8 Trends Reshaping Medtech in 2014

From a zipper-like wound closure device that can be peeled off at home to a telemedicine robot, there are plenty of ingenious devices included in this year’s winners of the Medical Design Excellence Awards.

It is worth noting, however, that the array of winners reflect many of the major trends presently taking place in the medtech space, including a greater focus on patient experience, more minimally invasive technology, doing more with less—much more. (The awards winners were recently announced at MD&M East in New York City.)

Here are six top medtech trend insights gleaned from the MDEA judges’ comments:

1. Attention to Patient Experience

One would think this is a given. But with device companies selling to health practitioners versus patients, over the years, many devices were designed more for clinicians than the patients whom they were used on. The Affordable Care Act, however, has changed Medicare reimbursements to incentivize health providers to better manage patient populations. In addition, patients are generally becoming more vocal about medical technology, and, in recent years, patient advocates have made plain their desire for everything from easier-to-use insulin pumps to ICDs that provide open access to the data they gather.

“One of the things I’ve seen specifically is an attention to the patient experience and the benefits for patients. I think this is extremely important because at one time or another we’re all patients,” says George Walls, director, product and market development, for ZOLL, an Asahi Kasei Group company.

”Given that, I think it’s really important for us as the medical device community to really focus on the patients, the outcomes, and delivering them in the best way that’s usable for the physician and that’s economical for the healthcare system. I think if we keep our eye on that target that irrespective of what happens around us, collectively as an industry we’ll be successful,” Walls says.

Freestyle
An MDEA finalist, the FreeStyle device from Abbott Care can boost the efficacy of diabetes care while helping patients avoid expensive complications. It's a great example of the type of intuitiveness and ease of use that people take for granted with smartphones—but still sorely lack with medical devices. Demand for such easy-to-use devices will likely continue to grow in the medical space.

Tor Alden, principal of HS Design, noticed more simplicity among this year’s entries, and the idea of getting the product to the patient as easily and quick as possible.

“So with robotics or delivery device systems, anything to shorten the path from product to patient. The bigger trend is empowerment for patients,” Alden says.

Another trend that dovetails with patient experience is the uptick in telemedicine, which has been long hyped but has yet been slow to take off until recently. The vast majority of U.S. patients—74% according to a Cisco survey of thousands of Americans—would seem to prefer avoiding office visits with doctors when possible. “They do not want to wait an hour for a 7-minute face-to-face visit; they would rather have this visit in the comfort of wherever they are, at home or on-the-go, and have this visit via secure video or another type of communication,” explained prominent cardiologist Eric Topol, MD, in a recent blog post.

2. Designing Devices to Reduce Hospital Stays

A lot of devices entered into the 2014 MDEA competition were designed to potentially reduce hospital stays, observes Ross Donaldson, MD, who is the director of the Global Health Program at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. This is a reflection of how the Affordable Care Act is driving changes in the design of medical devices, he says.

3. Greater Use of Minimally Invasive Technology

There has recently been an uptick in technologies that make possible minimally invasive procedures. Such devices are popular with hospitals in that they help reduce procedure time, while decreasing complication rates and minimizing readmissions, says Stephanie Kreml, MD, principal at Popper and Co. “A lot of these devices are trying to target ergonomic issues and process flow issues to allow procedures to be shorter and to decrease the overall cost of care,” she explains.

In addition, minimally invasive technologies are being employed to treat patients that would have been untreatable even a few years ago. For instance, not long ago, there was little doctors could do for an elderly and frail patient with aortic stenosis—narrowing of the aortic valve. More robust patients could be treated using conventional valve replacement, which involves open heart surgery. But now, even frail, inoperable patients can receive a new aortic valve, thanks to the debut of transcatheter heart valves.

MicroCutter
The MicroCutter XCHANGE 30 stapler from Cardica Inc. (Redwood City, CA) is the smallest-diameter articulating stapling device on the market. The device is less than half the size of competing models and offers almost twice as much the articulation, enabling it to potentially access anatomy that was previously impossible to reach with a stapler.

Transcatheter heart valves illustrate a broader trend—the expanded use of catheters to deploy medical devices. St. Jude and Medtronic are developing tiny leadless pacemakers that can be implanted in this manner.

There is also an uptick in innovations related to endoscopes, which enable surgeons to probe deep into the body through minimal incisions. In addition, laparoscopes, which are similar to endoscopes, but have a camera and lighting attached, are widely used to treat disorders sound within the abdominal and pelvic regions.

4. Doing More with Less

The demand to reduce costs also has health providers demanding medical devices that allow them to do more with less.

“I think medical device fields are getting more competitive, and there’s less available resources now than ever before. So I think it’s actually making the good products and good device makers more lean and makes them produce more better, efficient devices,” says Jonathan Lee, quality improvement director at Scripps Mercy Hospital.

“It’s bad time, and it’s also a good time,” Lee says.

Richard Meyst, president and CEO of Fallbrook Engineering agrees that cost cutting is now a central theme for the medical device industry.

5. Revamping Old Technologies

The medical technology market is teeming with “me-too” products. Many new products are similar to those of competitors or even previous generation devices. But we are entering an era in which it is no longer profitable for device firms to charge substantially more money for products that are only slightly better than the previous-generation technology. Device firms are increasingly revisiting and revamping their products, says Mary Beth Privitera, director of the Medical Device Engine at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. She cites products that are redesigned to make them easier to use, and the debut of products that address “big problems throughout the hospital system, such as patient transport, moving things in and out.”

Yadin David, founder of Biomedical Engineering Consultants LLC adds that there has been significant integration of legacy systems with new innovation. David notes that many of the entries in this year’s MDEA contest were improvements to products that were assumed to be proven technologies.

6. Consumerization Continues

Medical devices are also increasingly resembling Apple devices. There’s good reason, too, according to Mary Beth Privitera, director of the Medical Device Engine at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

“One of the things with the iPad is its very, very user driven. It’s user centric. The user can manipulate information in the way that they want to present it,” Privitera says.

She says “medical devices are catching up to that trend, where they’re enabling the healthcare providers to go in there and be able to manipulate the information that they want to see real-time in a manner that they want to.”

Pascal Malassigné, professor at Milwaukee Institute of Art&Design points to a specific OTC product whose packaging also seemed Apple inspired. A finalist in the MDEA competition, the product’s packaging seems Apple-inspired. “ I have a feeling that the design team behind it looked at the Apple product. You get this beautiful book and package itself, and it’s basically a ceremony when you open the box,” he says. “You have the first layer of perhaps a brochure or an item is there. You lift that first tray so to speak, and then you’re going to have another layer of information. And then finally the product is going to be at the end. So nothing was basically left out. The product is absolutely exquisite from a user point of view.”

7. Big Data Picking Up

Data-driven healthcare has emerged as a trendy expression referencing the use of Big Data in medicine. In recent years, however, the medical marketplace has been relatively slow in adopting cloud-based and data analytics technologies to help crunch medical data.

That is changing, however, if the judges’ comments are any indication.

“One of the things I see very clearly is the amount of data ... driven into healthcare, in particular in healthcare provider arena, what’s called the point of care. There’s so much information, and there’s a need for so much integration that the products we’re coming up with now are much more intelligent, have more embedded knowledge and processing power within it, and allowing the caregiver to have more efficient use of their skill,” David says.

There’s a trend toward being able to capture data in a way that other products that are currently on the market don’t do, says Raj Khandwalla, MD, board-certified cardiologist practicing with the Cedars-Sinai Medical Group (CSMG) and Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.

8. Renewed Focus on Nonreimbursed Procedures

Mark Vreeke, PhD, cofounder of the Chemical Angel Network notes that there were several devices targetted at procedures for which there was minimal or no reimbursement. For example, there was an uptick in the innovation and quality of new products entered in the dental category, he says.

Chris Newmarker is senior editor of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @newmarkerBrian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz