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The impact of IoT on the medical device industry

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The pharmaceutical, medical devices, and healthcare industries are often risk-averse compared to other sectors when adopting new technologies. However, these sectors have seen an acceleration in digital transformation largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. IoT-enabled concepts such as mobile health, telemedicine, and RPM give patients greater agency in their health and result in both improved efficiencies and enhanced patient outcomes. 

IoT technologies will continue to create multiple opportunities for the pharmaceutical, medical devices, and healthcare sectors, from diagnostics to drug discovery.  

The matrix below details the areas in IoT where medical device companies should focus their time and resources. We suggest they invest in technologies shaded in green, explore the prospect of investing in technologies shaded in yellow, and ignore areas shaded in red.

Innovations in technologies, from three-dimensional (3D) printers to automation and robots, are revolutionizing healthcare and creating a unified body of tools where data are continuously processed and analysed. This aggregate data can be used for preventative medicine, real-time diagnostics, disease monitoring, and therapeutic delivery. Health and tech are currently moving away from the more dated ideas of wearables such as connected blood pressure cuffs or heart rate monitors, and toward wearables that continuously monitor health in a non-invasive, discreet, and seamless manner. 

As patients and caregivers are given the option to provide care at home, unnecessary visits to healthcare establishments will be reduced, substantiating a decentralised healthcare model and optimising the allocation of resources in hospitals and clinics. Wearable technology provides rapid deployment for clinical surveillance to help decrease the risk of exposure of healthcare workers while acquiring frequent patient vitals and easing the demand for personal protective equipment. 

As the pharmaceutical industry increasingly looks to validate patient reporting with real-world data, it is also looking toward developing novel endpoints for drug discovery during R&D and every stage of clinical trial development. Medical devices such as wearables can drive improvements by optimizing innovation and improving the efficiency of R&D with more reliable data, lower costs, and improved effectiveness. 

How IoT can help address the challenge of long and expensive clinical trials

Virtual clinical trials, also commonly referred to as decentralised clinical trials (DCTs), use digital technologies and other processes that differ from traditional trial models to bring research closer to patients’ homes (or other local settings) to increase access to trials. They also reduce inconvenience and burden on participants by decreasing the number of physical site visits.  

Making trials more patient-centric is key to improving the overall trial experience and increasing retention rates. A patient-centric study should be designed and executed with participants’ needs at its centre, ensuring that the patient’s voice is incorporated. Engaging patients in study protocol design has been shown to improve research quality, patient outcomes, and relevance to participants, all of which can lead to improved enrolment, adherence, and retention. 

Examples of digital technologies used in virtual trials include eConsent, telemedicine, electronic clinical outcome assessment, RPM, mHealth, wearables, and digital biomarkers. The use of virtual trials was increasing steadily before the Covid-19 pandemic, but the pandemic accelerated their use. Since early March 2020, a significant number of companies have announced disruptions to planned and ongoing clinical trials because of Covid-19-related lockdowns and social distancing measures.  

The impact on clinical trial participants was the biggest clinical trial-related concern in 2021. Over 1,200 trials have seen disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to the large number of disrupted trials, many subjects had their treatment halted or interrupted, or their planned treatment was no longer available. Several trials had slower recruitment due to the impact on sites and investigators to recruit subjects. 

How IoT can help address the challenge of supply chain disruption

The pharma and medical device industries are looking for more ways to enhance the productivity of their complex manufacturing and supply chain processes. As technologies advance, improvements in automation technology can lead to substantial enhancements beyond productivity increases. Technologies such as robotics, digital twins, sensors, and AI will allow for fully digitised manufacturing processes. 

By disrupting nearly every part of pharma and medical device supply chains, the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted a strong need for improvement and change. The pandemic uncovered inconsistencies in inventory management practices and long-established procurement processes. The pandemic made it more difficult for pharma and medical device companies to manage and improve their supply chains as staff shortages led to disruptions in the manufacturing and supply of raw materials and transportation. 

Supply chain disruptions forced companies to favour secure supply chains over efficient ones. The adoption and implementation of technologies such as robotics increased, resulting in better compliance, consistency, and operational excellence. With improved product safety, patient safety can be improved as well. 

Companies use digital twins to recreate a digital form of their supply chain to help address constraints and insufficient processes. Digital twins enable manufacturers to finely adjust parameters along the production line through prompt troubleshooting.  

The implementation of digital twins can reduce operating costs and extend the lifespan of equipment and assets through applications such as predictive maintenance. The use of robotics in the pharma and medical devices industry is neither new nor uncommon. The convergence of 5G, IoT, and sensors could allow manufacturing robots enhanced with AI to be programmed to continually adjust their performance to achieve optimal productivity and efficiency.

How IoT can help address the challenge of increased pressure on health services

The traditional healthcare model is changing to a more proactive, predictive, and wellbeing-focused system driven by digital health acceptance, consumer engagement, and empowerment. However, cost is still a major factor in digital transformation initiatives, as many tools are both costly and inaccessible, and significant change requires significant investment.  

Many digital health technologies struggle to gain credible evidence as their methodologies are time-consuming, costly, and complex, hindering their widespread adoption. Given the associated time constraints and the somewhat limited data on the safety and efficacy of some digital health technologies, investors remain hesitant, citing unclear return on investment as an area of concern.  

As health expenditure increases and patients become more engaged and involved, virtual health interventions will play an important role in meeting demand. This will require a significant overhaul to ensure that integrated community and home-based medical care is available to all, with a future healthcare model focused on prevention, wellbeing, and early intervention. 

Offering healthcare services through digital and virtual means eliminates many barriers that prevent patients from accessing healthcare. Virtual healthcare services eliminate or greatly reduce the need for patients to travel and take time off from work. Additionally, virtual healthcare services can lower overhead and ultimately reduce the costs to patients. Not all healthcare services can be offered digitally, but many primary and chronic condition care elements can be managed through telemedicine and RPM. 

RPM is just one application of IoT sensors in healthcare. As the population of digitally savvy patients who own smartphones and personalised hardware grows, RPM becomes more feasible. RPM devices have demonstrated their potential to improve patient care, reduce hospital admissions and readmissions, and facilitate early discharges. As patients and caregivers are increasingly given the option for care to be provided at home, unnecessary visits to healthcare establishments will be avoided, substantiating a decentralised healthcare model, and optimising the allocation of resources in hospitals and clinics.  

With growing aging populations globally and increased life expectancy battling dwindling finances and resources, key markets for RPM technologies include the management of chronic disease, pain management, and mental health disorders. These areas are currently underserved and account for some of the highest spending in healthcare. With the increasing interest from tech companies in the health space and interest in the reimbursement of RPM technologies, RPM is likely to trigger significant change. 

How IoT can help address the challenge of staff shortages and skills gaps

IoT-enabled technologies can alleviate staff shortages in healthcare services by shifting the point of care away from traditional clinical settings. The benefits of digital solutions such as RPM, telemedicine, and electronic health records (EHRs) are three-fold. 

First, it provides an avenue for low-risk patients to receive medical attention, allowing for the more effective triage of patients. As such, resources, bed space, and clinician time can be better spent treating high-risk, high-need patients. Second, it allows medical professionals to attend to the maximum number of patients in the shortest amount of time, thus addressing staff shortages plaguing many health services around the world.  

For example, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) updated its clinical guide to encourage remote contact via telephone, email, and video conferencing. Finally, direct access to patient data provided by remote sensing devices, amalgamated and displayed via EHRs, will substantially streamline the clinician-patient experience. 

AR-enabled remote assistance can be used in limited instances within manufacturing. Instructions and other key information can be overlayed onto real-world objects, reducing error rates, cost, and manufacturing time. Such devices can both accelerate training and enhance the knowledge of technical roles. 

GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article. 

GlobalData’s Thematic Intelligence uses proprietary data, research, and analysis to provide a forward-looking perspective on the key themes that will shape the future of the world’s largest industries and the organisations within them.