Six out of 10 American adults have at least one chronic condition according to a recent RAND Corp. report, and these patients account for 90% of total healthcare spending. This is not just a U.S. phenomenon, as chronic diseases are becoming more prevalent worldwide, placing significant demands on local healthcare systems. In response, chronic disease treatment such as diabetes is moving from the clinic and hospital to the home, enhancing patient experience while limiting costs. And, the recent U.S. government announcement incentivizing home dialysis is likely to accelerate this trend. Shifting focus away from clinical settings toward home healthcare goes well beyond treating chronic conditions. Now it is possible to conduct health screenings, monitor vital signs, self-administer therapeutics, and manage short-term health issues from home.
Home tests are now available as a substitute for various outpatient diagnostic procedures. The burgeoning in-home test market includes screenings for colon cancer as an alternative to a colonoscopy for many people. And, because early detection can lead to dramatically improved outcomes, it’s hoped that this at-home alternative will increase the number of people screened.
Another advancement is the ability for patients to self-administer biologics, which are among the fastest-growing segments in the pharmaceutical industry. Biologics, often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and diabetes, can present challenges to patients since they are injected or infused, requiring them to make inconvenient trips to specialty healthcare facilities or perform painful self-injections. Today, on-body drug delivery devices are giving patients a more comfortable and convenient option at home.
A growth market in recent years, wearables come in two primary types: wellness and medical. In terms of wellness wearables, fitness trackers are ubiquitous, becoming the latest fashion accessory that health-conscious consumers can use to count their steps and monitor their heart rate. There is also a thermal wellness wearable from Embr Labs allowing people to hack the way they feel temperature. The intelligent bracelet’s scientifically developed waveforms precisely stimulate a person’s thermoreceptors, leveraging the body’s natural systems to make the wearer feel cooler or warmer by 5°F, good news for people who have thermostat wars with partners or co-workers.
Use of medical wearables is also on the rise. The global wearable medical devices market is projected to exceed $14 billion by 2024, according to Market Research Engine, with the Abbott’s wearable FreeStyle Libre Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) possibly exceeding $5 billion by that date. These devices, such as heart rate monitors and CGMs, are benefitting from the convergence of medical technology, electronics, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Market Research Engine estimates IoT in healthcare may exceed $270 billion globally by 2022 as medical device manufacturers realize the value of connecting traditional devices to the cloud for leveraging Big Data analysis.
ResMed, through its cloud-connected medical devices for people with sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other chronic diseases, has gathered sleep data from 3 billion nights. The company plans to use this data to provide new revenue streams for the company through a Software as a Service (SaaS) business model to deliver better patient experience, improved clinical outcomes, and lower overall cost of care.
It’s expected that other companies will also move away from traditional business models to embrace an ecosystem of devices that leverage Big Data insights to drive patient outcome and create new revenue streams. Most important is the great promise the IoT and connectivity hold for the patient’s access to healthcare, making it possible for underserved populations to remotely connect to doctors in major healthcare institutions.
Clearly, manufacturers of healthcare devices and equipment are focused on innovation. But there’s another important consideration as they seek to simultaneously deliver products and technologies that serve patient needs while also managing costs.
Whether it’s on-body drug delivery devices, wellness or medical wearables, monitoring equipment, or other devices, patients prefer products that fulfill their medical purpose and are small, lightweight, comfortable, and have good aesthetics. This can create difficult design challenges. Medical polycarbonate grades, formulated to meet these requirements, allow filling very thin walls and accurately replicating intricate features with lower pressures. These materials are also important when cost and productivity targets require production using multi-cavity tools.
In addition, these polycarbonate grades are biocompatible according to ISO 10993-1 test requirements and designed to be sterilized using steam, ethylene oxide, gamma, or e-Beam methods.
Progress to date has been inspiring, but we’re really just at the beginning of the digital healthcare revolution. Close collaboration between medical original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and materials suppliers will continue driving innovation forward. By tapping into the expertise of materials suppliers early in the design process, medical OEMs can benefit from materials tailored to their evolving requirements, specifications, and other industry trends. This will allow OEMs to deliver innovations that contribute to the health of patients globally, and the health of their bottom line.