According to Deloitte, the global market for wearable medical devices and remote patient monitoring systems is expected to reach US$612 billion in 2022. And by some accounts, there are now over 318,000 health apps available on the top app stores worldwide, nearly double the number of apps available in 2015.
So what opportunities do these technologies present the medical industry and what can the sector do to stay relevant in this new environment?
Technology Futurist Shara Evans, who was speaking at the recent MedTech18 Annual Conference in Sydney, said new-age technologies are making people’s lives more connected and are expected to “change the face of medicine”.
“In the near future, patients are going to come in to healthcare with a plethora of data about what’s happening inside of their bodies. Some of these technologies are already being rolled out in the world, changing how healthcare traditionally operated,” she said.
According to Evans, the following technologies are the future of med tech:
Wearables – These devices come with bio-sensing capabilities that track patient information and vitals, giving health practitioners a wealth of data to work with. Devices will get more “personal” as they will be able to perform analysis on a molecular level and detect all kinds of physiological conditions.
Stretchable electronics – These devices will be bendable as they will be made of silicone and will contour themselves to different parts of a patient’s body and be worn in different places. They will consist of sensors that monitor people in real-time. They will be waterproof, and communicate via bluetooth to an app on a mobile device. That information can then be shared with healthcare practitioners.
Augmented Reality (AR) anatomy – This technology enables the superimposing of the digital world onto an image of the real world. It will be useful in explaining medical conditions to patients, the planning of medical procedures with precision, etc.
Virtual Reality (VR), robotics and brain machine interfaces (BMI) – Using a combination of these technologies completely immerses a person in a digital world to assist recovery and promote healing. For example, a paralysed person can use it to learn how to walk again, depending on their situation.
- FDA-approved digital pills – Sensors are embedded in pills, which get activated by the juices of the digestive system. They send signals from inside the stomach, and the information is then collected via a bluetooth-enabled patch worn on the person’s arm.
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- A pill that replaces needles – It’s designed to be able to deliver large molecules directly into the intestines without the need for needles. The drug in the pill is protected until it reaches the destination. It then releases the drug into the body using needles made out of sugar and the remainder of the pill comes out through the digestive system.
3D printing – A variety of things can be printed (such as stem cells, tissues, organs, etc.) and can be used in a variety of situations like making prosthetics and drug testing.
Pulsed electro-magnetic fields (PEMF) healing – Devices that use electricity to pass through people’s bodies and help them heal.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) – An umbrella term that includes machine learning, deep learning, facial detection, natural language voice-recognition, smart robots, chatbots, image recognition, etc. It is expected to have many uses in the medical realm, such as the diagnostics of illnesses or oncology.
Robots – Medical robots are expected to be used in surgery, not to replace surgeons but rather be guided by them. Origami robots that live in pills can be used to remove dangerous materials consumed, such as button batteries. Millibots, which are tiny robots, use kinetic energy and are guided by a doctor using MRI to perform surgery. Humanoid robots are more human-like and have advanced robotic capabilities to perform intricate tasks that human hands can achieve.
- Brain-machine interfaces – These are mind-controlled medical devices that control attached prosthetics for people who have lost limbs.
“Going into the future, we will be taking more and more devices into our bodies and could possibly become part cyborgs – half human and half machine,” Evans said.
“In the 2030s, things like neural nanotechnology, genetic engineering and Google-glass like contact lenses are expected to be rolled out. There are some ethical questions around some of these technologies, but it shows the potential available and the possibilities they bring to the healthcare sector.”