Will European Health-Tech Innovation Week coming to Liverpool next week, we asked our Head of Engineering, Daniel Watson, what he thinks are the next ‘big things’ in HealthTech.
Technology changes at rapid pace, and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated growth and development in HealthTech at an impressive rate. Below are five technologies, in various stages from development to diffusion, that could shake things up in 2021 and beyond.
- Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) – A natural progression from Internet of Things technology, IoMT is already advancing into our lives via our Smartphones and connected devices, with things like COVID tracking apps, and potentially vaccine passports. A more physical use we’re likely to see is the development of bespoke medical monitoring systems, allowing physicians to remotely monitor patient conditions as they go about their lives – something with significant potential benefits for hard-to-diagnose conditions that can require constant monitoring, while simultaneously eliminating patients subjective symptoms, which can delay or harm diagnosis.
- Telemedicine – The ability to “see” a medical professional at any time, day or night for a personal consultation was logically always going to come along with advances in technology, but once again the COVID pandemic has accelerated growth in this area. With the required reduction in face-to-face contact during the pandemic, systems that allow telemedicine to become a feasible operating model for General Practitioners all over the world have bolstered, giving this technology significant traction to develop well into 2021 and beyond. Expect to see routine consultations moving to this model.
- Additive Manufacture/3D Printing – People often say that 3D printing is a technology looking for a solution to fill, but it has very definitely found its home in HealthTech, being used to develop custom prosthetics perfectly matched to each patients needs and physical demand. It has also seen use in printing medical models pre-operation to allow surgeons to better understand what they will face in real operating conditions, by giving them a physical model of a skull fracture or other complex trauma rebuilt from MRI data. But the next phase of 3D printing hints at something far smaller, the printing of human stem cells to grow replacement organs, printing skin to replace burnt or damaged areas, and ultimately printing mutated cells, to experiment with leading edge treatments outside of a human host.
- Blockchain – A technology buzzword that has seen a lot of air in the last few years, Blockchain has myriad uses in healthcare. To cut to the chase of what Blockchain is, it can be thought of best as a very secure way of storing records of information (Blocks), linked together using cryptography, where each blocks hash key is based on the block preceding it. It might sound like word salad, but it is among the securest ways to store personal information, because no retrospective change may be made to the data without upsetting the blocks that follow – making it ideal for medical data and records, for which the digital footprint is only set to explode with the increase in IoMT and Telemedicine. It might be a background technology that the average person never encounters, but Blockchain technology is secure by design, offers extremely high levels of fault tolerance, and will surely see continued growth as our lives become further digitised.
- Robotic Surgery – The film Prometheus was Ridley Scotts love letter to his own seminal classic “Alien”, and it featured an amazing robotic surgery system that had a catalogue of standard operating procedures built in to its database. While life here on earth has limited call for the removal of aliens from the human body, the vision isn’t so wild. Robotic surgery is coming of age. Two main strands of the technology exist, fully autonomous operations where sophisticated AI and Machine Learning systems literally make the decisions and perform operations, and telepresence style systems. Utilising low-latency technologies like 5G will allow a remote surgeon to operate a robot to perform a medical procedure by proxy. This technology brings about potential benefits for precision and articulation of surgical instruments that would be impossible to control by human hand, once again expect to see more of this technology becoming widespread.