As our world becomes ever more connected, medical device design has seen a shift towards utilising digital health and connected devices, to give patients more control over their health and provide real-time data for clinicians.

Ahead of SAE Media Group’s 3rd annual Wearable Injectors and Connected Devices Conference, Design Development Engineer, James shares an insight into the current state of Digital Health, as well as some key trends to look out for in 2022 and beyond.

What is Digital Health?

Digital Health Europe defines Digital health as “tools and services that use information and communication technology (ICT) to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and management of health and lifestyle.”

This already covers a wide range of devices, technologies and treatments including:

  • Mobile Health (mHealth)
  • Health Information Technology (IT)
  • Wearables
  • Telehealth/Telemedicine
  • Personalised medicine
  • Software as a Medical Device (SaMD)

Even though this industry is still in its infancy, there are many more exciting trends that will most likely occur and become more prevalent in digital health over the coming years.

What are the Advantages of Digital Health?

Improved patient outcomes

Access to patient data means health problems can be spotted more quickly. This means clinicians are more likely to prescribe the correct treatment first time thus improving patient outcomes.

Improved access to treatment

Patients with disabilities, chronic conditions, people in remote areas, or with mobility issues can have a big impact on access to proper medical care. Instead of having to physically visit the GP every time, options like telehealth open possibilities to help these patients.

Reduced costs

Preventative and predictive medicine technology can be very useful in keeping costs down, both for the health service and the patient. Using devices that monitor the patient over time for a specific illness can give an early warning of any health issues. Additionally, the use of AI and Machine Learning can help the doctor diagnose problems and streamline their workflows. The doctor can then spend their time helping more patients.

Patient control

Patients who can track the progress of their health using wearables for example, are more likely to keep up with the exercise program they set because they have a visual representation of how well they are doing over time. This is an incentive technique called gamification, which increases engagement with the program by offering game related features such as goal setting, rewards, and progress tracking, for example.

Digital Health Emerging trends

There are several emerging trends within Digital Health, and each has the potential to provide a unique service to patients, carers and clinicians. Some significant upcoming trends are outlined below:

  • Robotic Surgery
  • Big Data
  • Virtual Reality Treatments
  • AI and ML
  • Blockchain

Robotic Surgery

Robotic assisted surgery allows doctors to perform far more complex and precise surgeries that may not be possible or too risky without the use of robots. The range of motion on the robot is greater than a human’s and is controlled by a very accurate camera which can make it possible to reach hard to access areas. The surgeon can also work within a much smaller area using this technique, which in turn, leaves a smaller scar on the patient. This also means that recovery times are notably faster. Note, the robot is not actually performing the surgery itself, the doctor must still control its actions.

Big Data

Big data in healthcare takes information from a wide variety of sources such as patient medical records, hospital records, medical exam results, and information collected by healthcare equipment to predict future trends. This can be enormously helpful in preventative medicine, hospital staffing accuracy and error recognition. And, because the healthcare sector is constantly changing, it can be used to predict market trends in developing new products, which reduces costs for pharmaceutical companies.

Virtual Reality (VR) Treatments

Virtual Reality is no longer limited to gaming and gimmicks. Studies show it can be used to reduce chronic pain, treat anxiety, ease PTSD, and help recover from strokes, without the use of drugs.

It can also be used by healthcare professionals to test their skills or plan complex surgery procedures in a safe but realistic virtual environment, before doing the real thing. According to Grand View Research, the global VR healthcare market is expected to top $9.5 billion by 2028.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

The use of AI and ML is perhaps one of the most transformative technologies on this list, as the use cases in healthcare are endless. Tractica forecasts that global healthcare AI spending is expected to increase to $34 billion by 2025. One of these applications is in the use of AI powered chatbots to answer patient queries and perform basic therapy. The global healthcare chatbots market is projected to reach $314.3 million by 2023.

In my opinion, the most incredible innovation starting to be used right now is in the field of medical imaging and oncology. ML can be trained to detect the smallest cancers and then suggest the best combination of treatments tailored to the specific patient.

Blockchain

Since the introduction of Bitcoin in 2011, the use of blockchain to store digital records and transactions has increased exponentially. Very briefly, a blockchain is a digital ledger that records information. Instead of being controlled by individuals or companies, which can be a security risk, each record is checked by everyone else on the network, making it decentralised.

Cybersecurity with digital health must be taken very seriously. Blockchain technology could store medical records in a secure manner, potentially cutting costs and improving their accuracy. As each transaction is independently verified, human errors arising from duplicating data would be all but eradicated. The information would also be owned by the patient, who would be able to grant permissions to specific healthcare workers, reducing the likelihood of data breaches.

 

In conclusion, as you can see, there are so many new and exciting emerging healthcare technologies. It is important to keep updated and be adaptive in approach to remain competitive. If you would like to discuss this topic further or require assistance with your new product or medical device development project, please get in touch with the team at Haughton Design.

Product Design Engineer, James McPherson James McPherson 21 September 2022

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Get in Touch with James McPherson

James graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2018 with a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering. Prior to joining HD, he worked in the automotive sector designing Exterior Trim systems for Jaguar Land Rover. As a result of this, he has a strong interest in plastic part design and additive manufacture, and hopes to contribute this knowledge to Haughton, as well as learning new skills that can benefit the company. He is keen to start his training to become a Chartered Engineer at HD.

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