Medical Device Tech Trends to Watch: AI / ML, Cybersecurity, and Medical Robots

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After a pause in progress during the pandemic, medical device companies are once again making strides to innovate in many areas of emerging technologies as a way to manage data and perform services more effectively and securely. Some of the most exciting trends to watch in medical device technology right now involve artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and medical robots.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML): New AI and ML tools are increasingly being used to collect, curate, and analyze patient information to increase the speed and accuracy of data analysis while freeing up employees for other crucial tasks. “The new AI and ML features provide workers with new and important insights deriving from the growing amount of data from medical records,” reports Med Device Online, resulting in improved diagnostic decision-making with high levels of precision and more efficient doctor interventions.

Cybersecurity: With emerging technologies comes new and greater security risks, including more sophisticated attacks by hackers, so cybersecurity for medical devices has never been more important. The number of cybersecurity attacks targeting U.S. healthcare organizations “doubled in the first half of 2022 compared to 2021,” according to Med Device Online, which said this increase is mainly due to lack of cybersecurity expertise among employees.

Those purchasing and managing medical devices must be concerned with two aspects of device security, according to product design company Plexus. First, they must understand how devices are designed to control and protect customer information. It’s essential for companies to protect sensitive patient medical information as it is shared within an organization or with other trusted stakeholders. The wider medical networks are, the greater the risk of a cyberattack that can quickly spread from one device to another.

Companies also must have a plan to provide security for medical devices against external threats once put into use. Aside from implementing proven cybersecurity measures such as authentication requirements, limiting the duration of user sessions, and checking for data compliance, among others, some organizations are also adopting blockchain as a solution to enable safe interactions and facilitate secure cryptocurrency transactions.

Medical Robots: When the pandemic prompted shortages of qualified staff due to burnout or other causes, medical device companies invented new robots to help perform tasks, and those robots are here to stay, says Med Device Online. Robots can perform routine medical tasks such as performing venipuncture, monitoring patient vitals, and disinfecting rooms.

Surgical robots in particular are by far the leading category of robotics currently in use, and demand for this technology has seen immense growth in recent years, according to tech trend analysis site Exploding Topics. It is widely reported that surgical robots such as the da Vinci and Hugo systems are becoming more capable and continue to increase the types and level of sophistication of the tasks they perform. This industry is expected to exceed $20 billion by 2028, according to Verified Market Research.

Accelerated Speed to Market

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many medical device companies to learn new ways of accelerating design, development, and testing of products to respond to pandemic threats more effectively, and they now benefit from these lessons when developing new diagnostic instruments. “The life science companies that are prepared to offer that kind of rapidly developed, rapid-response technology at the point of use are the ones who will be better positioned to handle the next global health crisis,” notes Plexus.

Ultimately, though the lessons learned during the pandemic were difficult, they resulted in many useful innovations that will continue to benefit the medical device sector for years to come.

Measuring Progress on the Road to Supply Chain Resilience

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Not long ago, supply chain issues were a concern mainly limited to operations professionals. But in the past two years, supply chain disruptions have moved up the agenda and are now widely discussed in C-suites and even the highest levels of government—essentially, because of their widespread economic impact. Even the White House has weighed in, with an order last year saying, “The United States needs resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains to ensure our economic prosperity and national security.”

The call to action to improve supply chain resilience has been loud and clear. And now, some recent surveys provide a snapshot of what companies have been doing in response, and what they plan to do.

For example, while companies are exploring a variety of new strategies for resilience, many have simply turned to a traditional approach. The most common approach to coping with disruptions over the past year has been to increase inventories of components and finished goods, according to a recent survey from McKinsey & Company, which reports that 8 out of 10 respondents increased their inventories last year.

Budgeting for Supply Chain Resilience

That approach can be effective but brings its own challenges in terms of paying for and maintaining that inventory. And it seems that many companies have seen it as a short-term, expedient solution and are now looking at other approaches. McKinsey reports that 90% now want to increase their supply chain resilience, and almost three-quarters expect to increase their budgets to accomplish that goal.

Meanwhile, many companies are planning to make “wholesale changes” to their supply-chain footprints, according to a study from the Interos supply chain technology company. It notes that 89% of surveyed executives think their suppliers are too concentrated in certain geographic locations and that 51% have plans to reshore or nearshore suppliers.

Other strategies beyond building buffer inventory include dual sourcing and engaging two suppliers for each component, which has now been implemented by 81% of respondents in the McKinsey survey, compared to 55% the year before. Forty-four percent are developing regional supply networks—presumably to shorten supply chains to reduce risk. That’s up from 25% the previous year. Many executives expect to continue to work on dual sourcing (69%) and regionalization (51%) through this year and beyond. From Dynamic’s perspective, this suggests that they see supply chain disruptions and risk as ongoing challenges in managing the supply chain.

Just Getting Started on Managing Supply Chain Risk

Companies are doing a lot to strengthen the supply chain, but they have a lot more to do—particularly on the risk-assessment front. The Interos study found that only 57% of suppliers are usually evaluated during a risk assessment. In addition, just 11% of respondents said that they monitor supplier risk on an ongoing basis.

These findings underscored the need to look further up the supply chain to understand risk, with 76% saying they have been affected by risk events occurring beyond second-tier suppliers—that is, their suppliers’ suppliers. McKinsey echoes that problem, noting that 45% of respondents in its survey can only see up the supply chain as far as their first-tier suppliers or have no visibility at all into the upstream supply chain.

Industry surveys show that the turmoil of the past few years has been a tremendous motivator for change, and supply chain professionals are working to increase resilience. There is progress being made and more is needed—and companies have clearly found powerful reasons for moving forward.