The Complete Guide to Connected Medical Devices: Strategies, Use Cases, and Benefits
Life Sciences | 15 min READ
    
What are Connected Medical Devices?
Connected medical devices refer to those devices that utilize their in-built sensors to collect data recorded by the said device and possess the capabilities to transmit them over the internet and to other devices that are equipped to receive said data. Connected medical devices are distinct from smart devices because the latter is only capable of transmitting data over the internet. In contrast, the former can transmit information over both the internet and to/from other devices.
Dr. Sharada Rao
Dr. Sharada Rao

Vertical Head - Delivery

Life Sciences

Birlasoft

 
Connected Medical Devices Market
The connected medical devices market is one of those emergent fields in medicine that has been steadily rising over the past decade. Given its reliance on IoT technology, a feature that places it close to the paradigms of Industry 4.0, it's no surprise that Deloitte expects close to 70% of all existing medical devices to be connected to the internet by 2025.
Furthermore, an aging global population and the overall dissatisfaction among medical device buyers due to the broken servicing methods only add credence to the thesis of a massive surge in connected medical devices. Since it allows for predictive maintenance and remote troubleshooting, the prospects are all the brighter.
How Do Connected Medical Devices Work?
An intelligent combination of cutting-edge hardware and innovative software is the key to ensuring the successful functioning of a connected medical device. A typical workflow would follow a patient providing inputs of their ailments, thereby prompting the device to run a search for a close match. If a match is found, it will provide a prescription to the patient. If it's unable to do so, it might ask the user to provide a sample of a certain metric and then repeat the matching process. When both of these steps fail, it directs the patient to book a consultation with a licensed medical practitioner who will examine the patient.
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Key Technology Opportunities in Connected Medical Devices
In the realm of connected medical devices, opportunities for integrating technology exist across the entire lifecycle of the device: from manufacturing and maintenance and down to usage. Consumer-facing healthcare has stubbornly resisted the wave of technologies that have been disrupting industries for nearly two decades now. This means that the area is ripe for disruption, and technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine learning (ML) are key to unlocking newer possibilities of connected healthcare.
The Complete Guide to Connected Medical Devices: Strategies, Use Cases, and Benefits
Early Diagnosis and Detection
We've all heard of the oft-touted maxim "Prevention is better than cure." However, when it comes to newer forms of diseases whose effects are not immediately apparent, how does one go about keeping tabs on them? With connecting devices, this is now a possibility.
mHealth
mHealth, short for mobile health, is the first step towards making better use of technology in the healthcare space. Global smartphone usage and internet penetration have been steadily on the rise. In India alone, we have close to half the population online. By rolling out integrated video conferencing apps embedded with patient-oriented data collection and relay systems, medical practitioners will be able to reach a wider segment of patients in desperate need of medical attention. In the future, mobile health ecosystems could play a crucial role in combating public health challenges in developing countries.
Preventive Care
Connected medical devices are bundled with sensors that collect data all the time. This enables practitioners to get their hands on massive volumes of data collected from many different patients. So much so that it could be used (anonymously) to generate deeper insights into how diseases play out in different scenarios. From that point onward, it's an easy transition into embedding said devices with information that allows it to look for symptoms that serve as precursors to specific conditions. This niche field, colloquially known as care analytics, could pave the way for an 'open healthcare' model that can be used to improve patient outcomes.
Wearables/Digital Pills
Medical device manufacturers have finally figured out how to make activity trackers and vital monitoring systems portable, and the response from the market has been impressive. Fitness tracking has spawned an entire suite of applications and movements (like the quantified self), and the very same technology is also being piloted in the form of digital pills. Digital pills come with indigestible sensors that activate upon turning wet (in an intestinal environment) and are used to monitor medication adherence and provide physiological patient data. Both wearable devices and digital pills are nearing the commodification process, a sign that points to a bright future for connected medical devices in the healthcare industry.
Neural Networks and Drug Discovery
As artificial neural networks mature to the point of detecting patterns and solving basic problems at scale, the MedTech industry is now in a position to incorporate the computational prowess of neural networks into its operational paradigms to allow for a wider range of applications. The medical fraternity has been struggling with providing medical care at scale as healthcare institutions worldwide have been bombarded with patients, a phenomenon that has only been exacerbated in the last two decades. In this regard, drug discovery, which is usually a first step in formulating a response to any public health emergency, could immensely benefit from the capabilities of neural networks and slash development times to months instead of years.
Point-of-Care Diagnostics
Point-of-care diagnostics (POCD) have long been discussed as a much-needed solution in the healthcare world, but it wasn't until the COVID-19 pandemic that people began taking it seriously. POCD refers to the ability to conduct diagnostic procedures at or close to the patient's location, as opposed to requiring the patient to visit branches of labs that specialize in diagnostics. With connected medical devices, diagnostic labs can completely abandon plans of expanding physically and focus solely on distributing 'smart test kits' that would shorten processing times and enable labs to save on expansionary/operational expenditure.
Embedded Computer Vision & Diagnostics
Imaging systems are key to the functioning of any hospital and are the only reliable, non-invasive way for doctors to examine what goes inside a patient's body. This required the usage of large, expensive machines and on-premise PACS systems that made the entire affair expensive and difficult to scale. Fortunately, that is no longer a constraint.
Computer vision technology has come a long way over the past decade, and embedding computer vision capabilities into existing medical contraptions will endow doctors with enhanced imaging capacities that cost less and are more mobile.
Personalized Care
Personalized medical attention was all but impossible to be delivered at scale. It requires round-the-clock care and special attention from multiple practitioners to be directed towards a patient over a long period. Connected medical devices are all set to change this by leveraging connectivity and embedding it into existing technology.
Blindness Research – Project ORBIT
For people with vision impairments, whether partial or complete, medical technology has made some crucial breakthroughs in identifying personal objects. While AI has been trained to the point where it can recognize objects, it hasn't progressed to the point of assisting those with vision impairments with personalized object identification.
Led by Dr. Simone Stumpf from the City, University of London, the Object recognition for blind image training (ORBIT) project aims to train AI to recognize personal objects for people with vision impairments and make the results public, to democratize personalized object recognition for vision-impaired people.
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Oncology AI
Oncology, the field of medicine that deals with cancer, was previously limited by yesteryear imaging systems, making it difficult for doctors and patients alike to get a comprehensive view of their tumors. Using the on-premise PACS system didn't allow doctors to use historical cases as effectively as they could. AI and ML are particularly useful in cancer imaging as it allows oncologists to see better with convolutional neural networks. Other functions within oncology that could benefit from AI/ML models are clinical photography, radiographic imaging, and digital pathology.
Precision Medicine
The tendency of medical institutions to rely on generalizations to administer medical care to patients is a criticism that doctors haven't been able to address. The ability to consider a patient's genetics, body chemistry, body type, medical history, and other nuances to curate a specialized intervention plan was a luxury that only a few could afford.
Precision medicine as an approach is now a lot more feasible to implement thanks to the wide array of tools that present-day doctors have access to. Connected medical devices can monitor patients for a stipulated period to get a baseline, using which doctors can administer interventions that are specifically suited to the patient's unique biomarkers.
First In Human Use Cases
First-in-human (FIH) trials are one of the most momentous occasions in the drug development process. Given the high stakes involved, the controls and procedures that precede it are extremely stringent to the point where they can sometimes be counter-productive. While these controls are well-intentioned, they have the unintended effect of slowing down the drug development process, which can be extremely damaging in the case of an unprecedented public health emergency (much like the COVID-19 pandemic).
Artificial Intelligence has been something of a 'deus ex machina' for clinical research. It gave researchers the ability to run analyses on large volumes of data in a matter of hours, as opposed to the previous approach, where it took a lot of time, money, and person-hours. Advances in technology had advanced to such a degree that researchers could automate much of the process before FIH that resulted in an AI single-handedly creating a formulation administered to humans during the FIH phase.
Internet of Medical Things
Internet of medical things (IoMT), a suite of medical devices and applications connected to the internet, allows for real-time, rapid, and dynamic analysis. Internet of Things in healthcare is key to solving several issues that the medical fraternity has run into in its journey to provide comprehensive, affordable, and accessible medical care at scale. From remote patient monitoring to handling troves of medical data, IoMT is the starting point in building a global connected medical infrastructure that will grow to be a part of everyday life in medical institutions.
Connected Physicians
Much like the open-source community amongst software professionals, connected medical devices represent the first step in replicating the shared knowledge model (referred to earlier as the open healthcare model) in the medical industry. Human bodies may be different, and the physiological differences may be significant across the globe. However, certain ailments under certain conditions are likely to be common across the world (in no small part due to a convergence in lifestyles), and forming a global network of physicians who rely on each other to build a shared knowledge base is imperative to combat public health problems in the 21st century.
Medication Compliance Systems
Medical compliance or patient adherence continues to remain a problem for many doctors. As diseases grow more complex and bacterial resistance to antibiotics increases, ensuring proper medical compliance might be the difference between life and death for patients who may be far too close to succumbing to their conditions.
Data-driven insights can be used to study and improve patient adherence, and incorporating AI/ML models into smart medical devices will allow physicians to understand the reasons for non-adherence and optimize existing health systems. They could be equally useful in designing thoughtful clinical trials and product development procedures too.
Connected Medical Devices Examples
There are numerous examples of companies weaving connectivity and IoT technologies into medical devices and aids that doctors and patients have been using for a while now. Some examples of these connected devices include:
  • Depression/Mood monitoring: Deteriorating mental health has been one of the biggest public health concerns of the past century and is unique because of the lack of external symptoms that doctors can use to treat it. It's all too common to hear of stories where seemingly normal people end up committing suicide due to having been in poor mental health for a prolonged period. Mood-aware IoT devices can track metrics such as heart rate, pulse, and even eye-tracking/pupil dilation and alert mental health professionals of any impending issues.
  • Connected contact lenses: As early as 2014, Google had a pending patent for a 'smart contact lens that came equipped with a micro-camera and sensors. The stated purpose of these connected lenses was to collect data for 'tear analysis' that would provide the glucose levels for the wearer, a particularly useful metric to monitor amongst diabetics/pre-diabetics.
Connected Medical Devices Benefits
Connected medical devices allow for greater decentralization in medical care. Patients no longer need to travel from their home towns/villages to seek medical attention elsewhere. In addition to enabling remote patient monitoring, it also translates to immense cost savings for doctors and patients alike.
Improved Medical Device Management
Medical device manufacturing has hit something of a snag over the past few years. With single-digit growth, dismal NPS scores, and no alternate sources of revenue, it's no wonder that the industry was stagnating. With connected medical devices, that could change. Instead of the traditional, single transaction model, which required heavy upfront investments on the part of the customers, manufacturers can now take the 'servitization' route and lease their equipment for monthly rates.
In addition to this, they can also offer predictive maintenance and remote troubleshooting services that could address the dismal NPS scores that medical device users had long been plagued by. This would result in a win-win scenario for everyone in the ecosystem. Manufacturers can spend less on maintenance, and clients can get the full suite of benefits for an affordable price. It would also drastically increase the LTV of customers, a prospect that no manufacturer would want to miss out on.
The Complete Guide to Connected Medical Devices: Strategies, Use Cases, and Benefits
Improved Patient and Clinical Experience
Connected medical devices bring the possibility of a more holistic clinical and diagnostic experience to both clinics and patients. Instead of taking different trips to different departments and conducting tests and diagnoses in silos, interdepartmental collaboration can reach new highs as patient data can circulate more freely within the hospital's internal network. Patients can also minimize their trips to the clinic and rely on in-house monitoring systems that allow their supervising physicians to check in on their patients remotely. All of this would translate to a reduction in the number of hospital visits for the patient and decreased congestion in the clinic, thereby providing an optimal environment for functioning. Other benefits that IoMT and connected medical devices would bring include:
  • Seamless migration of patient data.
  • Greater control for the patient over their medical data.
  • The ability to self-monitor and self-assess in the early stages of the ailment.
Data Generation for Diagnostic Insights
Earlier, the availability of sufficient data was a problem that doctors had to contend with. With the advent of digital systems, an abundance of data became the problem as doctors couldn't sift through massive volumes of data using traditional assessment methods. With AI and connected medical devices, these problems go away as doctors can control the amount of data they want to generate for gaining specific insights and use the computational prowess provided by AI/ML technologies to mine these insights in record time.
It is now possible for individual practitioners to do the same thing that required whole fleets of doctors as recently as three decades ago. With such rapid diagnostic capabilities, doctors will no longer need to be bogged down by a data deluge, and patient wait times will go down as doctors can provide quality healthcare far more quickly.
Key Considerations – Connected Medical Devices
Given how new the concept of a connected medical device is, the lack of understanding creates a policy lag that is bound to cause problems for the industry as it moves forward. Other concerns such as data sanctity, regulation, last-mile connectivity will also need to be dealt with.
Last-Mile Delivery & Provider Regulations
While it may be exciting to dwell on the prospects of providing quality medical care for millions by using connected medical devices, the harsh reality of last-mile delivery solutions is bound to bite any manufacturer in their journey to inundate the market with their offerings.
Furthermore, given the relatively vulnerable position that most rural populations are in, manufacturers can expect to tiptoe around a slew of government regulations that they will have to contend with within the process of marketing their offerings and services. Providers working with these entities will also have to be mindful of conflicts of interest and perverse incentives that might detract from their core function as medical care providers.
Connected Medical Devices Cybersecurity
Data breaches and cyber-attacks have become so common that it's become the norm for companies to brush them off and carry on with their operations. With the medical device industry, this cannot happen.
Unlike other instances of data breaches where the data usually consists of e-mail, addresses, etc., medical data is a very personal and intimate aspect of individuals, which can have disastrous consequences if they fall into the wrong hands. Manufacturers will have to install appropriate anti-malware mechanisms and have strong security measures to ensure that the data isn't privy to malicious parties.
Connected Medical Devices Regulation
The advanced capabilities that digital transformation brings to the medical devices industry also allow it to comply with regulations at a previously impossible pace. Digital processes can make the shop floor adjust its production with near-zero lag times, which prevents manufacturers from the adverse consequences of major policy/regulatory changes that could impact their businesses.
Connected medical devices are not a fad. It is a revolutionary phenomenon in healthcare and is a trend that is highly likely to pan out across the world in the coming decades. While the engineering and logistical challenges around the manufacturing and distribution of such devices are immense, in the long run, it is a trend that is likely to triumph as it shortens the gap between the rural and urban populations when it comes to healthcare.
 
 
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