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MedTech: Insights from a Healthcare Innovator

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The rapid progress in medical technology and the availability of advanced diagnostic and therapeutic tools are fundamentally transforming healthcare by enabling early disease detection, minimally invasive procedures, and more effective treatments. This medical technology (MedTech) revolution encompasses equipment, diagnostics, apparatus, and health information systems, reshaping the landscape of healthcare delivery.

Dr Rina Lim, Head (Assistant Director) of the Centre for Innovation in Healthcare (CIH) at the National University Health System (NUHS), brings over a decade of experience in Singapore’s biomedical sector. Reflecting on Singapore’s history, she highlights the country’s early efforts to cultivate a pool of scientific, engineering, and technological talent. Recent years have witnessed a shift towards translating fundamental research into practical, innovative, and market-ready solutions that tangibly benefit public health.

Dr Rina points out that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of healthcare solutions and prompted many businesses to pivot towards providing supportive responses to the crisis. Singapore’s traditional healthcare system has various constraints, including a manpower shortage and long wait times, spurring the creation of businesses that utilise robotics and AI to increase productivity and reduce repetitive and tedious tasks.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, firms pivoted to meet healthcare demands, and CIH pivoted to become a platform to aid in the deployment of new solutions in the hospital system. Examples include teleconsultations, contactless interactions, and UV disinfection robots for sterilisation. Hospitals hosted pilots and demos to put these innovations to the test.

Dr Rina believes that while digging into MedTech-based medical solutions, four important risk components must be considered: clinical, regulatory, technical, and commercial. Because medical technology has the potential to save lives, clinical evidence must be substantial, and regulatory standards are more demanding than in other industries.

These specific challenges make market entry into the healthcare sector significantly more difficult. The high bar, on the other hand, makes it more appealing for start-ups because those that succeed have a longer market shelf life and a larger return on investment.

The commercial component of medical technology is just as important, and startups and innovators must find the right user group and develop a solid marketing strategy. Likewise, the move from a research prototype to a producible product is difficult. She feels that an iterative refinement process is required to overcome the challenges associated with medical technology.

According to Dr Rina, healthcare innovation is a collaborative effort that requires the cooperation of numerous professionals at various stages of the process. Clinical, technological, and commercial colleagues are among those who must work together to achieve success.

The clinical component of CIH is its major difference since it matches inventors with potential clinical users to gather insights and conduct clinical trials to validate the innovations. “Through these collaborations, innovators can gain valuable clinical insights, while clinical users are exposed to the newest trends and technologies in their field,” Dr Rina says. “For collaboration to be successful, there must be a genuine desire to collaborate, and CIH seeks to serve as a conduit and impetus for these partnerships.”

Also, CIH has built an ecosystem of partners to help innovators, including engineering and regulatory specialists who can provide early insights that can help the development process.

Dr Rina emphasises the significance of precisely expressing genuine use cases and comprehending the ultimate purpose of intelligent advances such as health metric monitoring. She underlines the importance of carefully considering the health impact and application of data collected from these devices.

“Ethical challenges and biases associated with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare are perceived because AI may not take ethical considerations into account, unlike healthcare professionals,” explains Dr Rina.

It is crucial to reach an agreement on the specific use case of AI in healthcare, and it is critical to consider ethical considerations in both development and data intake. AI should be used as a tool to help healthcare workers make educated decisions.

Dr Rina explains how her organisation has aided in the clinical uptake of healthcare technologies in a variety of ways. They have, for example, aided in the deployment of telepresence robots in the wards as well as scientifically approved healthcare innovations such as e-stethoscopes.

Additionally, they have sought to encourage the use of game-changing breakthroughs such as blood test kits and imaging AI helpers. CIH has also committed to growing and training a network of next-generation innovators who are passionate about improving healthcare.

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