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Better and Cheaper? Digitisation of Medtech Under the Spotlight

Medtech is going digital.

medtech digitizationEven device makers that are not active in digital health specifically almost always incorporate digital elements in their products – implants containing software to permit remote monitoring or even reprogramming, for instance, or diagnostics and imaging technologies that yield results which integrate automatically with electronic patient records.

Digitisation of medical technologies promises better care for patients while simultaneously driving down costs. But for this to work smoothly, the transition across the sector needs careful management. I moderated a panel at the LSX meeting in London in May and we discussed the steps that can be taken by medtech companies aiming to benefit from this step-change in the industry.

Medical device companies can drive remote support, requiring less travel by patients and at the same time enabling faster responses, said Gil Rabbie, digital solutions and capability development leader at Boston Scientific. Healthcare systems can be inefficient, particularly in Europe, and using digital support programmes to improve efficiency – by getting patients into and out of the system faster, and getting the right product to the right place at the right time – can save money, which can then be ploughed back into R&D.

But to reduce costs in the long term, there needs to be investment in the short term, as Jonathan Wood, regional director of Abbott Vascular, pointed out. Platforms and technologies must be altered so that they are interoperable and there is better communication about patients between physicians, and this will require money up front to allow cost savings in the future.

Interoperability is key. If a product cannot communicate easily with an existing system; if it fits in with one part of a hospital but not another; or it cannot work with a neighbouring hospital or the primary caregivers who refer patients to the hospital, it is little better than useless. Ideally, action would be taken at a national level, with policymakers bringing together different partners – medtech, big tech, venture capitalists, healthcare providers and payers – to set standards for the interoperability of digitised devices.

There is also a risk that medtech groups are digitising too quickly for their customers – hospitals and doctors’ offices – to cope. If a new technology cannot be integrated into a hospital’s existing workflow uptake will be slow and patchy; in that situation the company must do what it can to help the healthcare provider to alter its procedures.

Far better to have a equipment or software that fits in seamlessly right from the off. But there is a real spectrum of digital maturity across European systems, so in the absence of national policy it will be necessary to tailor a digital offering to customers at different levels of sophistication.

As demanding and expensive as it might be, having a digitisation strategy is little short of a necessity – not least from a competitive standpoint. Medtechs need to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field if they are to attract investment or a buyer, or simply succeed commercially.

Digitising its product offering is one way in which a medtech can distinguish itself from me-too competitors. In a bearish market, and as healthcare systems seek to stretch their cash even further as inflation starts to bite, any competitive advantage is to be grasped. Investing in digitisation now could pay off in spades in the long run.

You can watch a recording of the LSX panel here and you can also see Madeleine Armstrong’s video report from LSX here.


Elizabeth Cairns

Senior Writer, Scrip


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