Here’s How 5G Might Impact Innovation in Medical Devices (The MedTech Download)

Kelly Springs-Kelley
April 02, 2021
The impact of 5G on medtech

Key Takeaways

  • As 5G networks become our new reality, MedTech leaders are pondering how medical device entrepreneurs will take advantage of this technological advancement.
  • Researchers have developed a tissue-engineered heart valve replacement that grows within the patient. This reduces the need for children with congenital heart defects to undergo multiple surgeries.
  • Many people skipped preventative care during 2020 to avoid exposure to COVID. Now the consequences of those choices are beginning to bear out, as advanced cancer diagnoses are on the rise.

How 5G Could Affect MedTech

The past few years have been transformative in the world of MedTech, in part due to exponential advancements in technology. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have made their way into medical devices, and while increased concerns about cybersecurity have followed, the sum of the game is the same. These advancements allow MedTech entrepreneurs to deliver new devices that make a significant impact on providers and patients.
Now, as next-generation 5G networks begin their worldwide rollout, leaders in medical technology are looking forward to how this new technology will play into medical devices.

In an article in Medical Design and Outsourcing, Philips connected care connectivity leader Phil Raymond says that, while 4G adequately supports current MedTech, he notes that 5G “will be a foundational component of delivering on the promise of the ‘quadruple aim’ of enhancing the patient experience, improving health outcomes, lowering the cost of care and improving the work life of care providers.” But ultimately, how the industry takes advantage of 5G is up to medical device entrepreneurs themselves.

Lab-Generated Heart Valves Grow Inside Body

Echocardiogram testing of the tri-tube heart valve

According to the CDC, congenital heart defects (CHD) affect nearly 1% of―or about 40,000―births per year in the United States, and the prevalence of some types of CHDs is increasing. And while CHDs vary in severity, the survival statistics are stark for some, as “about 75% of babies born with a critical CHD are expected to survive to one year of age. About 69% of babies born with critical CHDs are expected to survive to 18 years of age.” And, as reported by MedGadget, “at present, children with heart defects who require a heart valve replacement typically receive one made using animal tissues that have been chemically treated. Such valves can malfunction because of calcification and cause significant inconvenience for their recipients as they don’t grow along with the heart.”

Amazingly, researchers from the University of Minnesota have developed a tissue-engineered heart valve replacement that grows within a patient, avoiding the aforementioned side-effects. In addition, the technology can prevent the need for repeat heart surgeries for children to replace heart valves that they have outgrown.

FDA Grants EUA to COVID-19 Screening Device Using Machine Learning

One of the most significant challenges brought about by COVID-19 has been the dramatic variance in symptoms from one patient to the other. In more severe cases, the virus attacks the lungs, resulting in shortness of breath or, at worst, death. But on the other end of the spectrum are those who are asymptomatic but still infect others. These “silent spreaders” that played a part in the rapid spread of the disease, as this type of transmission makes up “a significant minority of transmission events even at the low end of the range.”

To prevent asymptomatic spread, the FDA has granted an emergency use authorization to Tiger Tech’s COVID-19 screening device that “consists of an armband that uses light sensors and machine learning” to identify signs of infection in “otherwise asymptomatic individuals.” This is important, as many public places rely on temperature screening, which is not effective for those who are not showing symptoms. But, as the article notes, with the increase in the availability of rapid antigen tests, Tiger Tech faces stiff competition.

A Year into the Pandemic, Advanced Cancer Diagnoses are Rising

Last year, as the pandemic worsened, large swaths of society closed. The loss of gyms, restaurants, and other non-essential public gathering species was devastating economically, both for individuals and on a global scale. But, while we lost sleep over the financial impact, physicians and health officials had other concerns, specifically surrounding patients who weren’t seeking care. In some cases, it was preventative appointments that were cancelled. But in others, people were skipping a doctor visit for more serious symptoms or conditions. Now that society has begun to reopen, there has been a fear that the consequences of this lack of patient engagement will begin to surface.

Sadly, those fears are beginning to materialize. A recent survey of radiation oncologists found that these specialists experienced an “increase in new patients with advanced-stage cancers coming into clinics for treatment, compared to before the pandemic.” The article also reported that “electronic health records data from the Epic Health Research Network, drawn from 2.7 million patients across 190 hospitals in 23 states, in May showed a sharp drop of between 86% and 94% in preventive cancer screenings performed in the U.S.” As we get back to normal, there is no doubt that these types of unintended consequences surrounding the pandemic will continue to reverberate for years to come.

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