Techspert

20 Healthcare tech developments to watch in 2020

Written by Harri Lamden, Senior Associate, 13 January 2020

Predicting the future is impossible but by keeping your finger on the pulse you can get a pretty good idea of what may lie ahead. Over the past decade, healthcare technology developments have advanced at a rapid rate and show no signs of slowing down. In this blog post we explore 20 developments we’re keeping an eye on in 2020 and think you should too. 

 

20 heathcare tech developments to watch in 2020

 

  1. Smart pills
  2. Digital twins
  3. Robotic carers
  4. Wearable medical devices and remote patient monitoring
  5. Electronic health records (EHRs)
  6. Wireless brain sensors
  7. Gene editing
  8. Pocket-sized, handheld ultrasounds
  9. 3D printing
  10. Autonomous surgical robots
  11. Augmented and virtual reality
  12. Smart hospitals
  13. Cancer-diagnosing artificial intelligence
  14. Online consultations
  15. Enhanced data security
  16. Medical delivery drones
  17. Smart drug delivery systems
  18. Chatbots
  19. Medical tricorders
  20. Natural language processing (NLP)

 

1. Smart pills

Nonadherence to prescribed medication is a multifaceted and complicated healthcare challenge that has serious implications. In the US alone, medication nonadherence leads to 125,000 preventable deaths each year. Could the ability to track when a patient has taken their medication be the solution?

 

The impact of medication nonadherence.

The impact of medication nonadherence.  Source: pillsy.com.

 

Smart pills, roughly the size of a medicine capsule, are pills with a drug and an ingestible sensor. The ingestible electronic device is made up of biocompatible materials that give the device the ability to telecommunicate for use in the healthcare industry for disease diagnostics, monitoring and management. 

The first FDA approved smart pill, Abilify MyCite, has a sensor embedded in the pill that gets activated when it contacts stomach fluid to record that the medication was taken. The data then gets transmitted to a wearable patch that sends the information to a paired smartphone app to track the patient’s ingestion of the medication. Doctors and caregivers, with the patient’s consent, can then access the data via a web portal. 

 

2. Digital twins

Digital twins – near real-time replicas of something in the physical world – are being swiftly embraced in healthcare. The goal of this technology is to deliver data-driven personalised medicine by creating a replica of the life-long data record of an individual. This technology can assist a doctor in determining the possibilities for a successful outcome of a procedure, help make therapy decisions, and manage chronic diseases. Ultimately, digital twins can help improve patient experience through effective, patient-centric care.

Although the use of digital twins in healthcare is still in its formative stages, its potential is unprecedented.

 

3. Robotic carers

Population ageing is a global phenomenon. According to the World Health Organization, by 2020 the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than five years. Due to this major demographic shift all countries need to find ways to ensure that their health and social systems are ready.


Projections for the number and proportion of older people globally in 2015, 2030 and 2050.

Projections for the number and proportion of older people globally in 2015, 2030 and 2050. Source: UNDESA Population Division, World population prospects: the 2015 revision, DVD Edition, 2015.

 

With this increasingly growing ageing population and not enough caregivers, robotic carers have become a reality in some parts of the world like Japan and other countries are following suit. Developers in Japan have focused their efforts on producing simple robotic devices that help frail residents get out of their bed and into a wheelchair, or that can ease senior citizens into bathtubs.

On top of needing assistance with performing manual tasks, loneliness and social isolation are problems for many seniors but studies have shown that help could come from social robots – autonomous robots trained to interact and communicate with humans. 

Although population ageing is a complex phenomenon that’ll require multidimensional solutions, robotic carers could help ease the burden on caregivers. 

 

4. Wearable medical devices and remote patient monitoring

Wearable devices have become increasingly popular in recent years. From smartwatches to wearable blood pressure monitors, these gadgets have a range of benefits. For instance, they give consumers the power to monitor their health and fitness levels, encourage people to be proactive about their health, provide real-time data, and allow healthcare providers to monitor their patients from a distance. Let’s take a closer look at the last point. 

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is a technology allowing physicians to monitor patients outside of conventional clinical settings. Patients use wearable medical devices to gather their health data and once collected this patient data is sent to a physician using a telehealth computer system or software app installed on a smartphone, computer or tablet. Examples of wearables used for RPM include biosensors used to monitor things like heart rate and respiratory disease, electronic smart hearing aids and devices that monitor glucose levels.

 

Wearable medical devices.

 

By using RPM, healthcare practitioners can monitor patient data over a long period of time to get a clearer view of the patient’s condition and this data can be used to make a more accurate diagnosis. They can also use RPM for vulnerable patients who are at risk but not ill enough to be in the hospital and patients who return home after surgery or an operation to monitor their recovery and ensure no complications occur. Among its many benefits, RPM helps increase access to healthcare, decrease healthcare delivery costs and ease the burden on healthcare practitioners and systems, while also giving power to the patients to monitor their own health. 

 

5. Electronic health records (EHRs)

When you last visited your doctor, did they put their notes into a computer or write them down on a piece of paper? If it was the former, it’s highly likely that your notes were added to your electronic health record (EHR) – a digital version of a patient’s paper chart.

EHRs are real-time, patient-centred records that make information available instantly and securely to authorised users. While EHRs hold the medical and treatment histories of patients, an EHR system is designed to surpass standard clinical data collected in a provider’s office and can include a comprehensive view of a patient’s care. These digital records can contain a patient’s medical history, diagnoses, medications, treatment plans, immunisation dates, allergies, radiology images, and laboratory and test results.

 

Electronic health records

 

The benefits of EHRs are plentiful – a holistic view of the patient, better coordination of care, streamlined workflows, increased efficiency, easier data collection and analysis, improved care delivery and more. 

 

6. Wireless brain sensors

Scientists and doctors have teamed up to create bioresorbable electronics that can be placed in the brain to assist physicians in measuring the brain's temperature and pressure. The primary aim of this technology is to monitor and detect any issues in a patient early to protect them from emergency situations.

Wireless brain sensors are mostly used for patients with conditions such as sleep disorders, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, dementia and other brain related conditions. Since the sensors can dissolve when they are no longer needed, they reduce the need for additional surgeries and can be easily accessible remotely through wireless connectivity with the help of smartphones, tablets or computers.

 

7. Gene editing

Gene editing, also called genome editing, is a type of genetic engineering enabling scientists to change an organism's DNA by adding, removing, modifying or replacing genetic material. The latest gene editing development to keep an eye on is CRISPR, which is short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. CRISPR has generated a lot of excitement in the scientific community because it’s faster, cheaper, more accurate, and more efficient than other existing genome editing methods.

 

The global gene editing tools market.

The global gene editing tools market. Source: Future Market Insights, 2019

 

Currently, gene editing is being explored in research on a wide variety of diseases, including single-gene disorders such as cystic fibrosis, haemophilia, and sickle cell disease. It also holds promise for the treatment and prevention of more complex diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, mental illness, and HIV infection. However, scientists are still trying to establish whether gene editing is safe and effective for use in humans.

 

8. Pocket-sized, handheld ultrasounds

Jonathan Rothberg, a genetics researcher and entrepreneur, has discovered how to put ultrasound technology on a chip, so instead of a $100,000 machine in a hospital, it’s a $2,000 portable, handheld ultrasound device that connects to an iPhone app. With two-thirds of the world's population having no access to medical imaging, Butterfly iQ enables a low-cost window into the human body, making high-quality diagnostic imaging more accessible. 

 

9. 3D printing

3D printing has been a game-changer in several fields and healthcare is one area that has benefited from this development. In healthcare, 3D printing is used to make patient-customised replicas of bones, organs and blood vessels, surgical cutting and drill guides, prosthetics and more. In a previous blog post we had a look at some of these life-changing 3D printed medical devices. Among many other benefits, 3D printing in healthcare has resulted in reduced lead times, lower costs and lighter, stronger and safer products, and shows no signs of slowing down. 

 

Global revenue in healthcare 3D printing from 2015 to 2018.

Global revenue in healthcare 3D printing from 2015 to 2018. Source: statista.com

 

10. Autonomous surgical robots

Robotic assisted surgery has been with us for the past 30 years with instruments allowing surgeons to take control of multiple robotic arms through a hand-operated console, giving them greater dexterity and vision when operating in hard-to-reach areas. But now, things are being taken a step further with the development of devices that can operate independently. 

Bioengineers at Boston Children's Hospital reported the first demonstration of a robot able to navigate autonomously inside the body. In an animal model of cardiac valve repair, the team programmed a robotic catheter to manoeuvre along the walls of a beating, blood-filled heart to a leaky valve – without a surgeon's guidance. The developers of the device say it’ll be years before their robot invention is masterminding valve repairs in people but its abilities hint at the dawning of a new era of surgery. 

The robot surgeon will see you now.

 

11. Augmented and virtual reality

Augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) aren’t just for entertainment; they're also being used in important areas such as healthcare. Before we go any further, let’s get some definitions out of the way. AR overlays digital information in an augmented form in the physical world. It enables the gathering of data and presents the data in a 3D condition. VR, on the other hand, is where computer-assisted technology is used to construct a simulated environment virtually.

Both technologies are beneficial for training and surgery simulation, patient care and treatment. With the VR/AR healthcare market forecast to reach $5.1 billion by 2025, we’re keen to see how this area will develop!

 

Global 2025 VR/AR market share, by use case.

Global 2025 VR/AR market share, by use case. Source: Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research

 

12. Smart hospitals

Given the pace at which healthcare is transforming, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine AI being used to make your diagnosis, a digital twin being used to determine the possibilities for a successful outcome of your procedure and an autonomous surgical robot performing your operation. Say hello to smart hospitals. 

The objective of smart hospitals is to improve patient care through digital processes and new technologies, while relieving staff of non-specialist activities at the same time. The plan is to achieve this via communication platforms, a cross-sector telemedicine network and apps that facilitate patient care or follow-up care. On top of that, hospitals progressively want to utilise new technologies such as AI, robotics, and 3D printing.

Some elements of smart hospitals have already become clinical routine, especially in operating rooms. A prime example is the Spital Thun (Thun Hospital) in Switzerland. Its Chief of Surgery can check on the monitor in the entrance area whether operating rooms (ORs) are occupied and whether all surgeries go according to plan. In the OR, a computer provides access to all the surgical steps and the patient's electronic health record. The digital assistant indicates the proper order of the instruments required and even performs certain surgical procedures if they have been selected via the touchscreen.

 

Smart hospitals

 

13. Cancer-diagnosing artificial intelligence

Symptoms of lung cancer usually don’t appear until its later stages, when it’s difficult to treat. Early screening of high-risk populations with CT scans can reduce the risk of dying, but it comes with risks of its own. The U.S. National Institutes of Health found that 2.5% of patients who received CT scans later endured needlessly invasive treatments – sometimes with fatal results – after radiologists diagnosed false positives. But all is not lost.

A Google Health team has built an AI system that outperforms human radiologists in diagnosing lung cancer. After being trained on more than 45,000 patient CT scans, Google’s algorithm detected 5% more cancer cases and had 11% fewer false positives than a control group of six human radiologists. Although the early results are promising, there’s still a lot of work to be done. 

 

14. Online consultations

Traditionally, healthcare consultations are done in person but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for healthcare providers to keep up with patient demand due to limited resources. To solve this problem, virtual consultations have boomed in recent years to provide efficient, accessible, affordable and quality healthcare services globally. A few different players have entered this burgeoning field, offering patients the ability to connect with doctors, specialists and therapists within minutes, 24/7. 

One of the frontrunners in the field, Babylon Health, has designed AI around a doctor’s brain to help provide healthcare in the palm of a person’s hand. The AI can understand and recognise the unique way that humans express their symptoms. Using this knowledge, combined with a patient’s medical history and current symptoms, it provides information on possible medical conditions and common treatments.

 

Online consultations

 

With platforms like Babylon Health using AI to solve an increasing range of healthcare challenges, it’ll be interesting to see how technological advancements will make online consultations even more powerful.

 

15. Enhanced data security

Although going digital has its benefits, you also risk cyberattacks to which the healthcare sector is not immune . In 2018, healthcare saw 15 million patient records compromised in 503 data breaches, according to the Protenus Breach Barometer. With the healthcare industry facing challenges regarding the privacy and security of patient information, organisations are increasingly putting the safeguarding of patients’ health information at the forefront more than ever. 

To better protect patient data, healthcare organisations are rethinking their approach to cybersecurity by making it a core aspect of their operations rather than a preventative afterthought. Effective cybersecurity protection is critical to prevent patients’ access to healthcare becoming compromised and sensitive medical data falling into the wrong hands.

 

16. Medical delivery drones

Road access to hospitals in developing countries can be poor, making it difficult for vehicles to transport medical equipment and medicines especially in difficult weather or during times of unrest. To help overcome this challenge, a San Francisco-based start-up, Zipline, has developed a delivery drone which is used by hospitals across Rwanda and Ghana to supply emergency blood, plasma and platelets in a matter of minutes. 

To arrange the drop off, clinicians simply need to make a phone call, send an email, text, or WhatsApp message to Zipline HQ requesting what they need. The blood products are then safely packaged inside a cardboard box and the drone heads towards the hospital in need, reaching speeds of 100 kmph in just a second. It flies high enough that it doesn’t need to avoid any other objects in the air, and can handle severe wind, rain and lightning.

The automated drones are pre-programmed with set flight paths to different hospitals and designed to always deposit their deliveries in the same spot so medics can find them easily. A paper parachute helps it drop to the ground gently, and the products inside can be transfused into the patient.

Drone delivery is certainly taking medicine to new heights!

 

Medical delivery drones

 

17. Smart drug delivery systems

Smart drug delivery systems, also called targeted drug delivery, are technologies which transport a drug dosage to a targeted site in the body. These systems use sensors and monitoring devices to track and analyse patient information and enable real-time analysis of the patient’s health data.

The advantages to the targeted release system are the reduction in the frequency of the dosages taken by the patient, having a more uniform effect of the drug, reduction of drug side-effects, and reduced fluctuation in circulating drug levels. Researchers have developed, and continue to develop, new smart drug delivery systems including liposomes, polymeric micelles, enzyme-coated protocells, microcapsules and magnetic nanocontainers.

 

18. Chatbots

Chatbots are software programs that can answer text and/or auditory questions. Thanks to improvements in technologies, chatbots are becoming increasingly sophisticated at answering questions. In fact, chatbots should be able to reach a level where interactions are indistinguishable with those from a human. As a consequence, the chatbot market is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 21.2% until 2025 reaching $470 million.

The benefit of chatbots would alleviate physicians from the need to provide initial screening of patients and help with ongoing care. This would allow patients to receive faster care and enable physicians to spend more time on diagnosing and delivering treatment.

Chatbots

19. Medical tricorders

In the fictional Star Trek universe, a tricorder is a multifunction hand-held device used for sensor scanning, data analysis, and recording data. People have been trying to replicate elements of the tricorder since the 1990s but it’s only recently that large strides have been made. Arguably one of the biggest stimulants for building a tricorder came when chipmaker Qualcomm sponsored the Tricorder XPRIZE, a competition intended to help foster the creation of innovative medical hardware.

The prize was won by Basil Leaf Technologies with a device called DxtER, a small unit with a range of specific medical peripherals, including a sensor for heart and lung sounds, an ECG monitor for measuring heart rate and rhythm, and a device for analysing blood glucose and white cell count, a sign of infection and inflammation when raised.

Similarly, researchers at the University of Glasgow have developed a small handheld device, called a “multicoder”, that can scan for biomarkers to quickly and easily diagnose people with certain diseases and illnesses. The multicorder is designed to help doctors track the presence or progression of an illness from just about anywhere.

When it comes to this medical technology, we have to thank Star Trek for the inspiration. 

 

20. Natural language processing (NLP)

NLP is a specialised branch of AI focused on the interpretation of human-generated spoken or written data. It gives machines the ability to read, understand and derive meaning from human languages. It’s being used in healthcare to improve care delivery, disease diagnosis and reduce costs while healthcare organisations transition to electronic health records (EHRs – see point 5 for a reminder).

Amazon Comprehend Medical is a prime example of NLP in action in healthcare. The technology uses NLP to quickly and accurately extract relevant medical information,  such as medical condition, medication, dosage, strength, and frequency, from a variety of unstructured text, like doctors’ notes, clinical trial reports, and patient health records. 

 

Global natural language processing healthcare market.

According to this research, the global natural language processing (NLP) in the healthcare market will touch the valuation at US$1,756 m by the end of 2025 from US$486 m in the year 2018. The market is estimated to register a whopping CAGR of 20.1% over the anticipated period.

 

If this list is any indication to go by, technology is set to have a monumental impact in healthcare in 2020 and beyond. Let’s wrap up by recapping the 20 healthcare tech developments we covered in this blog:

 

  1. Smart pills
  2. Digital twins
  3. Robotic carers
  4. Wearable medical devices and remote patient monitoring
  5. Electronic health records (EHRs)
  6. Wireless brain sensors
  7. Gene editing
  8. Pocket-sized, handheld ultrasounds
  9. 3D printing
  10. Autonomous surgical robots
  11. Augmented and virtual reality
  12. Smart hospitals
  13. Cancer-diagnosing artificial intelligence
  14. Online consultations
  15. Enhanced data security
  16. Medical delivery drones
  17. Smart drug delivery systems
  18. Chatbots
  19. Medical tricorders
  20. Natural language processing (NLP)

 

We’re excited to see how things will evolve this year and over the new decade!

 

If you’d like to learn more about healthcare tech trends or connect with experts who can provide insight on another matter, get in touch

Topics: Industry insight