Digital technology offers the potential to transform the entire patient pathway from prevention and screening through diagnosis to treatment and the subsequent management of a condition
The pandemic has already shown the effectiveness of remote diagnosis and patient monitoring technologies, gaining rapid acceptance among clinicians, even those highly wedded to traditional methods. With new models of care emerging, digital healthcare technology will spread right along the pathway and become an important driver of improved outcomes and higher efficiency.
This clear potential to disrupt traditional models through digital innovation is what continues to fuel strong investment in the medtech sector. The EY Pulse of the Industry report 2020 says financing levels in 2019-2020 were more than double the previous 12 months and although there was a drop as the pandemic took hold, R&D spending has recovered. Company valuations for digital health companies were up 65% in the middle of 2020, compared with January 2019, likely due to investor excitement over enhanced use of virtual health and other remote technologies during the pandemic.
However, as this report and many others point out, although there is now no shortage of data for medtech innovators to work with, difficulties with exchanging and using data between different systems and devices hold back many companies from realising their clinical and market potential quickly.
These are significant obstacles to the scalability of a new solution. It is no longer acceptable for med tech innovations to operate as standalone systems. Sharing data with other systems and devices is essential to improve patient safety and clinical outcomes. The extent to which systems and devices can exchange and interpret shared data is known as “interoperability”. This is what facilitates care coordination, drives efficiency and enables innovators to bring their device to market.
Time-to-market is the most important driver
Given the pace at which wireless technology, miniaturisation and computing power are evolving and the increasing acceptance of digital health solutions by clinicians and patients alike, there are likely to be “first mover advantages” in several medtech categories. Small wonder then, that time-to-market is seen as an important driver in medtech.
Of course, many medtech companies are compelled to move rapidly because they need to generate enough sales revenue to become self-sustaining or to reach the next milestone with an investor. Faced with these pressures, many medtech innovators go to market with a minimum viable product (MVP), which they refine on the basis of feedback from early adopters.
As interoperability is complex and not, perhaps as immediately compelling as the user interface, hand-coding a point-to-point interface with initial customers’ legacy system(s) can appear to be a quick way of addressing the immediate need for integration. But this bespoke development is likely to be a false economy.
As the number of customers for a solution grows, point-to-point interfaces become increasingly difficult to maintain
Since the one constant in healthcare is change, fixed integrations will need to be continuously amended and tested. This must happen whenever workflows change, source systems are upgraded or replaced or more data sources are added. In this way, the integration approach can act as a brake on a medtech business’ growth and profitability.
The advantages of building on a data platform
An alternative approach is to build the application on a data platform such as InterSystems IRIS for Health which encompasses interoperability, the ability to orchestrate multiple interfaces, high-speed data storage and “in-flight” data transformation. By doing so, a much greater number of interoperability use cases can be addressed by a single platform, particularly when combined with the ability to provide real-time analytics such as insight into usage patterns and performance.
By eliminating the need to integrate multiple technologies and toolsets, a unified platform reduces the amount of code than needs to be developed and tested. This can significantly reduce the time-to-market for new innovations.
Of course, investment-friendly medtechs must be scalable and without meaningful interoperability that is going to be very difficult. So, being able to demonstrate that the solution is built on a sound, flexible technology stack and can scale beyond its original use case will certainly increase its attractiveness to investors. In a Deloitte survey of 2018, interoperability was identified as “arguably the biggest challenge for medtech, including complying with various national and international standards and protocols around the exchange and use of data”. Unless a medtech business can demonstrate interoperability, it is unlikely to get to market quickly and generate any magnetism for further investment.
About the Author
Featured image: ©Gorodenkoff