A look at technical advancements in the medical devices industry
17 October 2018
We spoke to Peter Tacken, Supply Chain Manager at Bausch & Lomb, about the biggest technical advancements in Supply Chain development, how they currently are, and could possibly influence the medical devices industry in the future. These technological changes are also known as the fourth industrial revolution. We asked Peter about his thoughts and opinions on these changes, as well as their pros and cons.
Over the past few years, Peter has seen several technologies develop. Also, because of his interest in these technologies, he followed a Blockchain study at Oxford University and began to inform himself on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Peter: ‘’Blockchain, AI, big data analysis and Internet of Things (IoT) are amongst the many developments that are related to the upcoming digitalisation in Supply Chain. Back in the days, all you had was ERP data, which is just the internal data. But now, with internet all around us, the amount of data available is endless.’’
Application of these technologies is already visible to customers in certain areas. In the possibility to track and trace your shipment, for example, or the ability to measure your blood sugar levels at all times with your mobile phone. Out of all the changes, Peter thinks that AI, IoT and Blockchain will make the biggest difference in the future.
‘’A big advantage of artificial intelligence is that we can simulate cognitive functions. In combination with healthcare data, you might be able to predict if and when a certain disease could occur, instead of treating someone when he or she already has the disease. For example, you can measure someone’s blood sugar level, and predict whether it will get worse or not.’’
However, there are some downsides to AI in the medical devices sector. The data you need to predict the future is private, and especially with the recently updated GDPR this could cause difficulties. Moreover, just like a diagnosis from an actual doctor, a computer could make a mistake, which begs the question: when do you intervene as a medical professional?
A third problem could be the availability of the data for insurance companies. Will an insurance company cover you for an affordable price if they found out that you have a high chance of getting cancer when you are 40? How should we deal with this in the future?
‘’Blockchain in the Supply Chain business is especially going to be beneficial for smart contracts, track and trace, and international payments. For the medical devices industry, it will mainly be advantageous for the registration of medical devices.
The blockchain technology is a technology based on a distributed ledger system. Information will be shared in a distributed network, which will lead to more transparency. The people involved decide together which kind of information will enter the blockchain, and once it is entered, it is definite. This is the part where the example of the registration of medical devices can be applied, as you can store all the necessary information about a device safely and easily.
There are two major aspects which could slow down the rise of blockchain in the medical devices industry. First of all: trust. The information that the industry is dealing with can be personal and private. Blockchain is a relatively new development, so people are unfamiliar with the technology behind it. This could lead to a lack of trust. As long as the people do not trust the technology, blockchain will not play a big part in the medical devices industry.
The second aspect is the technical knowledge. Blockchain is a relatively new technology so just a few use cases are out there to proof it. Before it matures more, the industry can be reluctant to implement it.
‘’Data is everything these days. Back in the days, almost all available data for companies was internal. Nowadays, data is everywhere, especially external. All this data combined can be extremely beneficial in the decision-making process, with flight paths and shipping routes when making decisions in the supply chain, for example.
However, there are risks on working with big data. One of them is that the amount of data can be too much to process. It is important to stay specific and keep data usage applicable. Also, it can be difficult to effectively implement the results of data analysis.”
Internet of Things
As almost everything in the world is becoming incorporated with the internet, it is very likely that this will also happen with medical devices. An advantage of this could be that an implanted medical device could send you a message when certain levels in your body are changing for the worse, such as your glucose levels. It could also automatically re-order medication if necessary. In addition, information can be shared between developers to optimise the devices and applications.
‘’There are definitely some downsides to being connected to the internet. When a device has an online connection, it is sensitive to bugs or possibly even hackers.”
It can be said that the current and expected developments are promising and have a high potential when being used in the right way. However, there are some drawbacks that need to be considered before the technical developments of the fourth industrial revolution will play the expected crucial part in the medical devices industry.
Thank you Peter Tacken for sharing you knowledge and ideas on the biggest technical developments!
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