Innovation in medical technology is everywhere. From 3D printed organs to digestion-activated smart pills, the future of healthcare is on our doorstep. But with cost and availability leaving much of it on the periphery, are there any opportunities for smaller pharmaceutical companies to capitalise on this emerging trend? Can it be used to facilitate communications with healthcare professionals and improve the lives of patients? And, if so, where do you start?
The Rise of the Smartphone
We’ve come a long way from the days I used to play Snake 2 on the bus to school. In the last decade mobile smartphones have grown from a new fad to global domination, with a projected 10 billion mobile devices in use worldwide by 2016.
In 2012, 247 million people downloaded a health-based app. Currently the majority of these are consumer facing personal fitness apps. Indeed, five of these apps account for 15% of all downloads in the healthcare category. While many early developments attempted to use the phone’s in-built sensors to track data, recently the smartphone has shifted to become the hub of information. It feeds off the data provided by wearable devices like the Nike+ fuel band and Pebble, allowing you to track your progress, update your friends and set targets.
Yet, as well as health apps, there are increasingly original uses for the smartphone as an information centre. Almost every aspect of patient-facing technology now integrates with the user’s smartphone. The Proteus system, for example, is a pill that activates via electrolytes in the stomach. The result? A pill that will text a patient or physician’s smartphone once digestion has started, aiding compliance and adherence among elderly patients.
Walking data centres
Wearable technology is one of the fastest growing markets in the industry. Shipments are expected to rise from 53.9 million in 2013 to 1.64 billion by next year; with experts predicting the market will be worth $8.36 billion by 2018. Like mHealth, personal fitness devices such as the Nike+ fuel band and Samsung Galaxy Note 2 have dominated the early market. These devices can measure heart rate, miles run or cycled and even track the quality of your sleep.
Then Google Glass came along and changed everything. The augmented reality glasses are being trialled in hospitals for day-to-day patient care and surgery, utilising the hands free information display to look up patient information, MRI scans and monitor vital signs. But while it’s mechanics and unwieldy design have limited it’s success on a consumer level, the revolutionary potential of Google Glass has paved the way for thousands of start-ups now furiously rushing to produce the next innovative blockbuster in wearable tech.
On the horizon are non-injecting pads to monitor and control glucose levels in diabetes patients, contact lenses that can measure glucose levels in tears, and sensors that can alert carers if their patient is about to have an epileptic fit. Most exciting is the Microsoft Hololens, an augmented reality headset that could change the way we interact with each other forever.
The pinnacle of innovation
While consumer-land is providing exciting headlines that are influencing personal health and healthcare, it’s the medical device industry that is really making strides, pushing the boundaries of healthcare and technology integration. Medical technology and biotechnology are currently worth around £255 billion to the UK and the market is growing 10% every year. Worldwide, the growth is even more pronounced.
And the innovation is staggering. 3D printers that can print organs using living cells. Remote robot towers that patrol hospital hallways to check on patient vital signs. Plasters that can measure vital signs for arrhythmia patients. These are just some of the amazing advancements on the horizon.
What does it all mean, Basil?
The advancement of medical technology poses a real benefit to patient care, not only in the motivation of individuals to keep tabs on, and even improve, their own health, but also to the healthcare professionals in charge of monitoring their patient’s conditions and treatment adherence.
Yet, for all the hype, relatively few are currently involved or exposed to these innovations. In fact, it may be the first time you’ve heard of the handful of examples listed so far, partly due to UK legislation for the use of medical devices. Like us though, we imagine you can’t wait to get your hands on some of the kit and start exploring how you can use it. So what can you do?
Although medical devices for use with patients are strictly regulated, using them as part of your marketing campaigns is a real opportunity for capturing attention and standing apart from the competition. These opportunities may require out of the box, in the box or ‘on an entirely different planet’ levels of thinking. But they’re out there. Here at Swordfish we used an innovative combination of augmented reality and app design to create a mobile compliance app for helping young children requiring growth hormone therapy. We even won an award for it.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are an unlimited number of opportunities that can transform your campaign from ordinary to extraordinary. Why not take the new Oculus Rift virtual reality device and team it with a couple of Shimmer3 wireless sensors to create an immersive stand feature where a healthcare professional can experience the symptoms of MS or Parkinson’s. Or use Google Glass during a rep visit to demonstrate the hidden damage sun can cause.
It’s relatively inexpensive too. You can pick up many of these devices for less than £1,500, making them a valid purchase for a sales suite or exhibition. By using existing software and tweaking it to suit your needs, you can avoid any hefty development costs. All it takes is a bit of inventive thinking.
At Swordfish we’re constantly searching for the next bit of tech, be it wearable or digital, to help lift our client’s campaigns to the next level. If you’re ever stuck for an idea and want some help, we’d be happy to come down to your offices for a good old-fashioned brainstorm.