – namely smartwatches – providing information on heart rate, oxygen intake, caloric intake, and step count, which wearers can track themselves throughout the day. 
Digital therapeutics
There is also likely to be further use of digital therapeutics (DTx), which is an evidence-based approach to managing patients’ disorders or diseases. DTx is software based and uses digital inputs such as mobile devices, apps, and the Internet of Things to provide bespoke health plans for each patient. This alleviates pressure on health services by enabling patients to manage symptoms themselves, leading to overall improvements in quality of life.
An earlier example of this is the digital delivery of behavioural interventions to treat diabetes. A study conducted as many as 20 years ago found that interventions in diets and exercise levels early on could mitigate patients’ risk of developing type two diabetes. 
Now, there is an increasing number of products being approved that allow patients to self-manage symptoms. Thanks to the innovation spurred on by the pandemic, I only see this increasing and given the pressure health services are under, this can only be good news. 
More robust supply chains
The pandemic’s effects on health services have put the medtech sector under increased pressure to meet soaring demand. It laid bare supply chain vulnerabilities, as well as shortcomings in performance. Ultimately, this was a key learning for the sector. 
The fact that these issues are now known, means that there is no excuse not to take action. If this does not happen, future waves of the pandemic and supply shocks could be devastating for these same supply chains. The sector must also consider other events, like cyberattacks, economic crises and regulatory changes. 
To ensure consistent quality and supply security, medtech companies must assess and mitigate any vulnerabilities on an ongoing basis. This is especially important given the direct impact the sector has upon patient outcomes. These “black swan” events are difficult to predict but, given the nature in which the medtech sector is regulated, preparation is vital. 
Emphasising inclusivity 
In developing nations, health conditions typically progress further before patients receive treatment. This means that, while large developing markets such as China and India are fantastic opportunities for growth, whatever solutions are offered must be appropriate for the patient in that particular region.  It means that just selling products/services that have been designed and tested for developed markets may not be appropriate.   
Firms will also have to negotiate cultural challenges, such as language barriers. Frankly, it is as much about communication as it is about technology and medicine. At Nexus, we understand the need to go beyond STEM and use our global reach – thanks in part to our University of Leeds base – to do so. 
There is also an issue of representation in data. Traditionally, medical devices were designed with white, middle-aged men, living in the developed world, in mind – this assumption of end-user must be challenged. 
Thankfully, the industry culture has shifted to an evidence-based approach and takes the diversity of potential users into account. Adopting the “one size fits all” attitude simply will not work here – just like with diseases, people react to different medical devices in a variety of ways. 
Increased tech across the board
Various technologies are now playing a larger role in all areas of the sector. Virtual Reality technology is improving product design capabilities and has also enhanced training processes. This means that trainees are receiving a higher quality of training, whilst time required to complete it is reduced. 
Technology has also allowed companies to improve drug trials and help to speed up the time to market for new products. Mainly, they can now be conducted in silico trials via computer simulation. Not only does this mean greater efficiency, but the use of animals for testing purposes is no longer required – meaning companies can improve their operations and their ethics. 
Challenges for the future 
Although the pandemic did see some bureaucracy dismantled, there are still several regulatory challenges to contend with. In particular, the framework of regulation in the EU raise questions over what support is on offer to help start-ups to bring their products to market.  Is there an opportunity to address some of this in the new UK MDR which are due to come into force by mid 2024?
Of course, there have been notable exceptions to this, the severity of the pandemic required a break with convention to produce the required vaccines. However, this exceptional circumstance is exactly that – an exception – and it is still an ordeal to get products into EU markets. To compound this, the extra costs and red tape imposed by Brexit threaten the viability of many smaller innovative medtech firms exporting to European markets. 
Still some way to go
There are certainly exciting developments in the medtech space right now. New innovations have the potential to transform our relationship with health, as well as give healthcare services some much-needed breathing room however, significant regulatory hurdles remain and must be recognised. Furthermore, the sector must improve its relationship with sustainability if it is to prosper into the future. If these two issues can be resolved, the sector’s capacity for innovation can be fully realised.
by
5 January 2023
13:41
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