People worldwide, of all ages and demographics, are adopting digital services and integrating them into their lives. They are doing so faster and more frequently than ever before. All of this has also led to changes in healthcare trends and developments. What will medical engineering trends look like for 2022? What awaits us in the areas of modern technology that support the medical sector? And what’s the future of digital health?
Past and the future ‒ digital health trends in 2021 vs 2022
It’s not difficult to see that most of the world has had to do a solid rethink about priorities in 2021. Some of the projected trends for that year were modified, and others extended. In the end, it turned out that no one was ready for the significant changes that the pandemic brought us – neither large nor small companies, governments, we as a people, hospitals and other medical facilities… The trends in healthcare for 2021 pointed primarily to the rapid development of telemedicine or improvements in remote patient services for disease diagnosis and treatment. Emphasis was also placed on the security aspect in the context of sensitive medical data and cybersecurity. Will this change in 2022?
What lies ahead for the digital health sector in 2022?
Despite the considerable efforts of medical personnel, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed longstanding weaknesses in healthcare systems around the world. The crisis of recent months has also accelerated much-needed and even anticipated advances in medical care for both patients and providers. Much of this is due to new technologies, which will also play an important role in 2022.
These predictions are reflected in the data. Deloitte estimates that the Healthcare Information Technology (HCIT) market is expected to grow this year to $270.3 billion from $227.5 billion in 2020. McKinsey, in turn, estimates that the global digital healthcare market will reach $350 billion and will nearly double in value over the next five years. Just the telemedicine sector is expected to grow by almost 20% in just five years to be worth $175.5 billion in 2025. Which healthcare trends for 2022 will genuinely contribute to the market’s growth?
- Wearables in healthcare
New technologies are reshaping healthcare in many ways. The wearables play a special role in this process. Human body monitoring has evolved over the years, from hospital bedside monitors to wearable devices that monitor individual physiological functions 24 hours a day.
Of particular interest are electronic devices that consumers can wear, such as smartbands and smartwatches, designed to continually collect health and activity data on users. These devices are used to monitor activities of daily living and send the user’s health information to the user’s smartphone, or even straight to a doctor or another healthcare professional in real-time. The demand for wearables is expected to grow over the next few years as more consumers share data from these devices with their doctors.
The year 2022 will also favor further development of wearable ECG monitors and wearable blood pressure monitors. Monitoring blood pressure or heart rate with wearables allows people to see how their lifestyle affects the readings. This can help them make more informed choices about their diet and daily activities and ultimately help them reduce the risk of serious diseases. Wearable devices could also improve patient outcomes and reduce medical staff workload.
That’s not the end of their applications though. Wearable medical devices can also be used to locate staff or equipment in hospitals. This increases the safety of the staff, has a positive impact on work efficiency, and reduces the costs associated with maintaining a medical facility. Notably, the vast amount of data aggregated by wearable measurement devices creates large data sets that can be used to predict, prevent, and treat public and individual health.
- Digital health products
As we already mentioned, the year 2022 will be marked in history as a period of significant growth in digital health. This broad, multidisciplinary concept encompasses issues at the intersection of technology and healthcare. Under the term digital health are:
- mobile health applications (mHealth),
- electronic health records (EHRs),
- electronic medical records (EMRs),
- wearables (mentioned earlier),
- telehealth and telemedicine,
- personalised medicine (which we will discuss later in this article).
Digital health products help save time, improve accuracy and efficiency at every stage of the treatment process (from diagnosis to treatment selection to monitoring outcomes), and ensure the availability of healthcare services. According to the FDA, digital health products “can empower consumers to make better-informed decisions about their own health and provide new options for facilitating prevention, early diagnosis of life-threatening diseases, and management of chronic conditions outside of traditional health care settings”. The innovations used in digital health products successfully combine medicine with the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality (AR), blockchain, and EMR. This improves communication between patients and doctors, reduces the risk of large-scale infectious diseases, and makes monitoring the health of chronically ill patients simpler while increasing their level of safety.
Blockchain-based EMR systems, which reduce the time to access patient information while maintaining high data quality, can also expect further growth in 2022. In turn, AI in healthcare applications will support decision-making processes by automating and speeding up previously manual tasks. The use of AI in healthcare in 2022 will focus on developing products that enable data collection and patient treatment based on real-time reports, or support medical imaging and deeper diagnostics, also based on context. On the other hand, AR technology will become increasingly important in patient and medical staff education – including visualization of surgical procedures or disease simulation.
- Femtech products
Eight years ago, in 2013, a Danish entrepreneur Ida Tin created Clue, the world’s first phone app that allowed women to monitor their menstrual cycle. Then, in 2016, when there were already two million users in 180 countries, Ida Tin invented the term “femtech”. Under that term, there are technologies (both software and hardware) that help take care of so-called “women’s issues”:
- menstruation and menopause;
- getting pregnant or preventing it;
- pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, and newborn care;
- supporting female sexuality and female health, especially in the reproductive aspect, related to fertility, sexuality and contraception.
“Women’s issues” have finally become the subject of open debate and interest in the new technology market. And they are attracting investors. As a result, femtech is becoming more fashionable every year. It’s said to be one of the hottest trends in start-ups in 2022 and to bring big profits. A March 2020 report compiled by Frost & Sullivan shows that femtech industry revenues are expected to reach $1.1 billion by 2024 at an annual growth rate of 12.9 percent.
Femtech companies in 2022 will undoubtedly focus on developing connected health solutions for women and expanding the technology’s reach into low-income regions, such as Africa and Asia, where the female population is significant, or regions with less accessible medical services, but which, because of the growth of online networks, may gain new medical services through mobile apps.
- Biotech tools
The term “biotechnology” encompasses a growing set of methods used to modify plants and animals and produce various substances by living organisms. Thanks to biotechnology, the most significant revolution is currently taking place in medicine. It encompasses all elements of medical activity, from the design and synthesis of new drugs, through the revolution in diagnostics, prevention, immunology, to the introduction of new treatments for various diseases.
Biotech is impacting the healthcare industry in a variety of ways. However, genetic engineering, in particular, will become important in 2022. Modified cells can be used to treat many genetic diseases or create drugs. Molecular diagnostics – one of the most popular and helpful biotech applications used in acute healthcare – will also be of great interest within the digital health sector. The tools used in this area are primarily recombinant DNA technology, ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay), and PCR (polymerase chain reaction).
Drug research is also one of the most promising biotech trends. Until now, introducing a new drug to market required time and getting enough participants for trials. Today, machine learning technology is creating tremendous opportunities for drug research and improving diagnosis and treatment. The biotech sector is actively using cutting-edge technologies to analyze large data sets, promoting improved drugs and treatment pathways for patients. Notably, the digitization of clinical trials means that biotech companies can combine genetic and biometric information to pinpoint the underlying causes of conditions such as heart disease.
The global biotech market size was estimated to reach $752.88 billion by 2020. It’s expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.83% from 2021 to 2028. The market is driven by government initiatives to modernize the drug regulatory pathway, standardize clinical trials, or improve reimbursement policies. In addition, biotechnology also has an impact on improving environmental pollution and food management. All this means that this sector can count on robust growth in 2022.
- Personalised healthcare
The last of the digital health trends for 2022 concerns personalized healthcare (PHC). And it’s probably best if we start with an example of how it influenced a particular person’s life.
When 38-year-old Stephanie Haney was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2007, she broke down. Patients with such a diagnosis usually die within a year, yet she had two tiny children and plenty of plans for the future. Fortunately, her doctor was knowledgeable, and instead of recommending standard chemotherapy, he referred her for genetic testing.
The tests revealed the presence of the EGFR gene mutation. Stephanie received a drug specifically designed for such patients, which gave her a 4-year remission. When a relapse occurred, the oncologist involved recommended another test. A different, individually selected drug, provided the woman with three more years of peace of mind, unfortunately, disturbed by the discovery of brain metastasis. Even then, the doctors didn’t give up and enrolled Stephanie in a clinical trial testing a new preparation for patients like her – which, again, ended successfully.
Stephanie Haney’s current fate is unknown, but she was enjoying complete health as recently as January 2017. Instead of the projected few months, she’s lived ten years. Her story is a flagship example of the possibilities that personalised medicine offers.
Personalised medicine is not only used in oncology. It also supports the treatment of immunological diseases, HIV, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s. In addition, next-generation technologies from biological and genetic research, diagnostics, and analytics are boosters of personalised medicine.
“Researchers predict that in the future, most types of cancer will be diagnosable at an early stage thanks to genetic blood tests. A prerequisite for this is the development of validated biomarkers with high sensitivity in order to be able to detect the disease in the pre-symptomatic stage. This is one of the tasks and challenges the life science and diagnostics industries are working on. On the therapeutic side, developments in immunoncology, cell therapy, and gene therapy are decisive fields in which a great deal is already happening today and will be even more so in the next five to eight years.” – says Dr. Martin Walger, Managing Director of the German Diagnostics Industry Association (VDGH).
Broadly speaking, the concept of personalised healthcare is based on understanding the differences between patients with the same disease and, at the same time, learning about the complexity of diseases. Personalised medicine makes it possible to predict whether a given therapy will be effective for a particular patient. Personalised medicine is based on studying the human genome and applying knowledge from genetics, genomics, and proteomics. Therefore, it’s strongly inspired by biotechnology, which, as we have indicated, is also the dominant digital health trend for 2022.
Healthcare trends in 2022 that everyone should be ready for
The healthcare sector needs to overcome many challenges – from aging populations and rising costs to workforce shortages, resulting in significant pressure on medical facilities, physicians, and patients. As a result, there’s an increasing demand for cutting-edge medical services to provide comprehensive care to patients in all situations, which existing resources can no longer provide. Digital technologies, which have been revolutionizing the healthcare sector for several years now, are coming to the rescue and will gain even more momentum in 2022.