Bernard Ross, CEO at Sky Medical Technology explores…
The BBC recently reported that more than six million people are waiting for routine operations in the UK. Pre-pandemic, the UK government aimed to offer those needing non-urgent surgery a procedure within 18 weeks. In 2018, it was reported that hospitals achieved this around 88 percent of the time, so – even before COVID-19 – many patients were waiting a significant amount of time for surgery. The COVID crisis has brought into sharp focus an issue that has developed over decades.
The burden of delay
For each person on a waiting list in the UK, there is nothing routine about their condition. Those waiting for a hip or ankle replacement can be in constant pain. Many are unable to walk, leading to issues around lack of social contact and independence. This can impact people’s ability to work and, therefore, support themselves and their family.
This is not to say that healthcare systems are not doing everything they can to reduce this burden. Surgery techniques have radically changed to deliver better healthcare outcomes, and doctors are constantly looking to speed recovery to avoid issues of bed blocking and increase the volume of elective operations.
Innovation breeds new solutions
Perhaps the biggest opportunity to address the challenges with capacity comes from medical technology (MedTech). The MedTech sector has seen substantial growth in recent years. Prior to the pandemic in 2019, the total annual revenue of the global MedTech industry stood at £370.9 billion. By 2025, the global medical devices industry is expected to reach a valuation of £440.5 billion, growing at an average of 5.4 percent per year.
Innovation has been accelerated by the pandemic. As COVID-19 challenged the traditional healthcare processes it forced healthcare systems to quickly implement new solutions, such as tele-consultations and the increased use of remote monitoring to manage patients. This helped demonstrate the transformative potential of technology to healthcare systems.
MedTech can have a significant impact driving transformation around how care is provided, enabling healthcare professionals to focus on the critical. For example, remote monitoring can provide doctors with alerts that inform them of patients’ vital signs, but healthcare professionals will still need to interpret these.
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Faster recovery, more capacity
MedTech devices that empower patients’ faster recovery, such as those that reduce swelling after surgery, can better enable patients to manage their recovery at home. This will reduce the time spent in hospital and reduce bed blocking, freeing up extra capacity to perform more operations.
Sustained time in hospital can also increase risk of infection. According to the World Health Organisation, healthcare associated infections are the most frequent adverse event in healthcare delivery worldwide. 10 percent of patients in developing countries and seven percent in developed countries will acquire at least one healthcare associated infection during their time in hospital.
MedTech improving wellbeing
COVID-19 has turbo charged a trend in healthcare that was already manifesting. Hospital waiting lists for routine operations were growing before the pandemic, but the impact on the healthcare crisis has hastened the need to generate meaningful positive change. If any positive has come from the pandemic it is that change that would ordinarily have taken a decade has been implemented in weeks or months.
The challenge now is to create healthcare systems that can address not only current needs but future ones, and effectively manage the backlog of elective surgery. The MedTech industry has a critical part to play in delivering ingenious solutions that will help healthcare systems manage demand moving forward.