Virtual Health: Implications and Opportunities for Medtech Companies | Deloitte US has been saved
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by Bill Murray, specialist executive, and Pedro Arboleda, managing director, Deloitte Consulting LLP
There is little doubt that virtual health is here to stay. Its use has increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, placing it firmly on the path toward widespread adoption. But how is the increased adoption of virtual health likely to impact the medtech industry in a post-pandemic world?
Industry uptake of telehealth, telemedicine, and other forms of virtual health has been rising quickly since the pandemic began.1 In the early part of 2020, however, significant barriers to large-scale adoption remained, partly due to state and federal regulations, general reluctance among health plans and government payers, and preferences among many consumers for in-person care.
Seemingly overnight, the rapid global spread of the novel coronavirus dramatically changed health care delivery norms and consumer preferences. More than 80% of respondents to a recent survey said they would be “very” or “moderately concerned” about visiting a doctor’s office or hospital if they needed urgent medical treatment.2 Virtual health quickly emerged as a go-to delivery model for clinicians and consumers, offering a safe and cost-effective way to manage continuity of care.
Today, virtual health is helping hospitals and health systems screen, triage, and care for COVID-19 patients. It is also being used to augment and/or replace traditional in-person physician office visits and is providing clinicians with a network through which they can share information and collaborate. Nearly 50% of US surgeons and diagnostic specialists say they are now using telehealth to treat patients, versus 18% prior to the pandemic,3 and virtual interactions are on track to exceed one billion by year’s end.4 The US government has signaled its support of virtual health by temporarily reducing certain regulations and reimbursement restrictions. Demand from clinicians and consumers could cause some of these restrictions to be removed permanently.5
What does virtual health mean for medtech?
Many industry stakeholders expect virtual health to become a permanent part of health care delivery because it enables more effective use of resources and minimizes exposure to diseases for both patients and caregivers. Medtech companies should position themselves for this shift and embrace virtual care to help them respond and prepare to recover and thrive in a post-pandemic world. Potential near-term implications and opportunities include:
1. Changes in demand: Some medtech companies have seen a drop in demand for products used in elective procedures, including joint replacements and other implantable devices.6 However, there has been overwhelming demand for devices that can help hospitals keep up with a surge of COVID-19 patients. While tremendous energy and resources are being devoted to the crisis, medtech companies should prepare for a resurgence of non-emergency procedures as face-to-face visits resume.
2. New care delivery norms: Over the past decade, many hospitals and health systems have steadily moved certain inpatient tests and procedures to outpatient settings, including the home. Home-based care’s growth is being accelerated, in part, by the increased use of smart phones, watches, wearables, and other remote-monitoring devices, some of which offer diagnostic functions. How care is delivered is becoming just as important as the care itself. Many leading medtech organizations are developing products and technologies that allow more care to take place in the home and in other lower-acuity environments.7 Moreover, as physicians rely more on remote health monitoring to make medical decisions, the accuracy, performance, and value of data generated by devices used in virtual care will likely become more important. Manufacturers should anticipate that their devices will likely have to meet new health and regulatory standards.
3. Evolving consumer expectations: Convenience, quality, and cost-effectiveness are becoming priorities for consumers. After experiencing some of the benefits of virtual care, they might be reluctant to go back to the so-called “old normal” of doing most things in person. Medtech companies can join other technology innovators in developing virtual health applications that allow patients to interact with their providers—describe symptoms, be diagnosed, receive treatment—without leaving home.
4. Changing product-development protocols: Clinical trials are critical in assessing the safety and efficacy of new products and devices. Safety concerns related to COVID-19 have made it difficult to recruit patients for clinical trials. It has also delayed follow-up visits,8 leading to protocol deviations. Virtual technology could help medtech companies mitigate some of these issues by enabling remote follow-up for routine checks. Digital clinical tools—combined with interoperable data, real-world evidence (RWE), and data analytics—could make it easier to monitor the performance of a product through its entire lifecycle.
Although virtual health’s long-term outlook is generally positive, medtech companies could experience some challenges. For example, technology access could be cost-prohibitive for some demographics—including individuals who have lost their job and health coverage due to the COVID-19 crisis—without government assistance. Some people are more comfortable with digital technology than others. Users might have reservations about data-sharing, connected devices, and remote monitoring. Moreover, the government’s willingness to permanently reduce certain reimbursement restrictions could impact physician adoption.
Medtech companies should take advantage of virtual health’s ability to help secure their place in the future. Organizations best positioned will likely be those that can integrate data from various devices into one platform and link to other systems (e.g., competitors’ devices, hospital patient records), and those that can partner with consumer technology companies that capture and leverage customer information or have a retail health care presence.
1. How telemedicine is revolutionizing health care,” Healthcare Business & Technology, September 27, 2016
2. Strokes and heart attacks don’t take a vacation.’ So why have emergency department visits sharply declined?, The Boston Globe, April 23, 2020,
4. Telehealth visits are booming as doctors and patients embrace distancing amid the coronavirus crisis, CNBC, April 4, 2020
5. COVID-19 could alter and even accelerate health-tech investment strategies,” Health Forward Blog, Deloitte, April 10, 2020
6. Canceled surgeries, COVID-19 patients could be 'double whammy' for hospitals, Modern Healthcare, March 16, 2020
8. COVID-19 is prompting Medtech to adapt to a rapidly changing world, Health Forward Blog, April 3, 2020
Pedro Arboleda is a managing director in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Strategy practice. With 18 years of experience in the Life Sciences industry, Pedro has focused his career on developing commercial and business development strategies for small-cap, mid-cap and multi-billion dollar medical technology companies. He has applied his knowledge of and passion for the convergence of health, predictive data analytics, cognitive technologies, behavioral science, and innovative solutions to transform business models and tackle challenging societal health issues for Deloitte’s medical technology clients.