What challenges are facing the medtech industry right now?

20 Nov 2020

Image: © Gorodenkoff/Stock.adobe.com

InterSystems’ John Kelly has more than 20 years’ experience in healthcare IT. Here, talks about the challenges that come with vast amounts of data and how Covid-19 has changed the rules in the medtech industry.

Click here to view the Future Health Week series.

Medical devices are a major part of the future of healthcare. It’s also a major industry in Ireland – according to IDA Ireland figures, more than 300 companies employ 29,000 people in the Irish medtech sector.

So, what trends can we expect from the medtech industry in 2021 and beyond? What challenges will the sector face? How has the global pandemic affected it?

One company keeping an eye on this is data management firm InterSystems, which created IRIS for Health, a data platform specifically engineered to extract value from healthcare data. John Kelly of InterSystems Ireland is an authority on digital transformation in health and life sciences sectors, with more than 20 years’ experience in healthcare IT.

“There is no doubt that Covid-19 has changed the rules within the medtech industry,” he told Siliconrepublic.com. “Rapid deployment of technology innovation is now the norm.”

A headshot of a man in a suit looking at the camera.

John Kelly. Image: InterSystems

“I’ve recently seen an example of innovation that would have been unimaginable 12 months ago first-hand, as I had an appointment with my GP over Zoom and a prescription was automatically sent to the pharmacy within minutes of the call,” Kelly added.

“That is just one small personal example. But the wider medtech sector is playing a vital role in both diagnosing the coronavirus and helping to treat it. The risk balance has changed. Not deploying existing capability is being weighed carefully with deployment risks.”

Managing vast amounts of data

Outside of the pandemic, the medtech sector also has to face a challenge similar to virtually every other sector – managing the exponential growth of data.

Kelly said the medtech industry is increasingly making use of advances in cloud computing and miniaturisation as well as the pervasiveness of smart devices to collect this data. “Using these advances, vital data can be transmitted from a patient’s home directly to hospitals or clinics to allow the real-time monitoring of the patient’s health and the extent to which treatment is working.”

However, one challenge that comes with too much data is the time-consuming work associated with it. Kelly said that data scientists could spend as little as one-fifth of their time on actual data analysis. “The remaining time is spent tracking down, cleaning and reorganising huge amounts of data due to data often being stored in multiple silos and in different formats and standards.

“Therefore, interoperability – in other words the ability of disparate software to exchange and make use of information – is key. Unfortunately, the lack of interoperability between systems has been a major stumbling block for innovation. We are investing a lot of effort into solving this problem to make sure that our customers have clean compliant and complete data available for advanced analytics.”

Privacy and security

Kelly noted that when developing medtech solutions, compliance with the various healthcare standards must always be front of mind. “No matter how innovative a new solution may be, if it cannot slot neatly into existing healthcare infrastructure and facilitate the sharing of data between different systems and solutions, adoption is likely to be low.”

Additionally, consideration must be given to data management and consent principles that give patients control over their own data, including the right not to share it.

“The medtech industry will need to consider a number of issues, such as what data is actually needed, where this data resides and in what formats,” he said. “It’s also essential to address GDPR concerns, such as who owns patient-generated data, and scalability – this needs to be front of mind even if you start with a proof of concept.”

As part of Future Health Week on Siliconrepublic.com, we looked at some of the cybersecurity challenges facing the healthcare industry as a whole, from data storage issues to ransomware attacks.

“The generation and transmission of patient data from connected medical devices along with emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and the internet of things is going to introduce new cybersecurity challenges for the industry,” Kelly added.

“To address these concerns, the FDA and other regulators are introducing stringent guidelines on cybersecurity as a distinct process within each stage of development, from R&D through to systematic identification of risks during practical usage.”

Future medtech trends

Unsurprisingly, Kelly expects the volume of healthcare data to grow, which will partially be driven by the blurring of lines between consumer wellness devices and traditional medical devices.

“5G also offers some exciting possibilities for healthcare,” he said. “For example, it will be possible to perform remote diagnosis on large datasets very quickly. As healthcare institutions take advantage of this, they will require data platforms that can ingest millions of records per second while allowing for simultaneous queries in real time.”

He also said that as the quality of data and trust from consumers increase, AI will become more reliable. “We are likely to see a virtuous circle in which the more AI is used and the more practice it gets, the better it will become,” he said.

“Of course, AI and machine learning succeed or fail on the quality of the underlying data. So, the underlying data platform must provide advanced data preparation capabilities to allow data scientists to focus on the most complex problems, without having to worry about data access or model deployment.”

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic