Economic Impact of Emerging Health Technologies

October 26, 2020

What is the economic impact of emerging heath technologies in the healthcare system?



As the year 2020 comes to an end, and the start of a new decade begins, emerging developments in the technology field are predicted to make an enormous impact in healthcare. From artificial intelligence to 5G capabilities, to robotics, these new technologies will begin to shape how work is done in the healthcare industry and improve the efficiency by which physicians can provide care.


Some Emerging Health Technologies in the Healthcare system

The healthcare industry is looking for ways to treat patients virtually, predict and prevent diseases, increase hospitals efficiency, as well as to overcome security and technology skills shortage issues. Essentially, the field is moving towards reducing the cost of services. The healthcare industry can achieve this by putting the following technologies into action, which improves patient care.


  • Telemedicine

In 2020, more insurers will be covering telemedicine as it becomes widely adopted. At the same time, more doctors are going to embrace this trend.

Telemedicine epitomises technology-driven healthcare. It has been the driving force in transforming the US healthcare system. It had the transformative power that enabled thousands of people in remote areas to get medical aid they could not otherwise access. Telemedicine also frees up the waiting time for citizens. Extended waiting times are often due to the unavailability of medical professionals.

Telemedicine/Telehealth services such as video-conferencing are becoming cost-effective ways to complement local health services. It is particularly beneficial to those living in rural, regional and remote communities and requiring regular access to medical specialists who live several kilometres away. Generally, you have General practitioners, other medical practitioners, nurse practitioners, midwives, health workers and practice nurses providing face-to-face clinical services to the patient during the teleconsultation with the specialist to ensure the correct procedures are carried out. Teleconsultation is also beneficial to health care workers on location; a specialist can provide education and training virtually[1].


  • The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)

According to a recent report, the wearable medical device market is expected to reach more than USD27.0m by 2023. At the end of 2020, there will be around 20-30 IoMT devices.  The convergence of IoMT and telemedicine brought about a variety of wearable devices, and mobile apps used to track and prevent disease. IoMT spans a variety of smart devices: ECG, EKG monitors, smart beds, connected inhaler and many more.

Above all, IoMT lets doctors focus on prevention. Instead of doing a check-up once a year, patients can get health updates more frequently. As a result, healthcare providers rely on wearable tech to have access to real-time health monitoring of high-risk patients.  Providing consistent communication within the ecosystem of IoMT devices is the biggest challenge of the industry nowadays. The devices generate massive amounts of data, and its handling creates a problem for manufacturers that are reliant on proprietary protocols. Also, the slow and failed connections are yet needed to be addressed by the industry.


  • Availability of Information and big data

The accessibility of data and the means to store and process it is a symbol of the technological age. The internet, intranet systems, search features and the ability for healthcare professionals to rapidly share information have enhanced the synthesis and analysis of data.

Big data in healthcare allows the entire field to benefit from comprehensive research studies. These endeavours can access larger and more diverse population groups than ever before. They can also draw from existing studies for comprehensive meta-analyses. This innovation allows medical professionals to stay on top of health care trends, techniques and technologies. This can be used to automatically identify risk factors and recommend the right preventative treatment by comparing patient data with data from thousands of other patients.


  • Improved communications

Technological innovations in healthcare have facilitated much smoother communication within healthcare organisations. Medical professionals can now use media such as video, online discussion platforms and real-time meeting capacities to communicate and advance the spread of knowledge in the field. Electronic medical records in-house are accessible by all relevant departments and care providers. This results in improved case management, treatments and patient recovery.


  1. Digital Medical Technologies


  • 3-D Printing

3D printing is already making its presence felt in the medical device world. Ninety-five percent of all hearing aids are today 3D printed. Align Technology prints 650,000 pairs of Invisalign teeth-straightening braces a day. This tech is also pushing into prosthetics. There are also custom-made back braces for scoliosis patients and casts for broken bones (perforated with holes so people can finally scratch through their casts) and, in the latest development, 3D printed facial prosthetics (noses, ears, etc.).


  • Point-of-Care Diagnostics

In medicine, one of the major promises of technology is patient empowerment, especially when it comes to diagnostics. Suddenly, patients no longer have to go to the doctor’s office or hospital. Instead, in the comfort of your home, the Tricorder will analyse data, diagnose the problem, and send that information to a doctor who, quite possibly, can treat you remotely. In the developed world, where doctors make diagnostic errors 10 percent of the time, this will make a significant difference in quality-of-care and significantly reduce the roughly USD55bn spent annually on the malpractice system) in the developing world, this will make healthcare far more accessible[2].


2.3       Robotics

The robots are coming, the robots are coming, and the robots are, well, here. Whether they are talking the da Vinci Surgical System which has performed over 20,000 operations since its 2000 debut or newer developments like the nanobots swimming through our bloodstream and scraping plaque from our arteries, robots are already deep into the healthcare space.

This trend will only continue. Service robots are expected to enter the healthcare sector early next year, doing everything from distributing patient meds to picking up dirty laundry. Also, as many of these service bots can do the work of three humans for the cost of less than one, no doubt they will be spreading quickly as well.[3]


  • Brain-Computer Interfaces

These devices are also starting to make their way into the consumer realm. Today, companies like Muse and NeuroSky make wireless BCI headsets that can monitor changes in brainwave activity and help people train concentration. Eventually, the hope is that such wearable tech will be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, pain management and well, it is hard to say. Point of fact: Harvard University researchers recently created the first brain-to-brain interface, allowing a researcher to control both a rat’s tail and another human’s movements with his mind.


  1. Modern Machines and Healthcare

Ambulance drones are being used in the Netherlands and have inspired the delivery of automatic external defibrillators directly to people who have just suffered a heart attack. Google has recently patented a device that can call for a drone in an emergency to fly in with life-saving medical equipment on board.  A system for drones that can deliver blood and heart or other organ transplants to isolated parts of Australia is also being developed[4].

3D printing is an additive manufacturing process, in which a three-dimensional physical object is created from a digital design by printing material layer by layer. After an additive manufacturing patent expired in 2009, its use has grown exponentially. The medical and prosthetics field has largely benefited from the adoption of 3D printing with the manufacturing of assistive medical devices, braces and retainers that can be tailored specifically for the needs of their end-user.

Robots have been used to improve surgical precision for many years. The da Vinci Surgical System, 77, for example, has enabled surgeons to operate with enhanced vision, precision and control for years. The company claims to have brought minimally invasive surgery to more than 3 million patients worldwide[5].

The increased pace of digital adoption is an ally in addressing the healthcare challenges of our future. Technology tools are increasingly automating routine tasks while connected diagnostic and monitoring tools are lowering the bar for patients to access healthcare. Also, despite variable opinions, there is little doubt that an increasing number of healthcare tasks performed by trained professionals today will be replaced by technology.[6]

The last five years have seen significant funding for digital healthcare start-ups. The next 30 years promises to create millions of jobs for the application of digital technologies. Most health technologies today focus on increasing transparency and credibility of information for patients, offering online reviews of healthcare experiences and designing mobile technologies that monitor your health. Other companies offer telemedicine consultations for patients as well. While the penetration of many of these technologies remains relatively low today, the inevitability of their adoption makes this one of the most exciting domains to watch out.


  1. Primary gaps and challenges in emerging market healthcare

As health sectors across emerging markets continue to expand, significant barriers exist that can threaten sustainable growth and optimal use of limited resources. There is a number of these interconnected challenges across five domains within the context of areas of opportunity for health technology.


4.1     Capacity and access.

Gaps in health infrastructure, lack of a qualified workforce, disparities between urban and rural care, and limited point-of-care resources are the barriers to effective healthcare. Wider infrastructure challenges, such as poor road quality, limited transportation options, and unreliable energy and water supply, can amplify these challenges and inhibit access to care for vulnerable patients that need it most. Telemedicine has shown promise in scaling up access to healthcare, particularly in rural environments but requires the right functional platforms and reliable connectivity to reap its benefits.


4.2     Digital infrastructure and data.

High quality, local data is critical to providing evidence-based care, implementing sound resource allocation, and reaching optimal health outcomes. However, even when data is readily available, common platforms and effective infrastructure to process the data are required. Governments and health systems are often tempted to push toward digitization without standards or a regulatory framework in place. This can prompt drawn-out litigation and ultimately limits the effectiveness of these efforts. The promise of provider-augmented artificial intelligence, for example, is something that many emerging markets are looking to explore. Still, as one think tank participant noted, artificial intelligence will not work until you have good data, and good data will not work until you have good awareness.


  1. Opportunities in the Western Cape

Healthcare is an industry that is currently being transformed using the latest technology so that it can meet the challenges it is facing in the 21st century. Technology can help healthcare organizations meet growing demand and efficiently operate to deliver better patient care.

The Western Cape hosts one of the highest concentrations of medical device and healthcare companies, research institutes and research groups in South Africa. It develops technologies that will continue to enhance the healthcare field create a changing landscape for not only patients but healthcare workers as well. New technology generates solutions while also creating new problems.

The largest problem that stems from new technology is the training that it requires. As more and more of the healthcare field becomes automated, healthcare workers must work to acquire technological skills that were not needed in the past. Technology is always developing, and therefore, healthcare workers have to continuously learn so that they can treat patients in the most efficient, effective ways.

Artificial intelligence (AI) offers new and more effective ways to identify, diagnose, and treat patients. The use of AI could save billions in the healthcare industry and could enhance patient care by improving the precision of processes. With growing demand and increasing challenges that are treating a larger number of patients incurs, AI can alleviate some of the strains on healthcare workers. In addition to increasing productivity, AI will assist with regulating the use of algorithms in healthcare. AI can aid in the detection of certain diseases, automation of different processes and operations, help on the administrative side of hospitals, and more. These emerging technologies should significantly improve patient care.[7]

Another technological improvement to look forward to in healthcare is 5G capability. This development can help improve the care that people in rural areas get by increasing processing speed from which telemedicine is derived. Processing speed is important because it allows doctors to remotely and reliably monitor patients (Marr, 2019). The increase of 5G capabilities will allow AI to spread into many different areas, and therefore, more people be helped, and it will improve patient care around the world.[8]

Healthcare technologies trends will be interesting in the coming years. Of course, healthcare technology will continue to influence the industry, but the real healthcare trend to watch is the inevitable change in consumer and patient behaviour.

Western Cape companies, in particular, healthcare start-ups, will need to focus on developing and building consumer and patient trust. Big organizations who may not have technical capabilities can look to collaborate with (or acquire) external parties to help accelerate adoption. However, in doing so, they should seek to understand the consumer impact of the technology being implemented and proceed only if it is beneficial, not just because it is shiny and new.





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[1] Trends in Healthcare 2020: Get Ready for Digital Transformation Published By Maryna Demchenk 20 Feb 2020


[2] The Institute of Medicine. Learning Healthcare System. 2015.

[3] De la Maisonneuve, Christine and Martins, Joaquim Oliveira, The Future of Health and Long-term Care Spending, OECD Journal: Economic Studies, 2014.


[4] Feasibility study for deploying Drones in Bhutan for delivering medical supplies”, World Health Organization Bhutan, 2014,

[5] Health and Healthcare in the Fourth Industrial Revolution Global Future Council on the Future of Health and Healthcare 2016-2018

[6] How Digital Technologies Will Change the Healthcare Jobs of our Future


[7] Marr, B. (21 November 2019). The 9 biggest technology trend that will transform medicine and healthcare in 2020. Forbes. Retrieved from

[8] Park, A (15 January 2020). Top 10 AI applications for healthcare in 2020: Accenture report. Becker’s Hospital Review. Retrieved from