Healthcare is plagued by the same challenges as many other industries—cost, access, quality, and interoperability. To address those issues, significant shifts will occur in healthcare over the next 10 to 15 years. The test and measurement industry will have to respond to support these changes.
One key change is the shift in the business model from “Value for Money” to “Value for Many.” With per capita healthcare spending rising faster than per capita income in almost all countries across the world, true design innovation will be in order.
In parallel, Frost & Sullivan foresees a move from general hospitals to focused, specialized hospitals whose value proposition will center around providing care for specific conditions. Virtual hospitals will contribute to shift the financial gravity of the system. Advances in artificial intelligence, technology sophistication, and broadband speed will facilitate virtual surgeries and medical training.
Another significant shift will be the move from sickcare to healthcare, fueled by economic and demographic factors, culture, technologies, and rising obesity and chronic disease rates. Telehealth technologies will play a significant role in this shift. There will be a greater emphasis on diagnosis, monitoring, preventative care, tracking and documenting outcomes, information flows that support training, and patient education and interaction (see the figure).
In addition to telehealth, several technologies are expected to impact the next generation of medical devices, including nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, antimicrobial materials, tissue engineering, bioabsorbable/bioerodable materials, and structural materials.
Patient expectations will evolve tremendously to anywhere-anytime care with real-time information at the point of consumption. Patients also will want information that comes to them and high levels of interaction in face-to-face encounters. Furthermore, patients will demand the ability to control and customize use and service features, control of interaction, 24/7/365 support to resolve questions, one-stop resolution or calls back, and proactive outreach.
Overall, the healthcare industry will become increasingly data-driven and customized, more like any other service industry. New care models will focus on collaboration, information exchange and awareness, and achieving health outcomes. There will be increased tracking of care and results as well as patient empowerment to understand and manage disease via remote monitoring and mobile applications. With the advent of healthcare consumerism, greater convergence between professional medical technology and consumer technology is expected.
With needs for high performance, accuracy, and reliability, test and measurement equipment is critical in healthcare. The U.S. represents the largest share of market revenues for medical devices globally due to favorable demographics, high consumption of technology, and very high relative global prices, making the industry important in North America. Moreover, the medical industry uses outsourcing less aggressively than other industries, helping it retain significant manufacturing activity in the region.
Going forward, changing models of profitability are expected to increase the focus of the medical industry on reducing time-to-market and costs. For example, medical companies are changing their overall development processes to integrate the prototyping stage into the development stage, and there has been a greater recourse to electronics manufacturing service (EMS) providers over the years, especially for class I and class II medical devices.
National Instruments, for instance, works with medical companies to reduce their time-to-market and costs. See “Using LabVIEW, NI TestStand, and PXI to Test a Medical Glucose Meter and Insulin Delivery System Within a Regulated Manufacturing Environment” and “Using Graphical System Design to Rapidly Develop a Low-Cost Device for Helping Premature Infants Learn to Oral Feed”.
Since the medical industry involves heavily regulated environments, though, a significant focus on safety and quality accompanies the emphasis on reducing time-to-market and costs. Test and measurement vendors are certainly supporting them in this transition, improving the price-performance of their instruments and offering instrumentation that yields a lower cost of test. Test is also moving up earlier in the product lifecycle, helping to find bugs earlier.
Medical companies also are being challenged with uncertainty in FDA regulation processes. They need to continue to deliver safe devices while dealing with more documentation in a changing environment. They are moving toward electronic data collection and analysis to improve their overall design process, but it is no easy task.
“Many medical companies, especially the large ones, have had these processes in place for many years,” says John Hottenroth, business development manager for life sciences at National Instruments. “They are scared to change the process. They recognize the need to move towards more documentation and automation of these processes, but they are trying to balance that with the risk of trying to change that process.”
To help companies address this challenge, National Instruments has made significant investments in test process methodologies covering static code analysis, dynamic code analysis, unit testing, and requirements tracking.
As medical equipment moves to the home, there will be a significant push for integration and portability in medical devices. Size is also crucial for implantable devices. Overall, smaller, smarter, and less expensive medical devices is the industry’s mantra.
Wireless technology is also making its way into these devices. While it has been a much slower uptake than in consumer electronics, it is slowly but surely being integrated into medical devices with a focus on security so they can’t be hacked. But bad intentions are not the sole source of security issues.
Anritsu has been involved in dealing with interference issues with wireless telemetry systems in hospitals. (See “Radio Frequency Interference In Hospitals”)
“Hospitals are using our spectrum analyzers to investigate, find, and mitigate sources of interference, says Steve Thomas, senior product manager for Anritsu. “While there are two frequency bands being used, the one catching great interest is the ISM (industrial, scientific, medical) band, as it’s unlicensed. But it also means that its propensity to interference issues is greater. It can be as simple as someone in the hospital with their iPhone trying to connect to the hospital Wi-Fi system.”
These are some of the key trends expected to shape the future of the medical industry and, therefore, the test and measurement industry catering to it. Test and measurement equipment will be essential to not only support but also enable these industry shifts. At the same time, test and measurement vendors will need to educate the market about test and measurement and its benefits as these companies increase their focus on cost control.