Medtech in the time of coronavirus: how fast can healthcare mutate?

07 May 2020


As COVID-19 sweeps around the world, we are starting to see countries exit from lockdown, others introducing more stringent lockdown and others relying on the resilience of their health and care systems to allow them to make changes which are more discreet and focused on trying to avoid the economic and political effects of more stringent approaches.


The data explosion


In this bizarre world where keeping sick people away from the doctor’s surgery is the new normal, healthcare systems are racing to adapt and being forced to abandon the old analogue, bricks-and-mortar ways of doing things.


Interestingly enough, this rapid mutation is exactly what human coronaviruses do. They are natural mutants whose life cycle involves changing small parts of their genetic code. Can the genetic code of our health and care systems keep pace? With medtech devices, AI, and increasing digitisation, the answer is ‘hopefully’.


What’s more, the data landscape is transforming before our eyes. With vast numbers of new products and devices, including wearables, a rapidly spreading 5G infrastructure, and an overnight boom in uptake, the number of data points available to healthcare systems around the world is beginning to explode.


It’s becoming increasingly clear that we will need the insights from this data to leverage AI to improve patient care in the second wave of cases that’s likely to hit after the summer. In other words, reliance on medtech is set to increase at an unprecedented, exponential pace.


Specific areas where medtech can help include monitoring the less seriously ill patients at home, providing personalised care to patients after leaving hospital, contact tracing, and monitoring the health of the healthcare workers themselves.


And while COVID-19 may have bumped non-communicable diseases off the top of the priority list, they still need monitoring, which calls for new solutions to enable health workers to monitor these diseases in a more hands-off way. Medtech and digital solutions have obvious potential here.


In short, we can expect the post-coronavirus world to be very different.


What kind of medtech will succeed?


Which medical technology devices will stand out in this new world?


Firstly, of course, they must meet a genuine need and be sufficiently accurate, reliable, safe, and replicable for large-scale deployment. But there are five other qualities they need that are equally important.


First, they need to sit within a clear governance structure that defines who holds responsibility for monitoring and action. This has often been relegated to an afterthought, but in a pandemic, it’s vital to make sure that new advances fit into a clinical workflow and that their implications for the workforce are properly understood.


Rather than setting up a new workflow, they need to be designed to work with existing clinical pathways, support health workers in making clinical decisions, and ideally be built into electronic medical records (EMRs).


They have to be personalised, using existing data on the patient to provide precise ‘metadvice’ data that’s relevant both to the patient and to the health professional.


They need to be easy to integrate into an EMR via an open API. Without access to this data, they won’t be able to produce the in-depth insights we need to manage future waves of cases.


And they need to be secure, especially as some opportunist cybercriminals are taking advantage of pandemic fears to steal data.



For medtech devices that meet these standards, the future looks bright. Those that lead the pack, or are quick to follow the leaders, will get the full benefit of easier adoption and will become part of the mainstream.