While COVID-19 is not the first pandemic that has surged around the world and perhaps not even the most remarkable, so far it has been the most impactful on the way healthcare is delivered. Its eruption at a time when technological advances are available is poised to not only dramatically change our lifestyles and daily routines but is especially significant in how we interact with our healthcare providers.
Aging citizens dealing with chronic conditions used to be the ones crowding the clinics and hospitals but as this demographic are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 complications a dramatic change is being seen on the ground. The American Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published new guidance for operations of clinics aimed at minimizing physical presence at clinics and maximizing remote care wherever possible. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also recommended that healthcare providers advise people against visiting hospitals except for emergencies. This has resulted in a drastic 50 percent reduction in US hospital visits in April according to The Commonwealth Fund report, which reviewed four large US hospital chains. A poll of patients conducted in June reported that 43 percent of patients are reluctant to visit their doctor and have canceled their appointments.
Clearly, such extreme change in patient behavior needs to be mitigated by accelerating the integration of existing telemedicine tools as well as by developing and adopting new ideas that were previously dismissed or not even considered due to perceived unchangeable patient preferences towards physical interaction with healthcare providers.
Innovations coming from Israel are at the forefront of this battle, specifically in the MedTech industry, in which we are likely to see rapid transformation as a result of COVID’s impact.
Evolving Modes of Drug Delivery
One example of an area that can flourish is drug delivery for patients with chronic conditions. This has been the focus of innovation for diabetes patients, resulting in the creation of a closed-loop system that delivers changing amounts of insulin based on the patient’s level of glucose. The need to avoid frequent visits to specialists for adapting medication doses and frequent visits to the pharmacy are expected to bring new closed-loop systems for conditions not previously considered such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart failure.
Hospital staff, as well as patients, can benefit from growing MedTech innovation. One such group that plays an important role in healthcare delivery that may be better off staying at home are specialist surgeons. After years of training and reaching a unique level of expertise with the capability of saving lives of patients with complex conditions, exposure to COVID-19 could render surgeons incapacitated by COVID-19 or flu exposure in the hospital.
Robotics May Change How Surgery is Performed
Robotics, already used in surgery, could, therefore, become an even more important tool for performing remote procedures, minimizing the need for the expert to be physically present to perform the operation. Furthermore, remote surgeries enabled by robotics would also eliminate the need for patients to travel to distant facilities while in critical condition for the right surgeon. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to accelerate the adoption of remote procedures as well as enable patients to self-administer at home, potentially driving down the numbers that are admitted to hospitals each year.
This will happen as medical robots become easier to sterilize or as hospitals adopt fully disposable sterile elements. Ultimately, surgical robotics will allow complex procedures requiring a high degree of technical skill to be pursued in out-of-hospital settings by a remote specialist, opening further avenues for exploration in the future.
One company to keep an eye on is EndoWays, a portfolio company of the MEDX Xelerator. EndoWays has developed the first disposable robotic system to navigate through tortuous blood vessels. This could potentially allow neuroradiologists to catheterize a patient remotely and remove a blood clot from the brain while the patient and physician are many miles away from each other. The patient might be in an ambulance or at home being treated by a nurse or a less experienced physician in the field while the specialist is at home on his laptop.
Israel at the Forefront of Medical Innovation
These innovations and other medical devices, technologies and treatments are constantly evolving, however, the coronavirus has shone a spotlight on new unmet clinical needs requiring urgent attention. As I see on a daily basis through interactions with up and coming medical devices, robotics and MedTech entrepreneurs, Israel will continue to lead in advancing new creative solutions to the challenges highlighted during this challenging time. Ultimately, whichever new advancements are created to address these needs will have to be fully trialed and tested before being rolled out to patients internationally to ensure their safety and efficacy.
Though it’s easy to focus on the negative impact coronavirus has had on our world there is a silver lining, as out of this global public health crisis the medical field is being motivated to reach new heights.
Shai Policker currently serves as the CEO of MEDX Xelerator, a leading Israeli MedTech incubator formed in partnership with Boston Scientific, Intellectual Ventures, MEDX Ventures and Sheba Medical Center. Shai has over 20 years of experience in medical device development, from early stage conceptualization through clinical validation and commercialization. Shai holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from the Technion, an MBA from Columbia University.