18 May Why we cannot abandon innovation beyond COVID
One of the few silver linings to come from the pandemic has been the rapid adoption of innovation in healthcare. The healthcare industry has needed this boost and the pandemic has acted as a powerful impetus for change. The race to develop vaccines for Covid-19 in less than one year is a prime example of medical innovation at speed – normally it would take anywhere between 10 and 15 years. Other technologies such as telemedicine for virtual appointments, and virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) that provides lifelike remote training for medical staff, have broken through with great pace.
Rebalancing the scales
Innovation in MedTech is uniquely important to the future of healthcare for two fundamental reasons. On an economic level, the pandemic costs led to a £5.1 billion deficit for the NHS in England in the first four months of the financial year, compared with the pre-pandemic budget. Some of the key contributors include extending the workforce to meet the healthcare demand, absences from sickness, providing extra bed capacity, and, at the beginning of the lockdown, higher costs of prescribing. Technology has not only helped continue vital services digitally through the pandemic, but it also offers the possibility to make healthcare services more efficient and cost effective.
The true potential of MedTech goes beyond the financial impact. There are massive societal changes which put a strain on healthcare systems globally. An ageing population means more people using healthcare services, but less people in employment and paying taxes to support them, at a time when medical costs are increasing exponentially. This has led to a healthcare system struggling to cope with demand – even before COVID-19.
Technology is increasingly being used to rebalance the scales, reducing the financial pressure on the NHS while enhancing patient outcomes.
Before medical technologies can be introduced into healthcare settings to make a positive difference to patient outcomes, companies have to – quite rightly – gather the evidence that products are safe and effective. Bringing a medical device to market requires rigorous testing, regulatory approvals, clinical studies, and healthcare professionals willing to support and champion the product – all of which requires money, time and commitment.
Critical to medical device adoption is the need to generate positive patient data through a programme of clinical studies. Bodies such as National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) must be commended for ensuring innovations are safe. However, if global healthcare systems are to continue adopting innovation beyond the pandemic, we need to strike a balance between regulation and innovation.
The flexible response of regulatory bodies during the pandemic – two examples shared here in the UK and US – offers great scope for the industry to shape the dialogue for how the sector will be regulated in future. Importantly, the industry can now point to the FDA’s granting of more than 250 emergency use authorisations, including medical devices, PPE and ventilators, in the first six months of the pandemic.
Carrying the torch
New technologies and innovations have the potential to improve patient outcomes, reduce the strain on healthcare professionals and, ultimately, save healthcare systems money across the globe. The pandemic has been pivotal to an infrastructure change that has assisted healthcare professionals to make the switch to innovation-enabled care. This high level of collaboration and momentum must be maintained to enable healthcare across the globe to flourish in the years ahead.
Read more about the important role of MedTech innovation here.