Editor’s Corner—The top trends for medtech in 2018

Automated insulin management and wider use of robotics in surgery are now realistic near- to midterm propositions. 

As we move into 2018, it is becoming increasingly clear the rapid pace of technological advance is a double-edged sword for the medtech sector. In 2017, we saw the ripple-out effects of the boom in sensors, miniaturized electronics and other smartphone-enabling technologies result in devices that could fundamentally change healthcare. But we also saw how cybersecurity weaknesses could cause activity at hospitals to screech to a halt. 

The impact of WannaCry and a steady drip of reports about the vulnerability of connected devices was enough to temper techno-optimism to an extent. And those enthusiasm-dampening effects could grow further still as an ever-greater proportion of medical devices incorporate connectivity features. 

Yet, it is hard to view the overall trend of technological advancement as anything other than a big net positive. A glance at the aspirations of the Fierce 15 winners of 2017 is enough to dispel doom and gloom. The startups are deploying a range of technologies and scientific approaches—such as genomics, bioelectronics and artificial intelligence—that were clearly undercooked as recently as a few years ago. And they are doing so with a noble goal: democratizing healthcare.     

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Some of the companies will fall short of their potential. But the combination of novel technology, experienced teams and sizable sums of money mean some may get close to realizing their industry-shifting goals. Given the scale of their ambitions, the success of just one company could touch the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

In looking ahead to 2018, we have picked out two of the many ways medtech companies are working to change healthcare—diabetes devices and robotic surgery—and the cybercrime fly in the ointment for analysis.   

Diabetes devices and robotic surgery are indicative of the trends discussed above. Both are fairly longstanding but somewhat stagnant fields that are now poised to evolve quickly as technological advances made in other industries redefine the boundaries of what is possible. Automated insulin management and wider use of robotics in surgery are now realistic near- to midterm propositions. 

Companies and healthcare systems will face challenges in realizing these opportunities, including the aforementioned cybersecurity threat. But on that front there is cause for optimism going into 2018, too, with the scale and impact of the WannaCry attack bumping the topic up the list of priorities. The problem won’t go away but it may be dealt with seriously and proactively.

Tellingly, the list of technologies jostling with diabetes devices and robotic surgery to be covered in our look ahead features is far longer than the list of threats we could have discussed instead of cybercrime. There is an embarrassment of exciting technologies in development.

This time next year we could be looking forward to 2019 as the year when liquid biopsies, bioelectronics or any one of a host of other technologies start to prove their mettle. 

Here are some highlights for the year ahead:

1. Diabetes device development is ramping up but reimbursement looms large
2. 2018 could see a robotic surgery shakeup
3. WannaCry? Why 2018 may mark the start of a more proactive approach to cybersecurity