Anticipating the Need: Medical Devices for the Future

By Nerac Senior Innovation Analysts

Originally Published February 11, 2023

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Medical Devices

 

Medical Devices

Perhaps the smartest way to be prepared to serve customers in the future is by anticipating their needs. Being a few steps ahead of a client can be a recipe for success and arriving at this level of knowledge does not require exceptional know-how: the key is sustained access to actionable data. For example, an investigation of demographic trends and understanding historical behavior within an industry is a logical start in determining the future needs of a client. Similarly, a solid understanding of the shortcoming of today’s tools may direct the development of tomorrow’s improved products.

Demographic information provides an excellent starting point in understanding future needs of patients. Baby Boomers, representing 21.19% of the US population1 are aging – the youngest of this group are 57 years old this year (2021). This population is currently battling heart disease, cancer, joint and bone issues. This is a current situation; how can medical device innovators predict what this population will need in ten years? How robust is the medical device market serving the Boomer population today and how does it need to change in order to accommodate the elderly of tomorrow? How about Generation Z, the second-youngest group occupying 20.46% of the population, which is currently between 6 and 24 years of age?

This population will be the most tech-savvy patients and therefore may be more aware of the latest and greatest therapeutic options. This should encourage medical device, medical care and pharmaceutical companies to be as forward-thinking as possible. Millennials, born between 1981 and 1999, are now slightly greater in numbers than Baby Boomers (21.97% US population). Among the top ten conditions affecting Millennials are mental health conditions, substance use (alcohol, drug and tobacco) disorder, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. More importantly, this group is predicted to be substantially less healthy as they age, as evidenced in a significant increase in diagnoses for most of the top ten health conditions between 2014 – 20172. Again, those involved in the development of medical devices should pay attention to this large segment of the population and their predicted health needs.

Powerful technological advancements in reproductive science have occurred in the past forty years. Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) include in vitro fertilization (first IVF baby born in 1978) and fertilization by intracytoplasmic sperm injection developed in 1992. Although ART has been a successful approach to infertility, it has come at a cost in maternal and neonatal health. These advancements resulted in an increase in high-risk pregnancy as well as multiple and preterm births– “Over the past four decades, the increased use of fertility treatments in the United States has been associated with a substantial rise in the rate of multiple births”3. Infant care outcomes were predicted to be poorer than for naturally conceived infants. A study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine4 evaluated the effects of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) on infant health and found the incidence of low birthweight, perinatal mortality and neonatal ICU admissions to be 1.5 times greater than for non-ART births. For any medical device company paying attention during the advent of these technologies, anticipating the need in neonatal care should have ignited development of devices and products to serve the medical needs of these patients.

Youth sports have changed significantly in the past couple of decades. Children are encouraged to specialize in a single sport now rather than to participate more casually in multiple sports. This specialization has meant more practice, more training, more stress on young bodies. Sports-related injuries are the second leading cause of emergency department visits for pediatric patients and the second leading cause of injuries at school. Overuse injuries have increased dramatically in the child and adolescent athlete; the greatest contributing factor for this increase is the focus on more intense and specialized training. Torn ACLs, tendonitis, torn cartilage and torn rotator cuffs, commonly seen in adult athletes are now being treated by pediatric orthopedic surgeons. Medical device innovators aware of this trend would be wise to investigate and proactively help address the needs of pediatric orthopedic and physical therapy practitioners in treating injured young athletes.

Perhaps studying the shortcomings of today’s therapies can help direct the therapies of tomorrow. Primary research directed to the users of a device is perhaps the most efficient method of determining the direction for the next generation of device. Asking surgeons directly what the drawbacks are to their instruments provide the starting point for development of improved products. Questions should be open-ended and utilize a user-friendly platform for individuals to answer and comment. At Nerac, we have found that well-defined secondary research is often a very productive step prior to conducting primary research as described above. Indeed, in some cases the findings resulting from secondary research provide ample insight, helping with the formulation of robust questionnaires or reducing the need for primary research.

According to an article by HIT Consultant5 a major problem with today’s medical devices and wearables is vulnerability to tampering due to unprotected networks, and devices leaving opportunity for access to private patient information. Patient implants using radio wave connectivity for remote modifications are a great convenience for a physician, but risk ease of access for tampering. Preventing cybersecurity issues in medical device is a serious consideration in device development.

Maintaining awareness of market, patent, clinical and technological information equips the innovator with relevant material to focus development efforts. Market forecasts can provide insight into current and predicted trends. Investigating demographic trends, understanding the impact of current technologies and realizing the shortcomings of today’s devices are great tools for anticipating the needs of medical device clients.

How Can Nerac Help?

Nerac’s resources and capabilities assist our clients in identifying the future needs of their customers. We are prepared to assist our clients as they address questions of innovation and in the preparation of feasibility investigations of product line expansions.

Contact us here to learn more about how we can help.

References

  1. Population distribution in the United States in 2019, by generation
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/296974/us-population-share-by generation/
  2. The Health of Millennials
    https://www.bcbs.com/the-health-of-america/reports/the-health-of-millennials
  3. Fertility Treatments and Multiple Births in the United States
    https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1301467
  4. Effects of Conception Using Assisted Reproductive Technologies on Infant Health and Development: An Evolutionary Perspective and Analysis Using UK Millennium Cohort Data
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6153626/
  5. 3 Major Problems With the Medical Device and Wearables Market in 2019
    https://hitconsultant.net/2019/05/29/3-major-problems-with-the-medical-device-and-wearables-market-in-2019/#.YAcR4xZOncu
  6. How Gen Z Is Affecting the Healthcare Industry
    https://www.abbott.com/corpnewsroom/products-and-innovation/how-gen-z-is-affecting-healthcare.html
  7. Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes
    https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/3/e20162148
  8. Overuse Injuries, Overtraining and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/6/1242
  9. Specialization & Overuse Injuries in Young Athletes https://health.uconn.edu/orthopedics-sports-medicine/2017/08/01/specialization-overuse-injuries-young-athletes/
  10. Kid’s Sports Injuries: The Numbers are Impressive https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/specialties/sports-medicine/sports-medicine-articles/kids-sports-injuries-the-numbers-are-impressive

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