We’ve heard from:

Limbic CEO Ross Harper

Visionable CEO Alan Lowe

S3 Connected Health president Jim O’Donoghue

emocha Health CEO Sebastian Seiguer

Smith+Nephew vice president Paul Trueman

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Chloe Kent: What opportunities and challenges face the medtech sector over the year ahead?

Ross Harper: The prevalence of common mental illness is expected to triple as a result of the pandemic, leaving primary care services overburdened and unable to meet demand. As such, we will see a rise in solutions that specifically solve the issue of supply and demand within psychological therapy.

Alan Lowe: As more decision-making starts to transition to integrated care systems, we will see an amalgamation of technology across individual regions. This will result in fewer siloed solutions and a greater consideration for patient pathway scenarios when applying technology. The emergence of ecosystem working amongst suppliers will also be key to embedding the right technologies to address different aspects of those pathways. The last year has seen rapid digital adoption in response to Covid-19. 2021 will see progress from urgently plugging gaps to using digital as part of system design.

Jim O’Donoghue: The events of last year have made it clear that health providers require medical technologies to deliver smarter, more efficient care. Relying exclusively on in-clinic services is no longer an option; a new model of care that is less tied to the hospital setting is gaining momentum as a consequence of Covid-19, and technology will play a crucial role in enabling it.

Paul Trueman: The backlog of patients requiring surgical interventions has increased significantly over the course of the pandemic due to limits on the number of elective procedures. The pace at which surgery will recommence remains unknown and healthcare providers will need to increase capacity and define new models of care to address the backlog.

CK: How can the industry expect to fare in light of the ongoing impact of Covid-19?

JO’D: The coronavirus outbreak is, in a sense, the spark that lit the fire of change. While practices like remote care were initially embraced with a view to better deal with the consequences of the pandemic, our own research shows there is hope for long-term change, with 71% of UK patients willing to use digital health solutions and connected medical devices in the future, and a third (33%) believing wider use of virtual care would improve the overall health experience.

Sebastian Seiguer: Since the pandemic reared its head in early 2020, there has been a veritable explosion in the medtech industry. Even before Covid-19 turned the world upside down, healthcare’s turn to technology was on the rise, however with in-person interactions posing greater risks, the shift to online healthcare was nothing short of seismic in 2020. The industry continues to evolve daily as patients seek safe, convenient access to care, and providers search for ways to connect with patients and solve problems previously out of reach through digital health care delivery.

PT: For medtech companies focused on surgery, the limitation on elective procedures undoubtedly represents a major concern. Health systems have adopted a ‘crisis management’ mentality to address increasing Covid-19 related admissions. The hope is that with widespread vaccination these admissions can be reduced to a more manageable and predictable level, allowing safe, elective surgical pathways to be deployed. Harnessing digital solutions can help reduce risk and enhance the patient experience.

CK: What is your outlook for the industry this year in terms of M&A activity?

RH: Aside from a number of noteworthy healthtech IPOs, we anticipate a number of big pharmaceutical companies will acquire smaller AI-powered drug discovery companies this year.

SS: 2020 set a record for the most funds ever raised in the digital health sector, with more than $14bn going to startups and disruptive technologies. With all that cash, M&A activity will be strong in 2021. Companies that have gained increasing relevance during Covid-19 (such as testing, vaccine tracking, and vaccination “passports”) will have to find ways to replace revenue that will churn as herd immunity is achieved through immunisation.

CK: Which areas of medtech do you expect to see the most activity from over 2021?

RH: There will be continued adoption of telehealth within the NHS and wider healthcare market. However, growth amongst bespoke telehealth solutions may begin to stall for two reasons: (1) they will begin competing with incumbent video conferencing tools (e.g. Zoom) that will seek approvals and meet standards for use in a healthcare setting, and (2) existing case management systems within healthcare will begin offering video conferencing functionality as an additional feature to their existing products.

AL: As healthcare organisations strategise, the very early stages of a 5G revolution in healthcare will begin to take place. Hospitals and healthcare systems will start to discover clinically-led use cases as they dip their toes into the early planning stages for 5G infrastructure in preparation for future architecture. 2021 will be the year it all started.

JO’D: The need to optimise resources to meet growing patient demands will lead to the wider adoption of AI and machine learning as enablers of fast and accurate insight analysis. Capable of examining data far more quickly and precisely than humans, AI and machine learning can enhance diagnosis accuracy as well as predictively pinpoint signs of chronic illness or disease.

SS: The area of digital health that will likely see the most activity within the next year will be chronic disease management. With billions spent each year on admissions and ED [emergency department] visits for chronic disease patients, and with Medicare and Medicaid expanding in the US, pressure to reduce costs will be intense. Areas of waste, such as the $300bn in hospitalisations caused by factors including medication misuse or non-use, must be reduced.

PT: Medical technologies that can improve efficiency are going to be vital to address the backlog of elective surgical cases that have built up over the course of the pandemic. Robotic surgery has the potential to reduce variation in practice and improve outcomes, while data analytics should provide insights to ensure that the right treatment is provided to the right patient at the right time. In addition to this, telemedicine and remote monitoring will allow patients to play a greater role in their care and reduce the need for healthcare consultations in a physical environment.