If 2020 has taught us anything, it is how important the healthcare industry is to our world. It was the year where medical professionals around the world stepped up and went above and beyond to take care of people afflicted by the COVID-19 virus. They did this under enormous stress and pressure, all while caring for people with “normal” health issues as well.
Medical professionals were aided in their Herculean effort by the growth and expanded use of medical devices. Already a rising industry at the outset of 2020, the global pandemic supercharged the development and adoption of many medical devices. These devices helped medical professionals do their job more effectively and efficiently, benefitting professionals and patients alike.
There is no question that continued and even increased use of medical devices is here to stay. The questions are, what will medical devices look like in 2021 and beyond? What new devices will be created and how will they be formed? What are the trends in the medical device industry that will help creators make better, faster, more effective devices?
Time will help answer these questions and more but, right now, we can look at how some of these questions were answered in 2020 and project some of the developments going forward in the new year. These trends are what led to devices exploding in the medical world and what will continue to drive their creation and growth going forward. Here are four medical device trends to watch in 2021.
Emphasizing the End User More Than Ever
The people who use a medical device will ultimately determine the success or failure of that device. This is something that is a truth but has not always been a primary consideration of medical device developers. In recent years, this has been slowly changing, and in 2021 it will become a bigger focus than ever.
No matter what a medical device does, and how well it does it, if it is not a product that can achieve buy-in on both the clinical and the patient sides, the device will ultimately fail. Yes, a medical device has to provide a clear and measurable benefit to all that use it, but if it makes life more difficult instead of easier for the user, there is no way it will ever achieve wide-spread adoption.
By focusing on the user experience (UX) design of the device, developers can give their device a leg up on the competition. The UX design should be clean and fast and intuitive. If it adds time and effort to the process, no matter how good it is otherwise, it will eventually be scrapped. If it streamlines a process and makes users’ lives better in their eyes, it will become a hit. Emphasis on the user experience is now better understood and will continue to be a primary focus in years to come.
Increase in Software as a Medical Device
Most people think of medical devices as big machines–like x-ray machines, MRIs, CT scan machines. Like every technology in life these days though, smaller, more portable, and more personalized devices are the ones that are being rewarded. In the medical field, the medical devices that provide these benefits are software devices.
Software as a medical device (SaMD) refers to software that provides a medical benefit on its own without the aid of another medical device. Generally run with non-medical technology such as computers, tablets, smartphones, or wearable devices, SaMD adds convenience, versatility, and personalization to a category that was once dominated by big machines.
As healthcare becomes more virtual and individualized in 2021, SaMD will be there to meet these needs. It allows medical professionals to treat patients more effectively without having to meet face-to-face and gives patients more control and ownership over their treatment. The fact that software now provides these benefits will make the 2020s the decade of SaMD.
Greater Commitment to Quality Assurance
As the pace of technological development speeds up, the chance for mistakes and issues to lead to unintended negative consequences increases. The way medical device developers are dealing with this is by undertaking a greater level of commitment to quality assurance throughout the entire development process.
Medical device manufacturers, which operate in a heavily regulated industry, must maintain higher quality assurance standards than other types of manufactures. This includes doing things like environmental monitoring to ensure the effectiveness and safety of the raw materials, the final product, and everything in between. It also means qualifying equipment to make sure it meets the highest standards possible by engaging in practices like IQ OQ PQ. As noted in this Dickson explainer, IQ OQ PQ principles are generally recognized as the quality assurance standard in regulated industries.
The speed of technology (as we’ll discuss below) can be a great thing for the medical device industry. It can also lead to problems that can damage a company or, even worse, hurt a user. A greater commitment to quality assurance is how, in 2021, medical device manufacturers can counteract the negative aspects of speedy development and protect themselves and others.
Improving in Real-Time
A huge development in medical devices comes in the form of the Internet of Things (IoT). This is a term used to describe the universe of internet-connected products that can communicate information between different devices. IoT technology helps in so many ways with medical devices but one of the biggest ways, which will continue to be a trend in 2021, is to enable fast continuous improvement.
IoT medical devices, especially software-based ones, allow for a fast feedback loop where users can offer feedback in real-time, and developers can make improvements based on that feedback with a relatively simple software update. This offers an incredible level of control to both users and developers and leads to better outcomes. The more this fast feedback loop continues in the coming year, the better it will be for everyone involved.
No one can be 100% sure what 2021 will bring. However, by analyzing factors that have made medical devices so successful in 2020, you can start to see patterns emerge and better predict trends we will see in the coming year. Trends like end-user considerations, SaMD, quality assurance, and fast feedback loops are all aspects of medical devices that have been so successful, you will definitely see them continue to grow in 2021 and beyond.