Why a 10x increase in prescribed medical devices by 2025 will happen and how we need to prepare

Richard Gold
Nov 19, 2019 · 4 min read

By 2025, over 50% of people in high income countries aged 55+ will own a connected health device prescribed by their doctor (2019 = 5%).

So predicts the GSMA, the international trade body for mobile operators, in its annual trends report published this week.

A ten-fold increase in five years.

50% of over 55s will have agreed to wear a device that monitors their health in one way or another.

Does that seem likely to you? Will the older generation really have agreed to be monitored; have had fears about privacy and security assuaged? Will it be affordable? Can a fragmented and pressured public system really figure out how to integrate this kind of thing at scale without enormous confusion. After all, as we get older, we may not suffer a single condition, but multiple co-morbidities. How many devices/apps will an ageing citizen need to manage?

The GSMA doesn’t give a source for its figures — and frankly it’s in their interests to promote this view as they try to push new 5G networks which are capable of enabling a whole range of devices and associated services.

However, if the right decisions are made in the coming years, we believe the prediction to be a likely and desirable outcome (maybe even an underestimate) with enormous benefits for the healthcare system (triple bottom line) as well as for people (more control, fewer nasty surprises).

The key phrase in the previous paragraph is: “if the right decisions are made”.

Because the right decisions need to be taken by an enormous diversity of actors in the system — by regulators, commissioners, device manufacturers, IT leaders inside and outside the system and medical education institutions to ensure healthcare professionals know how to prescribe and how to use the date that will come flooding in. Policy makers will need to grapple with the big ethical issues and understand the enormous economic and public health benefits of getting it right. And patients will need to understand why this is a good idea and what is happening to their data — and why what happens to it is a good thing.

The difficulty is that, in such a complex ecosystem of disparate actors, all working within the context of today’s healthcare system and capabilities, it is all but impossible to co-ordinate the various actors to move forward with the kind of synchronisation that would enable the right decisions to be made.

In these circumstances, what is needed is a shared vision for where things are going — of what is becoming possible; a framework which provides a common language for debate around what that should look like — what do we want and not want and how do we understand the trades-off (if they exist) between the benefits of system built for the 21st century and what we might need to do differently to get them.

The vision described in Beyond the Fog provides that framework.

Indeed, if you look at the Future Healthcare stories we have created, you can start to see why 50% could be a conservative figure, especially if a way can be found to co-ordinate across the UK’s health system. John (pre-diabetic), Peter (COPD) and Vera (aged — wants to stay in her home) all wear a version of the “NHS Dot” sensor for different reasons; but when you look at it from the point of view of a future world, they’d be pretty silly not to.

The things that will get in the way of this happening will not be to do with the technology, but with the way it is introduced. Without a shared vision by which policy makers can set direction, decide funding and answer ethical questions; by which the healthcare system can make the most of the data available; by which medical educational institutions can support healthcare professionals to gather the right skills; and by which the public can understand how to be more in control of their health — we risk years of unnecessary confusion.

Business is moving ahead at pace. Devices and data on them will be available to those who can afford it. If looked at within the Beyond the Fog framework, they also become a vital part of a sustainable health system available to all.

It’s time for longer term thinking in healthcare.

Download the summary report here and get in touch of you’d like to find out more about what we’re doing.

Health Beyond The Fog

A radically better future for everyone’s health and care

Richard Gold

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Health Beyond The Fog

A radically better future for everyone’s health and care

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