Breakthroughs in healthcare over the past 100 years have allowed people to live longer, healthier lives. Between 2000 and 2019 the global average life expectancy increased by more than six years, from 66.8 to 73.4, according to the World Health Organization. During this period, the global population grew by more than one billion. This rising and aging population is putting increased pressure on healthcare systems and medical professionals.
More Patients, Fewer Resources
A greater elderly population has led to more people living with illnesses that typically worsen with age, meaning these people will need more expensive care for longer periods of time. However, healthcare systems designed in the 20th Century are struggling to cope with a greater demand for sustained care.
Take leg ulcers for example: In the United States, chronic wounds impact the quality of life of almost 2.5% of the total population.1 This includes predominantly venous stasis ulcers, pressure ulcers (bedsores), and diabetic foot ulcers. The yearly cost to the U.S, healthcare system of treating venous ulcers alone estimated to be $2.5–3.5 billion, highlighting the sheer scale of the growing problem.2
A patient living with a chronic wound (i.e., –a venous leg ulcer (VLU)) will need ongoing care until the wound has healed, whether that is in the hospital, at home, or a mixture of the two. Under the current standard of care, VLUs can take months to heal and require ongoing treatment that involves cleaning the wound to avoid infection, dressing and changing the bandages, and pain management. Some VLUs may never heal.
Treatment for VLU and other chronic conditions requires a lot of time and resources from medical professionals that are expensive for the healthcare system and intrusive for the patient. The burden on medical professionals has been a longstanding issue in healthcare with many hospitals and clinics having to operate with limited resources, time and money. This was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unless healthcare systems can find new solutions to manage and treat the growing number of patients needing ongoing care, the pressure will only increase further.
The Domino Effect of Healthcare Pressure
A survey conducted by Mental Health America between June and September 2020 found that 93% of more than 1,100 healthcare workers were experiencing stress, while 76% reported exhaustion and burnout and 75% said they were feeling overwhelmed . These findings indicate the sentiments medical professionals across the United States who have had to work under fragile healthcare systems struggling to cope with full capacity hospitals, reduced staff and limited supplies.
According to a study by global data intelligence company, Morning Consult, approximately 30% of healthcare workers either quit their jobs or were laid off during the pandemic, while 31% of those who remained in their healthcare roles considered leaving.
The report also found that 79% of medical facilities in the United States have been affected by shortages of clinical staff. Key issues recorded involved full and over capacity emergency rooms, increased hours to cater for staffing shortages and burnt-out staff.
Here lies the vicious cycle that healthcare systems are facing. If medical professionals are stressed, burnt out and overwhelmed, they are more likely to leave; the more nurses and doctors that leave, the more pressure healthcare systems are under—all while the number of patients with chronic conditions grows.
Innovation Driving Better Healthcare
This is where medical technology can help. Medtech is offering quicker and more cost-effective ways to improve patient outcomes, which can help to ease the pressure on healthcare systems and their staff. Working both alongside and instead of existing treatment methods, medtech devices are uniquely placed to offer time-saving solutions that improve the current standard of care.
Consider a device that can increase the blood flow in a patient’s leg. If there is evidence that shows the device is cheaper than the current methods of treatment, quicker and easier to administer for healthcare professionals, and more effective at treating conditions associated with poor blood flow, it could be a viable option for healthcare systems to adopt.
Current standard of care for a VLU involves compression therapy to help promote wound healing. Clinical data has found that by increasing blood flow to the wound surface, thus enhancing oxygen and nutrient delivery, ulcers can eventually be cured rather that treated and monitored over time.3 Therefore, a device that is clinically proven to better promote blood flow in the leg could, in theory, be used alongside or instead of compression therapy for the promotion of faster wound healing.
Medtech can also provide a permanent treatment to chronic medical conditions, rather than solely maintain a patient’s wellbeing over time. Such devices can improve the method of treatment requiring less resources and time from healthcare professionals and therefore making care more cost-effective.
What Makes Successful Medical Technology?
This new breed of technology is making breakthroughs in the United States and around the world. The biggest challenge with medtech is finding ways to reward innovation and risk without negatively affecting how the system already operates: how can healthcare systems adopt new and improved solutions into existing treatment plans without losing money or wasting time?
For medtech devices to be successfully adopted into healthcare systems, devices should be easier and quicker for medical professionals to use, preferred by patients, and demonstrate improved patient outcomes. Crucially, the devices should do so at a lower cost to existing pharmaceutical medicines.
MedTech which can be used in both hospital and home settings need to also consider that patients may be required to administer the devices themselves. This means the device needs to be both quick and simple to apply for both busy medical professionals and patients using the device themselves at home.
With electronic medtech devices there is the further issue of complying with regulation around electrical safety and biocompatibility. Successfully balancing these requirements will ensure that less time and resources are needed from busy clinicians, which should lead to more cost-effective care, fewer overwhelmed hospitals, and improved patient outcomes.
Embracing MedTech for a Brighter Future
Medtech is driving healthcare towards a more efficient future: Creating better outcomes for less money. Innovation in healthcare is repeatable and reliable and is introducing new and improved ways to manage patient wellbeing. Improving patient outcomes, especially speeding up recovery for long-term illnesses, can significantly reduce the time and resources required from clinicians. But first healthcare systems need to embrace and adopt medical innovation.
The key to medtech adoption is balancing patient requirements with the needs of medical professionals while managing risks. More efficient and cost-effective treatment plans will help the U.S. healthcare system provide the best care possible and ease burden being placed upon it.
This puts medtech in a unique position to ignite positive change across the United States and wider world. A greater shift towards MedTech adoption enables more investment in the development of new medical technologies and helps lessen the pressure on the entire healthcare operation, creating a brighter system for patients and professionals alike.
- Chandan, K.S. (March 31, 2021). Human Wound and Its Burden: Updated 2020 Compendium of Estimates. Advances in Wound Care. 281 292. http://doi.org/10.1089/wound.2021.0026
- Fife, C., et. al. (2007). Limitations of daily living activities in patients with venous stasis ulcers undergoing compression bandaging: problems with the concept of self-bandaging. Wounds. 19:255–57.
- Jones, N.J., et. al. (2018). Neuromuscular electrostimulation on lower limb wounds. BJN.