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Connectivity in the MedTech Sector

A report by McKinsey in 2015 on the MedTech scene in Asia predicted that the MedTech sector to expand to about USD 133 billion a year in 2020. We present expert commentaries on how connectivity is essential in the ever-growing MedTech sector in Asia Pacific.

What does connectivity mean for the MedTech sector?

With connected medical devices, users will not only be able to capture, share and utilise a much larger volume of data but also a more qualitative set at the same time. For healthcare organisations, initial key considerations are likely to focus on operational factors such as cost, security, and whether they can integrate data gathered from these devices with their existing processes. However, there is growing recognition of the value in using environmental data to aid in improving patient care and employee health. This opens up whole new avenues of medical care.

To help users realise the benefits of connectivity, MedTech vendors need to ensure that their solutions are not only cost-effective, but also have the ability to deploy at scale, enabling the collection of sufficient data to analyse patterns. At the same time, MedTech – both hardware and software – must be secured by design, given the sensitivity of medical data and the critical environment in which it operates.


How will connectivity benefit the MedTech sector?

Increased connectivity will allow the MedTech sector to help healthcare organisations improve the quality and efficiency of care. With connected devices, users can reach previously underserved segments such as Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM), or on a scale that was historically not possible due to costly solutions and infrastructure. In addition, installing large volume of sensors will also allow users to closely monitor and adjust their systems to patient needs, supporting an overall shift to value-based care. This encompasses areas outside of medicine or pharmaceuticals as well, which can contribute to better and more holistic patient care.

For example, in Singapore, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) embarked on a Smart Facilities Management project, digitising temperature and humidity monitoring using low-powered sensors to provide remote monitoring. This allows them to control the environment, both minimising risk of infection spread and providing improved comfort for patients and healthcare workers alike

By deploying sensors to collect data on room temperature and humidity, staff no longer need to maintain manual 24-hour daily temperature logs and can now dedicate more time to look after patients. Furthermore, digital records are much faster, more accurate and convenient for audit purposes. This is the beauty of what we call the “0G connectivity” at Sigfox, allowing users to collect small data that have big impacts.


In what ways are IoT and connective technology transforming the MedTech sector and translating to better patient care in the Asia-Pacific region?

IoT and connective technology are changing healthcare in the region in a number of ways. For one, many connected medical devices now allow better home-based care and remote patient monitoring, which is especially important in societies such as Singapore, where there is a rapidly greying population on the rise.

Between 2000 and 2015, the percentage of Singaporeans 65 years and older living alone grew from 6.6 to 8.9 percent. Projections forecast that this number will increase to 83,000 persons (or 9.2% of older adults) by 2030. As this number grows, connected devices can help provide solutions to allow the population to live and function safely in the confines of their own homes.

Feasible solutions must be accessible on an individual consumer level in terms of cost and simplicity to implement the solution in their own homes, while also be able to ensure the privacy and security of data transmitted.

For example, in a project in collaboration with the SMU-TCS iCity Lab, Sigfox Operator, Unabiz, developed the Unabell, a low-cost smart button, as part of the solution in the Assisted Living Project. The initiative combines sensor-based IoT technology with data analytics to help people age in place. By leveraging community assistance through a caregiver network, it helps the elderly control costs significantly, while still providing last-mile human touch. Sensors installed at the homes of senior citizens can help collect and transmit vital information about their well-being non-intrusively. This discreet mode of tracking helps the elderly lead normal lives without feeling self-conscious. In case of divergent data patterns, timely alerts are able to tip off community caregivers, who can step in for support.

In addition, IoT technologies and connectivity have also facilitated telemedicine to be much more feasible. In Chengdu, Sichuan Province in the Peoples Republic of China, SeniorAdom, a French headquartered technology company, is working with Sigfox to deploy an AI based platform using low cost sensors to detect patterns of movement and falls of senior citizens living at home alone.

The solution is designed to automatically detect any potential behavioural anomalies, such as a person feeling faint or deteriorating mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Autolearning algorithms developed by SeniorAdom – which have already been implemented successfully in France – together with Sigfox’s technology allowing the transmission of data at a very low cost and with minimum energy use. This innovative solution allows different cities in China to better protect their elderly populations by anticipating risks and acting quickly in emergencies. This translates into lower medical costs, improved utilisation of an under-staffed medical community and reduced risk of long-term recovery, as well as enabling people to live at home longer.

Why is the implementation of smart solutions especially important for the MedTech sector in Asia Pacific?

Asia will be home to more than 60 percent of the total population aged 65 years or older worldwide, come 2030, according to consulting group Deloitte. By 2042, more will be over-65 in Asia than the combined populations of Europe and North America, generating higher demand for healthcare services. At the same time, chronic diseases are an emerging health threat in Asia due to our increasing standard of living, which mean that people living with these illnesses will need continued medical attention for the rest of their lives.

The healthcare industry must respond to the changing healthcare needs of an aging population, as well as that of chronic patients. As it is, there is a shift from acute and episodic care towards integrated systems that provide a coordinated continuum of care for better management of chronic diseases. This includes an integration of specialized areas such as prevention, diagnosis, consulting, nursing, rehabilitation and health management.

In addition, healthcare organizations face increasing pressure to deliver uncompromising patient care while improving clinical outcomes and operational efficiency. Challenges such as increasing patient satisfaction, ensuring compliance, keeping abreast with technological advances are common issues in hospitals.

Singapore is one of the leaders in healthcare technology in the region and shows great potential in adopting more technology-led solutions to improve patient care. Take, for example, the integrated Code Blue response system implemented by Johnson Controls at a hospital in Singapore. From previously taking as long as 10 minutes, this system is able to, on average, activate the right team within 24 seconds from the detection of abnormal vitals, without human intervention, to treat a patient within 2.6 – 2.8 minutes – the fastest Code Blue rapid response in Singapore. This means that the patient is treated within the “Golden 5 minutes” thereby reducing the risk of hypoxic brain damage while improving chances of recovery.


How will better connectivity in the MedTech sector benefit the use of smart technologies in Asia Pacific?

With better connectivity, systems and smart technologies will be able to “speak” to one another while absorbing and reacting to data. Disparate clinical, IT and facility technologies such as heating, ventilation, cooling, energy, fire prevention, nurse call, patient wards, operating theatres, security, telephony and others will generate huge amount of data every second. Through platforms such as Johnson Controls’ AI-enabled Digital Vault, companies in the MedTech sector will be able to ingest, manage and secure data to enable meaningful information that can be used to innovate and create applications that enhances decision making, experience, efficiency – allowing these technologies to work better together.

The outcome of better connectivity is an environment where each connected device becomes “self-aware,” “talks” with other devices by sharing data and takes action or makes adjustments based on what it learns. This leads to improved patient outcomes both in terms of treatment, as well as the patient experience, elevating the hospital experience closer to that of the hospitality sector. Security and privacy of the data is protected since all data is encrypted at rest and in transit using industry-leading protocols, and the platform, by an access control system.


What challenges will healthcare professionals face when implementing smart technologies to their workflow and how do you suggest overcoming them?

The differing views on what are smart hospitals (concepts), how to build them (systems), and how to evaluate them (standards) are some challenges to the development of smart medical facilities and implementation of smart technologies in the region. This lack of unified standards makes it difficult for hospitals to develop holistic, top-level designs for integration of systems to create valuable patient outcomes. In some cases, they are pushed into making piecemeal investments in building intelligent systems in specific, individual areas, resulting in fragmented, non-unified plan. Johnson Control’s platform empowers a holistic, integrated systems environment, managed on a unified and intelligent infrastructure, to create outcomes which will improve patient experiences, improves the quality of care, enables healthcare providers to become more efficient and healthcare facilities to have better visibility on their assets.

Furthermore, IT and facilities operations, that are still working in silos, have different understanding of requirements, different KPIs and objectives – all which add friction to the process of rolling out new technology. In trying to build a truly smart facility, it is important for all parties to collaborate and focus on patient needs first, thereby allowing healthcare professionals to deliver better clinical outcomes.

Many IT and intelligent technologies are also not fully compatible with each other; thus, each upgrading, or retrofitting may create the need to build new systems from scratch. The key to overcoming these challenges and driving adoption of smart hospitals in Asia is to find effective solutions to these problems.

Cybersecurity is also a concern that healthcare professionals must address given that most of these smart technologies are connected to the Internet for control and analytics purposes. Without stringent security controls in place, these devices can quickly be targeted as areas of entry by hackers. Securing smart technologies takes a blended approach of risk-based planning, security architecture, technology, processes, and people skills – something that Johnson Controls fully understand. With the patient in mind and security and reliability as one of its important value-added services, Johnson Controls tackles these security challenges by imbuing them into the Digital Solutions product development process, from ideation to deployment and maintenance of the product.

What are the current trends in the MedTech sector in Asia Pacific?

Globally, the medical devices industry is still in an early stage of digitalisation, with recent research by Axendia showing that 66 percent of MedTech companies are still in a phase of paper-based manufacturing.

However, there is tremendous potential in Asia-Pacific, where the market is now worth over USD158 billion, surpassing the EU to become the second largest and fastest-growing market for the medical devices industry. A large and growing population, coupled with government initiatives to rapidly scale healthcare infrastructure-building across the region, is likely to lead to fast-growing demand for quality healthcare.

Asia-Pacific faces some unique challenges in providing affordable, quality healthcare to a geographically dispersed population. Key issues that healthcare providers need to solve include insufficient healthcare professionals and fragmented regulatory policies.

Digitalisation will provide tremendous opportunity for Asia-Pacific to leapfrog healthcare services capabilities in advanced markets such as the US or EU and help providers pivot to value-based healthcare. Digital connectivity will also factor greatly in the development of MedTech in this region, as access to healthcare continues to be one of the key problems that needs to be addressed, especially in rural areas. Telemedicine has already emerged as a key focus in markets such as China, Thailand and Singapore, and is another area that MedTech companies can look towards. In addition, the prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, and aging populations in certain markets, connected home care will also be an important part to complete the patients’ journey.


How will emerging technologies in medical technology benefit current workflows for healthcare providers and the users of these technologies?

Digitalisation is affecting every industry, displacing market leaders and creating new business opportunities. Surviving and thriving in an age of disruption demands that medical device manufacturers rethink every aspect of their business, become digital enterprises, and take advantage of the new and disruptive technology drivers across each phase of their operation to reduce cycle time, increase yield and create new business opportunities.

With MedTech, new technologies present new opportunities for real innovation in the way medical devices are designed, manufactured and serviced. Companies can harness new technologies while meeting the continuing challenges posed by increasing product complexity, regulatory compliance and geographically disparate engineering and manufacturing departments with digitalisation.

At Siemens, the drive to deliver best-in-class solutions to support digitalisation and regulatory compliance in the medical device and pharmaceutical industries is driven by a single purpose: helping our customers improve the quality of life, by turning ideas into reality.

Digital Twin technology is one area that has vast potential in medical devices industry. It is traditionally utilised to create virtual models of physical objects, and is a key part of digital manufacturing, but can also be applied to precision medicine. Healthcare professionals can now create a digital twin of a person, allowing them to monitor the condition of chronic diseases without physically operating on patients. Combined with technologies such as virtual reality, this can greatly help medical professional manage risk factors, while also allowing them to provide care remotely.

Additive manufacturing is another key emerging technology that can bring huge benefits for the MedTech sector. Manufacturers can now use simulation and modelling to improve their understanding of how implants can perform for each individual patient in the real-world. By giving healthcare providers the ability to handle highly complex design and carry out mass customisation, it allows medical professionals to focus on the individual outcomes, designing personalised solutions instead of relying on one-size-fits-most devices.


What does MedTech 4.0 mean for the overall manufacturing sector?

New technologies are reshaping the MedTech sector as we know it. From wearable technology to the Internet of Medical Things, MedTech vendors are quickly challenging market perceptions. Medical device manufacturers are also far more likely to strategically prioritise R&D and product development than their counterparts in the manufacturing sector, helping accelerate product innovation across the industry as a whole.

In addition, as healthcare facilities become increasingly data- and technology-driven, security and privacy are naturally key concerns, given the sensitivity of data transmitted, as well as the need to maintain critical uptime. As the MedTech industry sets standards for ensuring that devices are secure-by-design, it also creates learnings and frameworks that the rest of manufacturing to follow.


In what ways will better connectivity through innovative technologies in the MedTech sector impact cost in the healthcare market?

As it is, the technology and devices used in medicine are already generating a lot of data, yet most medical device manufacturers are unable to analyse the data they already have so they can understand its impact on quality and cost. As intelligent data analytics capabilities improve, more MedTech vendors will be able to tap on real-time data analysis to assess the performance of their products to improve decision-making processes.

Better connectivity also helps break down the siloes between different functions in the MedTech sector. Providing visibility and access to metrics across different operations with an integrated platform can help improve cooperative efforts for MedTech companies, allowing them to look for efficiencies that will help them lower costs. In addition, digitalisation enables manufacturers to assess risks and requirements, and discover issues earlier by leveraging digital simulation to predict performance and optimise devices. This allows them to manage the complexity of change at every phase with agility, efficiency, speed and accuracy.

This can reduce the cost of clinical trial, provide data supporting market access and post market surveillance with real-world evidence, enable telemedicine, ultimately help governments to achieve better healthcare at lower cost.


How will digitalisation propel the MedTech sector to develop solutions more quickly for better patient outcomes?

Digitalisation can help MedTech vendors streamline operations and focus on bringing greater value to their clients. For example, regulatory submission and approvals processes are known to be some of the major pain points for the MedTech industry. In this regard, digitalisation helps manage global regulatory complexity by automating processes, thereby shortening the time-to-market for product innovation.

Medtronic is one such company that does this. Adopting Siemens’ Smart Regulatory Solution has allowed them to pivot to a data-first model, instead of having to transfer information manually from spreadsheets to manufacturing systems. This also allows them to deal with global regulatory complexities more easily.

At the same time, complexity in the development of medical devices, especially for smart medical devices that include software and electronics, demands software solutions to establish design controls that orchestrate the design process across inter-disciplinary engineering teams. Digitalisation is required for medical device companies to become data-driven, model-based, and document smart. The right software solutions can increase engineering efficiency and speed across the device lifecycle, while helping professionals avoiding costly errors, quality issues, and recalls. [APBN]