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  • Lu Rahman

How digital health can benefit medical device manufacturers

When I plan emerging markets pieces I’m usually thinking along the lines of geography. Which corners of the globe are ripe for new business and where can the latest opportunities be found?

In this line of work it’s our job to keep on top of new trends. We’re constantly looking ahead to see what’s going to be big this time next year. For that reason, what I’m going to write about probably isn’t an emerging trend for many (especially me given the launch of Digital Health Age in 2015) but it’s a trend that's gaining ground rapidly and has renewed potential for the medical device sector.

Of course, I’m talking about digital health. Nothing that new is it? We’ve been reading about digital healthtech for years now. We know that connected devices exist, we’ve heard all about health apps and whether or not they’re actually medical devices, and we’re well aware that increasing numbers of hospitals on a global scale are looking at ways of improving care using digital products. So yes, while it’s true that digital is nothing new, there was something that happened this week in the UK that could prove to be a real game-changer for any company supplying UK medical device companies or manufacturing devices for that market.

A few days before this issue of MPN went to press, I visited the Health & Care Innovation Expo in Manchester. Very much focussed on the UK healthcare system and its staff, the expo brings together thought leaders, patients, businesses trying to reach that market as well as providing a forum offering the opportunity to hear about the latest pathways and technology the NHS is implementing. Having attended the event three years in a row now, this one stood out in its heavy focus on technology – digital technology.

If there was one key message coming out of the Health and Care Innovation Expo 2017, it was that the future’s digital. Am I surprised? Not at all. I’ve been flying the flag for digital health for years. But this technology is now becoming the norm and importantly, the public both expects and embraces these products in its daily life.

The expo exhibition hall was filled with heathtech companies and the digital health zone was packed to the gills. Companies including Amazon, Google Could, Now Heathcare and Teva had a clear and strong presence at the event highlighting the sector’s ability to pull in technological heavyweights – not bad for a show that’s only been running since 2014. It’s a big thumbs up to the businesses that have been pushing back the boundaries of healthcare, the early adopters of the tech and of course the NHS which has implemented programmes to ensure that roll-out and access to digital technology is on-track and successful for both clinicians and patients.

And more than this UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed a range of measures to digitise the NHS. With initial plans including electronic health records and an app to facilitate easy access for patients, the next step will of course be a movement to increase digital devices and tech within the NHS estate.

So where does all this fit with the medical device manufacturer or supplier?

Connected devices are so much more than linking a machine to a wifi network. We’re talking about medical devices with accompanying apps, that may need to be manufactured using the latest in antimicrobial technology and that incorporate the best in cyber-security software. As wearable devices become more widely used, the need for high quality design skills will be required – one device won’t fit all after all – and of course, software developers will come into their own. Other sectors such as micro-manufacture and sensor technology should also see significant opportunity as the uptake of connected technology increases. The medical adhesives market is already feeling the effects of this industry – read the Vancive artice on page 24 top get a feel for how this business is addressing the needs of the ‘digital healthcare revolution’ as it puts it. Earlier this year Accutronics exhibited its ‘smart battery’ at the

Med-Tech Innovation Expo in Coventry, designed for wearable devices. The company recognised the shift for more compact battery sizes as devices sizes shrink. The list goes on…

Over the last few weeks alone we’ve run stories on devices that track metrics. We all know about the Apple Watch and we’ve heard about the company partnering with medical device maker Dexcom to link a glucose monitoring device with the Apple Watch. News on the Series 3 watch reached us recently – the device features a new operating system which includes an updated heart rate app that measures users’ heart rate when resting and recovering, during workouts, walking and breathe sessions. The device can also be set to send out a notification when a person’s heart rate is elevated above a specific level. Does this have medical use potential? In a similar vein Samsung broke news of its Gear range of products that track fitness levels.

We also have products very clearly aimed at the connected remote market. Take InsulCheck Connect. This is a snap-on accessory for disposable insulin pen users, that automatically collects and records pen usage and behaviour data on the go. It’s just one example of devices being designed specifically for the digital healthcare sector.

While digital health isn’t brand new, and for many it was an emerging market a few years ago, there are undeniably new and increased opportunities to be had and thanks to UK healthcare policy we are likely to see a fresh wave of demand emerge. Medical device manufacturers and suppliers are in the ideal position to take advantage of this to create healthtech products that fit the requirements of an increasingly connected healthcare system for future generations.

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