The Hottest Medical Technologies in 2022
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Medical technology has come a long way since the invention of eyeglasses and the stethoscope. The broader availability of mobile internet, the expansion of a more affluent middle class, and an aging global population are all driving change in the healthcare industry, and the associated technology is changing faster than ever before. According to a profile of the healthcare industry by the World Economic Forum, more than a billion people will need reskilling in medical technology by 2030.
Many of the most interesting new technologies in medicine need to be used together, and integrated attempts to do so already exist. Some tech-inspired clinics, such as Forward and One Medical, take a concierge-like approach to primary care, putting technology to use in a way that providers get more quality time with their patients. But that is just the beginning.
In 2020 and 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic forced healthcare into the future, and, as a result, several promising medical technologies were tested on a massive scale. In 2022, the question is how those technologies can be used together in a post-pandemic world.
Read on to learn about the hottest medical technologies for 2022.
1. Remote Patient Monitoring
Thanks to remote patient monitoring (RPM), physicians can now know what is going on with a patient without physically being close. There are several benefits to RPM including better patient outcomes, faster response time, and significant cost reductions over time. In fact, RPM goes hand in hand with telemedicine in reducing the need for patient travel and mitigating everyone’s exposure.
Thanks to legislative changes to Medicare for the Covid-19 pandemic, various forms of RPM were approved for reimbursement, effectively increasing the popularity of this new technology.
Prevounce, a provider of medical software, notes that in 2020 an estimated 23.4 million patients utilized some form of remote patient monitoring. The most common types of monitoring were blood pressure, weight, heart rate, and blood sugar, all without having to go into an office or a lab.
This practice is becoming so widespread that a survey conducted by Spyglass Consulting Group found that 88 percent of healthcare providers had invested in or were evaluating adding RPM to their practice.
2. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) takes on many different forms in healthcare. The primary trend for AI in healthcare 2022 will be in utilizing machine learning to evaluate large amounts of patient data and other information. By creating tailored algorithms, programmers can mimic human thought and write programs that can seemingly think, learn, make decisions, and take action.
No, this does not mean that medical care will suddenly be delivered by sentient robots. However, it does mean that, given a patient’s particular medical records, history, and current symptoms, physicians may be given suggested diagnoses, medications, and treatments plans. The physicians will always have the final say, but the information will be at their disposal.
Overall by analyzing healthcare data in this robust and comprehensive way, healthcare leaders will be able to use the findings to improve patient outcomes, reduce costs, and boost staff job satisfaction.
3. Digital Therapeutics
Patients that have chronic illnesses often require ongoing care from their physicians. This care can include patient education, symptom monitoring, medication adjustment, and behavioral changes. Not only is this care costly, but it is also very time-consuming for both medical staff and patients. Now, there are new digital therapeutics that can fill this role.
Digital therapeutics are prescribed by a doctor to a patient for their particular medical condition. These sophisticated software programs can be accessed as apps on a patient’s smartphone or through a personal computer. They go through the same rigorous testing as all medications, including randomized clinical trials. Medical conditions that are well suited for digital therapeutics include diabetes type I and type II, cancer, anxiety, musculoskeletal pain, ADHD, asthma, migraines, insomnia, and substance abuse.
As patients use the applications, information about their wellbeing is reported back to their physician. This allows doctors to be able to monitor patients without having to see them regularly, as well as spot problems much earlier than when a patient needs to wait for an appointment.
4. Technology in Mental Health
There are several new technologies that have emerged over the past year that can help address a patient’s ongoing mental health needs. While most assessments and initial treatments may still need to be completed by a clinician, there are now additional tools patients can use to improve their mental health between appointments.
The digital therapeutics mentioned above are uniquely suited for providing high quality ongoing mental health care. Increasingly some apps are able to complete patient intakes and provide an initial diagnosis before a patient ever meets with a provider. A traditional therapy method called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been widely adopted and used in digital therapeutics with significant success, when used alongside virtual or in-person therapy, in helping patients change their behavior.
Another technology newly being utilized for mental health is the use of video games. Just recently, the FDA authorized EndeavorRX, the first only prescription video game designed to treat ADHD in children ages eight to 12. In clinical studies, 73 percent of participants reported an increased ability to pay attention after just one month of treatment with zero adverse side effects.
5. Internet of Medical Things
The internet of things refers to the invisible network formed by physical objects that are connected to the internet. For healthcare, this encompasses new technologies such as remote patient monitoring, 5g-enabled devices, and wearable sensors. The more than 500,000 web-enabled medical devices are increasingly interconnected to be able to provide the most accurate and up-to-date patient data.
As technologies and software improve, smart medical devices will be able to network with other nearby smart devices to help improve patient outcomes. This will eventually allow doctors to monitor patients’ status holistically and systematically. For example, one study found that a FitBit is more reliable at measuring physical activity and better at assessing a five-year risk of death than more traditional methods. All patients need to do is make the data they already have accessible.
A Look Back at the Ten Hottest Medical Technologies for 2021
1. Advanced Telemedicine
Telemedicine took a great leap forward during the Covid-19 pandemic. In January 2020, an estimated 24 percent of healthcare organizations had an existing telehealth program. According to Forrester, an analytics firm, the country was set to complete over a billion virtual care visits by the end of the year. Forced into functionality, many of telehealth’s regulatory barriers have been removed, and healthcare organizations now have nearly a year’s worth of data on how to evaluate and improve telehealth services.
In 2021, many healthcare organizations will be focusing on how best to integrate telehealth services with existing physical ones. Virtual visits will continue to be used as a way to increase access to primary care and urgent care, as well as to improve collaboration with clinics, long-term care facilities, dialysis centers, and mental health services. All of this, however, hinges upon a more permanent lifting of regulatory barriers: the American Medical Association, and others, are urging Congress to act fast.
2. New Methods of Drug Development
The development of multiple safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines in less than a year may be remembered as one of the greater scientific accomplishments in human history. The process was sped along not only by regulatory fast-tracking but also by innovations in the ways medical trials are conducted: virtual clinical trials, held mostly online, eased the burden of participation. Combined with a spirit of collaboration rather than competition between pharmaceutical companies, they could pave the way for a bright future in drug development.
Some of the relaxed regulatory procedures around drug development will fade with the Covid-19 pandemic, but innovative approaches to testing and collaboration could linger. An alliance between several pharmaceutical heavyweights—including Gilead, Novartis, and WuXi AppTec—has already begun collaboratively exploring new antiviral treatments and sharing preliminary data. The FDA has released guidelines for virtual trials, opening up a new frontier for the development and testing of new drugs.
Once Covid-19 is relegated to the history books, what’s next?
3. Data-Driven Healthcare
Healthcare’s big data market is expected to reach nearly $70 billion by 2025, according to Bain, a consultancy firm. As the collection of health data continues to accelerate, its applications become more widespread, and its potential for improving treatment options and patient outcomes skyrockets. The biggest barrier, however, has been a lack of interoperability: one healthcare organization’s data is not easily transferred to (and easily processed by) another organization. Covid-19 underscored that problem further.
Interoperability took a large step forward in November 2020, when Google Cloud launched its healthcare interoperability readiness program. Aimed at helping payers, providers, and other organizations prepare for the federal government’s interoperability regulations, it gives program participants access to data templates, app blueprints, security tools, and implementation guidelines. If healthcare organizations can get on the same page, the potential of the industry’s big data could quickly turn kinetic.
Nanomedicine is the medical application of nanotechnology, the technology that operates on the atomic, molecular, or supramolecular scale. For something of such a small size, the potential is huge: nanomedicine has applications in imaging, sensing, diagnosis, and delivery through medical devices.
Researchers are finding new ways to use nanomedicine to target individual cells, and in 2021, that research will be put into action. CytImmune Sciences, a leader in cancer nanomedicine, has recently completed a Phase I trial of using gold nanoparticles to target drug delivery to tumors; BlueWillow Biologics, a biopharmaceutical company, has developed nanotech that fights viruses and bacteria.
5. 5G-Enabled Devices
If the biggest drivers of cutting-edge technology—AI, IoT, and Big Data—are to reach their full potential in healthcare, they need a reliable and lightning-fast internet connection. Enter 5G. With a reliable real-time connection, the most immediate benefits will be seen in telemedicine, expanding access to care for millions. But that’s only the beginning. More connected devices, with more authentic data streams, open up the possibility of a revolutionized healthcare system.
With next-to-zero latency, 5G-connected sensors and medical devices can capture and transmit data nearly instantaneously. That will improve patient monitoring, which will in turn improve patient outcomes. Futurists are already considering the benefits of a marriage between 5G, healthcare, and robotics.
But patients won’t have to wait long to see a change: experts say 5G-enabled devices will rapidly bring on a new healthcare paradigm, nicknamed 4P, which is predictive, preventative, personalized, and participatory.
For decades, tricorders have been medical technology’s version of the flying car: its origins are in science fiction, and the concept is both elegant and eminently useful. As far back as the 1960s, tricorders were imagined to be palm-sized devices that could quickly and accurately monitor a wide array of vital signs, while also performing simple diagnostics. Unlike flying cars, however, tricorders have finally made the leap from the screen and into users’ hands.
While some companies have attempted to craft workable prototypes, none have passed FDA approval or made it to the market yet. However, the race is on as several medical device companies are vying to win the 10 million Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition. The first workable device that can accurately diagnose 13 medical conditions without the need for a physician, as well as monitor five vital signs, will win the grand prize.
7. Healthcare’s Digital Assistants
Digital assistants like Alexa and Google Home have changed the way people interact with technology; in 2021, those digital assistants are taking on a similar role in healthcare. Natural language processing and ambient listening have natural applications in the capture, analysis, and utilization of health data.
In 2020, Epic and Cerner, the designers of the two largest electronic health records (EHR) systems, began integrating voice-enabled virtual assistants on their software. AI startup Saykara has launched a new voice assistant that can listen to, and understand, a physician-patient conversation, without being prompted through voice commands.
8. Smarter Pacemakers
The artificial pacemaker, which dates back over 100 years, is still a critical piece of medical technology: over a million patients use them. By delivering electrical impulses to heart muscle chambers, they can prevent or correct life-threatening heart arrhythmias. Remotely monitoring these devices is an essential part of their functionality. Traditionally, that monitoring has been far from optimal, relying on complex interfaces that the patient may not fully understand.
In 2021, pacemakers will get a little bit smarter. By enabling pacemakers with Bluetooth technology, they can be linked with smartphone-based mobile apps that patients better understand and utilize. That, in turn, will improve remote monitoring, and, as a result, patient outcomes. Medtronic, one of the largest medical technology companies in the world, has already rolled out its next-gen patient monitoring system for pacemakers. More will follow.
9. A Lab on a Chip
If it’s taking too long to get samples to the lab, why not bring the lab to the samples? That was the idea of researchers at Stanford University, who recently developed what they call “a lab on a chip” based on CRISPR enzyme Cas12. About half the size of a credit card, it contains a complex network of channels smaller than the width of a human hair and can deliver a coronavirus test’s results in under 30 minutes.
Researchers say that the test could be modified to detect other infections, too, by recalibrating the CRISPR enzyme for a different genetic marker. As the Covid-19 pandemic taught the world, testing is the first step in combating infectious disease. With a lab on a chip, that testing can be done quickly, safely, cheaply, and more efficiently.
10. Wearables With a Purpose
Fitness trackers have been on the rise for years: FitBit shipped 9.9 million of its wearable devices in 2019. But the next trend in wearables for medical technology is more specific. For diabetes patients, wearable continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) are set to become the new normal.
Wearable CGMs remove the need for intermittent glucose testing and instead keep track of one’s blood sugar levels in real time. This allows users to see the immediate impacts of food and exercise, and shape their lifestyles accordingly. It can also catch cases of hyperglycemia immediately. Medical technology companies are jumping in with two feet: Dexcom, a CGM developer, had revenue of $1.9 billion in 2020 and expects a 15 to 20 percent jump in 2021.
A Look Back at the Ten Hottest Medical Technologies for 2019
Here’s a look back at the top medical technologies from 2019:
1. Personalized Medicine
If there is one overarching trend to all the advances in medical technology, it is the personalization of medicine and treating individuals as such. While this is occurring at several levels, it is most readily apparent in biotechnology and pharmacology.
One area of application is pharmacogenomics, which is seeing rapid development as a possible method of abating the opiate crisis in America. Scientists and doctors can study an individual’s likely responses to drugs and doses and select personalized regimens accordingly so that they avoid some of the dangerous side effects of overprescribing a scheduled drug.
The second application is in RNA-based therapeutics, which seeks to “interfere” with genetic data at the RNA level and intercept a genetic abnormality before it gets translated into functioning (or non-functioning) proteins. The more successful methods of personalized RNA therapy (e.g., antisense nucleotides and RNA interference) are looking to combat rare genetic conditions such as Huntington’s Disease, neurologic disorders, and forms of cancer.
Advances in video conferencing technology, combined with the expansion of mobile internet and the proliferation of wearable devices, have made telehealth one of the most important trends in medical technology in 2019. Utilizing a mobile device and a two-way camera, care providers can have one-on-one encounters with patients from a distance. These patients are usually either in rural areas or unable to secure transportation to a physical facility.
Health monitors such as wearable devices can check for heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygenation. Web-enabled and app-enabled supplements can filter patient requests accordingly and save both providers and patients critical time and energy. Even the most routine telehealth visits can save lives. They reduce barriers to care such as transportation, language, and geography.
For older people living alone, regular checkups can help avoid strokes, heart attacks, and other adverse events, and, logistically, there is less risk of exposure to other diseases. As the technology improves and incorporates augmented and virtual reality, usage could graduate from simple virtual check-ups to a whole fleet of medical procedures performed remotely, even including, with the aid of robotics, full-fledged surgical operations.
Data breaches cost companies globally on average $3.86 million annually, and the healthcare industry suffers the highest cost per individual breach. Combine that figure with the fact that medical facilities are data goldmines that contain some of the most private and valuable information about an individual, and you have a huge security risk that grows as fast as technology does.
Compounding the problem is the idea that sharing medical data between facilities, and between scientists, could vastly quicken the development of effective treatments, but the propensity to share such data is dampened by the fear of a security breach. The magic bullet for all these concerns, many experts think, is blockchain technology.
Built around a system of currently unhackable cryptography, blockchain tech keeps a distributed ledger of vast amounts of information. This not only securely stores data, but it cuts out the middleman and saves costs for providers and patients alike. Blockchain can also reduce the possibility of fraud—Medicare fraud alone costs the US about $60 billion a year. One early blockchain system seeking to solve all this is ALLIVE, which consists of an entire healthcare ecosystem, including an encrypted health profile and even an AI doctor. More such systems will be sure to follow.
4. AI & Machine Learning
Humans and computers are good at different things and need to work in tandem to deliver top-quality medical care. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are at their best when supplied with vast amounts of raw data, much as one would find flowing in and out of a medical facility. From there, they help physicians and care providers by taking the uncertainty out of image scan analysis, reducing burnout, and giving decision support in non-absolute diagnoses and treatment options.
Algorithms and virtual assistants enable physicians to see more patients a day and use the time with each patient more effectively. AI is increasingly being used in remote monitoring and telehealth applications. Future revolutions in computing power, such as quantum computing, could make it possible to analyze millions of CAT scans (or, with secure sharing infrastructures and pooled datasets, practically every CAT scan in existence). From that could come major revelations for medical science, as detected patterns could be used to treat, prevent, or predict diseases. AI and ML are, like many disruptive technologies, ones that get better with use.
5. Cancer Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy is changing definitions in the medical world, primarily by curing previously un-curable diseases. The premise of immunotherapy is to genetically alter a patient’s cells to work in tandem with the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Unlike chemotherapy, immunotherapy does not destroy healthy cells as collateral damage. By altering the immune system, one can “teach” it to detect and destroy more cancerous cells and reduce tumor growth.
A promising area of medicine for almost a decade, immunotherapy continues to highlight new immunotherapeutic targets and biomarkers. New treatments in combination with joint therapy and engineered T-cells can create what will ideally be effective therapies for a wide range of tumor profiles.
6. 3D Printing
The first-ever 3D-printed object was a piece of low-grade medical technology, an eye-wash cup, and has come a long way since. Medical devices can now be perfectly matched to the exact specifications of a patient, and be compatible with their natural anatomy. A patient’s body is more likely to accept implants, prosthetics, and devices when they’re perfectly aligned and customized, and the patient often expresses greater comfort and improved performance outcomes as a result.
The most significant developments in 3D printing have come in external prosthetics, cranial or orthopedic implants, and custom airway stents. But it has also proven helpful in surgical planning and has been used in complex open-heart surgeries, and even Cleveland Clinic’s total face transplant. Talks of printing human tissue have suggested that organ transplants may one day be obsolete.
7. Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality
Augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) have several applications in the medical world. Simulated and hybrid environments have found a natural fit in medical education, providing simulation training that enhances and works alongside traditional school. Immersive learning with AR and VR headsets can cater to several different learning styles at once by engaging the full range of senses: audio, visual, and kinesthetic.
VR can be used in physical therapy to help patients recover from complex limb injuries and even has applications in areas like mental trauma where it can alleviate phobias and PTSD through customized exposure and treatment. In the surgical theater, Cambridge Consultants developed AR glasses that let surgeons see the inside of a patient’s body by superimposing data from 3D scans and CAT scans. This provides a revolutionary level of visibility into minimally invasive “keyhole surgeries,” and requires practically no additional training to use.
Based on the low learning curve and relatively low cost of use, further developments should see the medical landscape further merge with augmented and virtual reality.
8. Robotic Surgery
Robotics has been making an impact on medical care since the 1980s, but as the technology behind it has improved, the applications have increased exponentially. Nanobots in the bloodstream can diagnose and prevent disease. Exoskeletons can assist with physical therapy and counteract movement disabilities. But perhaps the most visible (and multi-armed) application for 2019 is robotic surgery.
Robotic surgery is minimally invasive, more precise, less prone to infection, and quicker to heal. Image-guided robots can now investigate lesions on the brain without damaging any of the surrounding tissue. They can shape a bone to precisely fit a prosthetic with the accuracy a human never could. The da Vinci robotic surgical system is already used in 200,000 operations a year but the onset of superfast 5G connections will soon allow remote surgery, and what once was considered a novelty could quickly become standard practice.
9. Quantum Computing
We are still in the early stages of quantum computing, but this technology has already been used in combination with machine learning to quickly recognize medical tools and annotations during cataract surgery—the most commonly performed surgery in the world. While much of quantum computing’s potential is still to be actualized, past performance has already caused significant optimism for applications in medical imaging, genomics, and drug discovery.
A revolutionary amount of computational power may soon make it viable to consider all possible outcomes of incredibly complex scenarios, such as drug interactions and comparisons, or more rapidly and cheaply sequencing human genomes. The deluge of data that comes with such discoveries can be quantumly computed to further other discoveries. Already, some tech giants like IBM offer quantum cloud computing as a means for people to familiarize themselves with the format and capabilities of such technology.
That said, the real applications and heavy lifting will require substantial development and investment. There may not be significant concrete gains in quantum computing for 2019, but there will be lots of investment and boardroom discussions about it.
10. The Internet of Things (IoT)
Medical facilities are brimming with gizmos and teeming with data, but the internet of things (IoT) is getting all those separate elements to talk to each other, and the results have had an immediate impact.
New York City-based Mt. Sinai Medical Center cut its emergency room wait time by 50 percent through a partnership with GE Healthcare to use an IoT software called AutoBed. The program tracks the occupancy of 1,200 beds and processes up to 80 bed requests at a time, solving the puzzle-like logistics of who to place where and when. It does so with greater efficiency and transparency than staff members would by taking into account nurse proximity, granular demographics, and over a dozen other metrics to better assess and serve the patients’ individual needs.
IoT can also be used to monitor a facility’s medical technologies and issue performance alerts when they fail or are about to fail, as is the case of e-Alert, a Philips product designed to monitor MRI system performance. By issuing mobile updates and performance reports to staff, a relatively low-intensity failsafe is put in place, saving money and time in the process. Further applications of IoT can be used to track staff, patients, devices, and other assets in a critical setting. With big players like Microsoft serving up enterprise-level healthcare IoT packages, it is poised to become an integral part of a medical facility’s infrastructure.