The impact of COVID-19 has been substantial to all industries and our daily lives. While the negative effects are apparent, it’s also evident that this pandemic has led to adaptation, creative solutions and even innovation in a variety of areas. New models for continuing progress in education at schools and universities emerge. New solutions to collaborate productively from home have gained traction at companies that haven’t considered these models in the past. In medtech and healthcare generally, we’ve seen an important shift toward telehealth and managing patients remotely in more effective ways over the past few weeks.
Medtech has been significantly impacted by this crisis. Lots of companies in our industry are going through their most difficult times right now as elective surgeries are down. Hospital and practice visits for non-COVID treatments have declined across all countries. While initial road maps for adjusting to a post-COVID situation in many markets have recently been announced, it’s still uncertain when our industry will recover.
Still, despite the dire situation in most areas (aside from those such as testing, masks and ventilators), one topic is gaining increased attention in the past weeks: remote patient monitoring
After years of adoption challenges on the patient side, medical resistance and bureaucratic challenges, suddenly patients, providers and payers have welcomed these solutions more openly. Hospitals aim to free up intensive care bed capacity and clinician time by using remote monitoring solutions for patients with COVID-19 who don’t require intensive care (both via at-home monitoring and optimizing in-patient vitals monitoring). The FDA and other global authorities have started to adjust regulations to drive telehealth and innovative monitoring solutions while manufacturers further innovate and identify new ways to support the current situation.
But is what we’re seeing right now just an interim trend, or does it result in the longer-anticipated shift toward digital health? Will we largely see a return to pre-COVID practices or are many of the new ways of monitoring patients and providing care through digital health solutions here to stay given the benefits they can add for patients, healthcare professionals and payers? While policies obviously play a significant role, I believe much will depend on manufacturers, what they learn from the current situation and their actions in response. Here are a few key areas that manufacturers could focus on to help the shift toward remote patient monitoring as a sustainable solution:
- Realize value in data. Many remote patient monitoring solutions are getting broader exposure than ever before, which means more data available to analyze and learn from. Organizations should harness the insights generated to better understand patient usage, outcomes and improvement opportunities across different populations. This is especially important for medtech organizations that are involved in surgical interventions. Such companies should make sure they link monitoring solutions to their products and procedures and generate evidence on outcomes. This is particularly relevant for orthopedics and cardiology.
- Demonstrate value to healthcare systems and payers. The current regulation changes are often time limited. For example, the FDA’s expanded use of connected, non-invasive remote vital sign monitors applies only until the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. During this time, build a strong, data-informed foundation on outcomes and economics to drive discussions about more permanent policy changes.
Also, manufacturers should outline solutions for payers and health systems that address how best to set up the ownership model for devices that pose a more significant investment. Not every remote monitoring solution is a patch or small sensor. For more significant investments, new models to enable placement at patient homes or to facilitate hospital investment by linking it to increased procedure capacity will be needed.
- Ensure strong patient orientation. Medtech organizations should put a strong focus on supporting patients as they start adopting new technologies. Guidance, training and patient service channels are essential to ensure correct use, comfort in functionality and more certainty when it comes to interpreting results. Manufacturers need to realize that the current situation differs from a typical adoption pattern. Normally, more tech-savvy “early adopters” are the first customers, or companies consciously start via a soft launch. Now that these solutions are reaching a much broader audience much quicker, communication and support have to adjust to take this into account.
After introduction, driving actual patient behavior change to achieve lasting adoption remains a key challenge. Companies need to ensure strong feedback mechanisms that allow them to adopt a strong patient orientation as early as the design stage. Seamless, less invasive or “invisible” products that require minimal patient action and limit awareness of measurement should be high on the priority list for future iterations. In addition, companies should make sure the appropriate services or partner solutions that motivate behavioral change and ongoing use (like human or digitally delivered coaching) are in place and continue to evolve.
- Embrace partnership with clinicians. Information overload and integration into established practices and processes have always been big concerns to clinicians. So is the potential negative impact on their patient engagement. In order to proactively address these barriers, manufacturers need to consider an effective integration with existing workflows and allow for EHR integration with their new solutions. Seeking dialogue to co-create with clinicians becomes essential to enable a seamless and practical application. Only when potential barriers are proactively addressed will the benefits to better clinical decision-making become apparent.
Medtech organizations should not underestimate the importance of the financial side for physicians and hospitals. Digital health solutions that last will be the ones that ensure physicians will still be paid for their time during “virtual visits” or those that clearly highlight the benefits of remote patient management in other ways to physicians and hospitals. While not seeing some patients in person is a matter of necessity right now, this trend could revert to the in-person norm if physicians have to invest considerable time in remote engagement and result interpretation without appropriate compensation. Companies that will succeed in the future will have models that ensure physician compensation without creating additional burden for clinicians. Alternatively, these companies will clearly demonstrate the business case for remote monitoring in other forms (new generated capacity for procedures and more complex patient cases, value-based agreements, etc.).
Organizations should help reduce uncertainty and variability around standards for remote patient monitoring. As of today, discharging practices and selecting appropriate patient groups are still heavily driven by individual decisions and therefore vary considerably. Therefore, manufacturers can help facilitate the process of working with quality departments to help inform standards quickly based on data and facts to ultimately reduce variability and uncertainty for clinicians.
These are uncertain and exceptional times with lasting effects for all of us. And while it’s still unclear which of the COVID-19 adjustments are here to stay and become ingrained in our lives, I’m still hopeful that a few years out, as we look back on the crisis-driven changes that led to our new normal, we’re going to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic played a critical role in the acceleration and widespread adoption of digital health solutions.