Big Data has been big news for years now, but increasingly it’s taking a back seat to its more sophisticated sidekick: smart analytics.
“I believe that there will be many more devices and software that incorporate smart analytics that make decision making easier for both providers and patients,” predicted Mary Beth Privitera, principal, human factors engineering and research at HS Design.
Take, for example, the movement in radiology toward advanced image processing.
“These devices, such as IBM’s Medical Sieve Project, target the identification of lesions, therefore enabling radiologists to focus on more difficult cases,” Privitera said.
Smart analytics are taking hold in other areas, too. Consider Medtronic’s partnership with IBM, which this year brought us Sugar.IQ, an app that pairs real-time glucose and insulin data from Medtronic sensors and pumps with Watson’s cognitive computing power to help people with diabetes better manage their disease.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Not just for gamers anymore, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications are making their way into medtech.
“Mixed reality—the application of virtual and augmented reality—will change the way surgeons are trained and medical products are designed, developed, and marketed,” predicted Derek Mathers, director of advanced applications development at Minneapolis design firm Worrell.
He said his firm is already seeing medtech clients embracing VR and AR in the areas of product development, clinical education, and end-use healthcare applications. That’s likely only to ramp up as virtual and augmented reality gain a bigger hold in the consumer electronics realm.
“Healthcare will be intimately affected because displays can now appear anywhere, even super-imposing a patients’ own anatomy on top of their body during surgery. Virtual reality will be able to take patients out of their hospital beds and into almost any situation imaginable.”
As VR and AR technologies become more mainstream, “more unforeseen needs will be identified and developed for,” Mathers said. Companies he recommended keeping an eye on include Boston-based OssoVR and the UK’s Medical Realities, which are developing VR- and AR-based platforms for training surgeons.
In the past, many in medtech pooh-poohed wearables as a passing fad, but more and more, it looks like body-worn technologies are here to stay.
“Wearable diagnostic devices are likely to be significant in 2017,” predicted Nick Rollings, principal engineer for the Medical Technology Division at Cambridge Consultants. “Rather than just measuring footsteps and heart rate, the latest wearables under development are significantly more ‘invasive’ in that samples such as sweat can be analyzed for richer insight into the patient’s physiology.”
Rollings cited technical developments in the wearables themselves as well as tech companies’ efforts to provide platforms to aggregate and analyze the data—such as Apple’s Research Kit and CareKit (shown)—as reasons why wearables will be a technology to watch in 2017. Next year, he predicts a major tech company will collaborate with or acquire a startup developing an advanced wearable measuring something more invasive than footsteps or heartrate.
“A development of this nature would confirm the huge potential possible when advanced wearables are combined with large-scale data collection and aggregation means,” he said
Neurostimulation has been around at least as long as the pacemaker, but today this old technology is being used to do new tricks.
“We’re seeing applications on almost a monthly basis that are looking at new ways to utilize this technology,”said Bill Betten, director of business solutions at Eden Prairie, MN-based product development and engineering firm Devicx.
New applications range from pain management (such as Nevro’s Senza system, shown above), to alleviating Parkinson’s symptoms, to treatment of mental health disorders such as depression.
“I think there’s a new interest in how to apply and utilize this technology, and there’s also the availability of programmable generators and sensors and electrodes,” Betten said. “So, it’s kind of a confluence of capability being merged with the interest in how do we apply this technology in new places in the body.”
Players in the field include giants like Medtronic and Boston Scientific, but Betten said some of the novel neurostimulation application are coming from startups. He expects 2017 to bring a number of exciting clinical trials in the space.