In the media

The key digital health trends COVID-19 has triggered

Simon Bates

By Simon Bates

Med-Tech Innovation Magazine

04 February 2021


COVID-19 is uncontestably the greatest challenge healthcare organisations across the globe have faced in recent history.

This article was first published in Med-Tech Innovation Magazine

Resources have been redeployed systemwide to respond to the pandemic, while a backlog for non-COVID-19 care continues to grow steadily. The British Medical Association highlighted the scale of the problem; in the period between April and November 2020, there were 2.57 million less elective procedures and 18 million less outpatient attendances. The waiting list for consultant-led referral to treatment stands at 4.46 million patients.

However, in parallel, COVID-19 is acting as a transformation catalyst, accelerating the implementation and adoption of change in healthcare delivery at an unprecedented scale. New models of care, using remote healthcare solutions and digital technologies, are emerging across the care continuum and are likely to remain in place after the crisis phase has passed.

Virtual patient consultations are now widespread

According to the NHS, in the four weeks preceding 12th April 2020, over 70% of routine GP consultations were delivered remotely, and 26% face-to-face. In the same period 12 months previously, only 25% were remote. All secondary care providers and 95% of practices now have video consultation capability. The British Medical Journal notes that the scope of video consultation is wide, particularly for the management of long-term conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, asthma, stroke, psychiatric illnesses, cancers, and chronic pain. Virtual consultations reduce patient flow through healthcare facilities and limit infectious exposures, but more importantly, they facilitate and broaden access to healthcare. There is unlikely to be a return to pre-pandemic levels of in-person patient consultations.

Digital monitoring solutions and self-care will continue to increase

Patient self-monitoring in the home setting has been accelerated to promote distancing and to release resources for COVID-19 care. Looking beyond the crisis, these solutions offer a range of benefits, especially to those living with long term conditions. Wearables, such as heart rate sensors, exercise trackers, sweat meters and oximeters, provide real-time information to patients, enabling self-care. Patients are engaged and empowered to manage their own care; it reduces the need to visit bricks and mortar clinical settings, cases can be triaged, resources are directed where the need is greatest and clinician work experience is improved. Moreover, increased self-management of long-term chronic conditions has the potential to have a significant impact on health budgets. According to NHSE, long-term conditions account for 70% of total health and care spend. Self-monitoring will continue past the COVID-19 crisis, with the global wearable medical device market expected to witness a CAGR of 27.9% over the period to 2027.

Connected Devices and the IoMT will enable transformation of care delivery at disease-level

The IoMT goes beyond patient self-monitoring. It is a connected infrastructure of medical devices, software applications, and health systems and services. This facilitates personalised treatments at scale and embraces the end-to-end patient journey, extending beyond episodes of care. Several factors are driving the expansion of this market; the evolution of high-speed networking technologies, the increasing penetration of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile platforms and, most importantly, patients’ acceptance of remote care and their increased use of connected medical devices. It is expected that there will be further integration of medical devices, patient records, health systems and platforms to deliver the anticipated benefits and outcomes. Medtech innovators are responding in two key ways. Firstly, they seek to understand the impact their device will have across the care pathway and so have started to formulate propositions which go beyond product features and benefits. Secondly, they recognise that these connected devices are in the hands of patients and are increasingly incorporating consumer design principles into the development of their products from the outset, focusing on convenience, experience, and personalisation.

Diagnostics will continue to play an integral role in healthcare

For many years, diagnostics has been in the shadow of treatment. In 2020, because of COVID-19, diagnostics took centre stage. Accurate detection and timely interventions, such as self-isolation, emerged as a pressing need. Diagnostics has the power to deliver far beyond the current pandemic; they play a vital role in screening, preventing and monitoring disease, as well as informing prognosis, enabling targeted treatments and determining outcomes. Diagnostics will continue to play a pivotal role in disease management beyond COVID-19 and the market is expected to grow significantly. Market And Markets forecasts that the IVD market alone will grow to $96 billion by 2025. COVID-19 has demonstrated the demand for low cost, point of care, consumer-friendly diagnostic tests, where there is expected to be an increased focus on innovation in 2021 and beyond.

Looking beyond 2021

COVID-19 has demonstrated how healthcare systems can rapidly deploy new technologies and care models, with internet-first and home services at scale at the forefront. It’s clear there can be no return to the previous status quo. This system-wide desire for change represents an opportunity for medtech innovators to expand innovative solutions beyond acute hospital settings, into broader care settings and across the entire care pathway.

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