As medtech begins to refocus on things other than COVID, the shape of the next year is starting to emerge. Three major tech trends will be vying for dominance of the sector: smart tech, aka the Internet of Things; virtual reality, aka augmented reality; and AI and machine learning. Which is set to be THE medtech trend of 2021?
We asked your opinion, and a resounding 55% of you voted for machine learning and AI. The only close race was for silver and bronze, with the Internet of Things (24% of the vote) just managing to pip virtual reality (21%). Today we’ll take a look at the newest developments in each area, and see whether all this excitement about AI is justified.
Top medtech trends in AI
Machine learning and deep learning platforms like PathAI allow pathologists to collect data on different types of cancer and use it to create predictive models for more accurate diagnosis.
Developing new medicines
Inventing new drugs has a very high failure rate, but AI is changing that. Atomwise, the first deep learning tech for discovering new small molecules, has helped researchers invent potential medications for 27 different conditions.
With patient numbers soaring during the pandemic, platforms like OLIVE are creating automated systems to help healthcare facilities manage patient data.
Top medtech trends in smart tech (aka the Internet of Things or IoT)
This one fits in the AI section too. Medical devices that are IoT-enabled generate huge amounts of data. Machine learning can use this to analyse health trends and the efficacy of treatments.
Monitoring health conditions
IoT wearables can monitor symptoms 24/7 and alert patients and healthcare providers instantly if anything changes. This includes wearable pulse oximeters for the first signs of COVID.
IoT devices in medical environments can provide data to create an overview of everything going on in the whole environment and make administration easier.
IoT devices can ‘talk to each other’ about patients, making it easier to spot anomalies in their health data and adjust treatments.
Top medtech trends in virtual and augmented reality
Virtual reality (VR) is completely immersive and puts the user in a virtual world; augmented reality (AR) overlays the real world with additional data. It’s the difference between the Matrix and Terminator vision.
VR and AR help surgeons plan surgeries, overlaying a patient’s body with real-time data or using immersive tools like haptics and holograms to project 3D visions of the patient’s anatomy. This is likely to improve the accuracy and outcomes of surgeries.
Medical students at Johns Hopkins University have been studying anatomy using AR technology that projects images of internal organs on students’ bodies. Research is also underway on using VR to educate patients, for example by showing them a 3D representation of a planned surgery.
While most of us are stuck with Zoom, healthcare professionals can use VR conferencing to collaborate more effectively, with a customised environment where they can import 3-D objects and use interactive whiteboards.
Physical therapists are using VR to gamify rehabilitation exercises, while mental health professionals are using VR goggles to help patients safely relive traumas and overcome fears.
With this much going on in AI, IoT and virtual reality, it’s hard to say which will change medtech the most. We’re going through a period of simultaneous revolutions that all affect and fuel each other, and we may not be able to say even in hindsight which was the most important.