Digital push from the coronavirus

Like just about everyone else, the medical technology industry and the healthcare system have been battered by the coronavirus crisis. At the same time, though, the crisis has lighted a fire under the industry, generating the momentum it needed to carry out its long-overdue digitalization.

The pandemic has driven demand for medical technology into the stratosphere. But not everyone is jumping for joy about this development. Some companies are knocking themselves out to meet the overwhelming demand they face by their deadlines. In one reflection of this demand, Infineon announced a contract covering 38 million MOSFETs for ventilators last April. Companies like Analog Devices and Maxim Integrated find themselves in similar situations. They have also had to ratchet up the production of components for medical technology on short notice.

In contrast, the clear “crisis winners” include pressure sensors, airflow sensors, temperature sensors and radar sensors used for people screening in rooms and contactless gesture control. But the overall picture is certainly not so rosy for a portion of the medtech industry. Nearly 60 percent of companies are expecting to experience a double-digit decline compared with last year, according to a Spectaris survey.

The unexpected digital boost

But the distress that has arisen about the availability of medical technology products during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic shows just how critically important the medtech industry is around the world. Political leaders will ultimately do everything in their power to strengthen this industry and prepare it to face the future. In Germany, a committee composed of members of the country’s governing coalition has earmarked €3.9 billion in a plan called “Future Program Hospitals” – if the German Medical Technology Association had its way, these funds would primarily flow into medical robotics and digitalization technology for patient care.

One other change has also clearly emerged: The coronavirus crisis is giving the industry the boost that it needs to carry out the long overdue digitalization of medicine with all of its exciting new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat disease. In January 2020, about 1,400 physicians were conducting video appointments with patients. Today, 10 times as many are doing so.

Nonetheless, many people are highly skeptical of digital medicine. And not just for much-discussed privacy reasons. Many of the respondents in the Continental Study 2019 did indeed acknowledge the chances created by video appointments, AI diagnosis and nursing robots. But they also cited the risks significantly more frequently.

A globally unique, fully connected operating room at the Innovation Center Computer Assisted Surgery in Leipzig, Germany, shows just what state-of-the-art surgery technology can accomplish: minimally invasive medical technology, robots, AI and real-time 3D imaging.

On the other hand, agreement has been reached on one point: Only an increasingly efficient, digital healthcare system will be able to meet the needs of its “customers” in the future. In Germany, the focus is being placed – not without reason – on the high level of ingenuity in the medical technology industry. This is an industry that, after all, generates roughly one-third of its revenues with products that were developed in the past three years. It also invests about 9 percent of its revenues in R&D, well above the industry average (7 percent worldwide). No other industry generates more patents in Europe. In a worldwide comparison, Germany ranks second with 1,340 patent applications, trailing only the United States (4,872 applications).

A large number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are highly successful in the global marketplace. To ensure that they remain that way, their medical products must become more “software-driven” and network compatible. But that’s not all: Surgery and nursing robots, prostheses produced by 3D printers and mobile mini-labs (lab-on-chip) are ready to go to work. In addition, AI algorithms are expected to take on the job of turning the mountains of data produced by sensors, medical wearables and other sources into information that can be used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

Nonetheless, manufacturers face tremendous production-technology challenges in their work to create such miniaturized, multifunctional and smart products. If that weren’t enough, they also face high regulatory barriers and crushing price pressure. For this reason, only those companies that are capable of efficiently and safely manufacturing this “new” equipment in high quality will succeed in the marketplace.

Knowledge base

German Ministry of Education and Research: Digital transformation in the medical device industry

https://www.bmbf.de/upload_filestore/pub/Digitalisierung_in_der_Medizintechnik.pdf

Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology: Trend report »Production strategies for medical technology of tomorrow«

www.ipt.fraunhofer.de/trendreport-medizintechnik

The Innovation Center Computer Assisted Surgery in Leipzig: whitepaper on secure AI systems for medicine

https://www.plattform-lernende-systeme.de/files/Downloads/Publikationen/AG3_6_Whitepaper_07042020.pdf

Continental Study 2019

https://www.continentale.de/documents/80036/1830649/Continentale_Studie_2019/73e444fa-4174-413b-8531-84456a7a7b0c