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EXCLUSIVE! The Game-Changing Advances in Medical Technology

The delivery of healthcare has been transformed by the rapid development of medical technology and the availability of high-tech diagnostic and therapeutic devices. Medical technology (MedTech) has produced devices, apparatus, diagnostics and health information systems that empower health care by enabling earlier disease detection, less invasive procedures and more effective treatments.

Innovations in healthcare technology have revolutionised healthcare. From surgical robots to applications that monitor biological parameters to detect disease, medical innovation has played a significant role in augmenting efficiency, increasing productivity, and optimising patients. It saves lives, enhances patient outcomes and reduces overall healthcare expenses.

As medical technology improves, more investigations can be done and healthcare companies can now collect billions of data points about a single patient and use them to give more individualised care. Nevertheless, despite all the advancements, medical technology companies are confronted with unprecedented obstacles. This includes enigmatic growth, rising cost constraints, a greater focus on evidence and outcomes and tighter regulation.

When developing a novel healthcare technology, it is essential to assess its potential impact. Businesses must reevaluate their corporate systems, product portfolios, operating strategies, and competency sets to remain competitive.

CIH’s Role in Advancing Medtech Innovation

Dr Rina Lim, Head (Assistant Director), Centre for Innovation in Healthcare (CIH), National University Health System (NUHS), has been working in the biomedical sector in Singapore for over a decade.

She recalls that Singapore’s focus in the earlier years was on laying a solid foundation and building a talent pool of scientists, engineers and technologists. Leveraging the strong foundation built, there has been a shift towards translating basic research into innovative and commercialisable solutions, and more recently with an emphasis on implementation to realise the health impact on the population.

“The COVID pandemic has accelerated the adoption of solutions, and many businesses have shifted their focus to develop aiding solutions,” she observes.

Singapore’s traditional healthcare system faces several constraints such as a lack of labour and excessive wait times, prompting the emergence of businesses that use robotics and AI to boost efficiency and minimise repetitive and mundane activities.

Companies pivoted their businesses to meet healthcare demands during the COVID-19 pandemic and CIH pivoted to become a platform to assist in the deployment of innovative solutions in the hospital system. Tele consultations, contactless interactions and UV disinfection robots for sterilisation are some examples. To put these advances to the test, hospitals hosted pilots and demos.

According to Dr Rina, when delving into MedTech-based medical solutions, it is crucial to consider four key risk aspects: clinical, regulatory, technology, and business. Since medical technology can have a significant impact on life and death situations, clinical evidence needs to be robust and regulatory requirements are more stringent than in other sectors. These unique challenges make market entry into the healthcare sector a lot more challenging. However, the high bar also makes it more attractive for start-ups because those who succeed generally have a longer market shelf life and higher return on investment.

The commercial aspect of medical technology is equally vital and startups and innovators should identify the correct user base and establish a sound business strategy. Furthermore, transitioning from a research prototype to a manufacturable product poses a significant challenge. To tackle the problems associated with medical technology, an iterative refinement process is necessary for addressing these aspects, she believes.

Healthcare innovation is a collaborative effort that necessitates the participation of numerous experts at various phases of the process, Dr Rina says. These professionals include clinical, technological, and commercial collaborators who must collaborate to achieve success.

CIH’s primary differentiator is its clinical component, which pairs innovators 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 explains. “For collaboration to be successful, there must be a genuine desire to collaborate and CIH seeks to serve as the conduit and impetus for these partnerships.”

Furthermore, CIH has established an ecosystem of partners to provide guidance to innovators including engineering and regulatory experts who can offer innovators early insights that can aid the development process.

Dr Rina highlights the importance of clearly articulating the actual use cases and understanding the ultimate goal of intelligent innovations, such as health metric monitoring. She emphasises the need to consider the health impact and application of the data collected from these devices carefully.

“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,” Dr Rina reveals.

Achieving a consensus on the specific use case of AI in healthcare is critical and it is important to consider ethical aspects in both development and data intake. AI should be utilised as a tool to support healthcare professionals and aid in making informed decisions.

Dr Rina shares that her organisation has facilitated the clinical adoption of healthcare innovations in several ways. For instance, they have assisted in the deployment of telepresence robots in the wards and clinically validated healthcare innovations such as e-stethoscopes etc. In addition, they have worked to promote the adoption of practice-changing innovations, such as blood test kits and imaging AI assistants. On top of these, CIH has dedicated efforts to grow and train a community of next-generation innovators who are passionate to improve healthcare.

Urban Ideas and Solutions Through LKYGBPC

The Lee Kuan Yew Global Business Plan Competition (LKYGBPC), which began in 2001, is a biennial global university start-up competition hosted in Singapore. Organised by Singapore Management University’s Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, it focuses on urban ideas and solutions developed by student founders and early-stage start-ups.

In terms of presenting ideas to upcoming youth in the space, Dr Rina believes that culture is not something that can be simply presented but should be built collaboratively. She advocates for creating an immersive culture where everyone is engaged in innovation and feels comfortable discussing it so that it becomes second nature to develop innovative solutions whenever a problem arises.

“The success of innovation and entrepreneurship requires different skills and expertise at different stages, and building a strong network of mentors and experts is important,” Dr Rina opines. “Singapore has a good pool of experts that can be tapped on to help students and tech entrepreneurs progress their innovations and potentially leapfrog competitors.”

She suggests that the focus should be on developing talent from a young age, with equal opportunities for both boys and girls to receive education about technology and STEM to pique their interests. Their eventual paths should be based on their passion and strengths. It is crucial to disassociate gender-specific job roles and recognise diversity in experience to allow for a range of perspectives and opinions in solving problems.

Dr Rina adds that a supportive culture at work and home is necessary, considering different responsibilities and backgrounds. “The hope is that in the future, we will no longer be talking about gender issues in tech.”

CIH has a team of seven dedicated individuals who serve in various roles, including deploying innovations, project management, clinical research coordination and community management. They also offer a co-innovation space to cultivate an ecosystem for startups and partners to collaborate and benefit from their expertise.

The healthcare industry is on the verge of a revolution due to advancements in medical technology, which have the potential to improve patient outcomes globally. The incorporation of big data and machine learning will enable healthcare professionals to make more informed decisions and enhance the quality of care for patients.

“To effectively improve and transform healthcare delivery, innovators and healthcare systems should adopt a flexible and open mindset to adapt to changes and overcome adoption barriers, to allow healthcare innovations to realise their full potential and impact,” Dr Rina concludes emphatically.

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SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

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