The COVID-19 pandemic has had unprecedented implications for the healthcare sector—but with challenges have come changes, including the adoption of innovative new technology that is improving the standard of care and creating investment opportunities for active managers.
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The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had unprecedented implications for the healthcare sector, and it required the adoption of innovative new technology to cope with the challenges. So let’s talk about a couple of examples of that.
The first is ECG patches. Every year in the United States there are 5 million patients that go into the hospital to be tested for an abnormal heart rhythm or an arrythmia, and that test is called an electrocardiogram, or an ECG for short.
Now an ECG is typically conducted with a device called a Holter monitor. The Holter monitor is sort of like a vest. It’s heavy. It’s cumbersome. It’s not at all discrete. And patients generally refuse to wear the thing for more than 24 to 48 hours at a time.
Compounding the problems with this device—and this is probably more important in the context of COVID—is that the patient has to go into the hospital to be fitted with the device, and then they have to return to the hospital when their diagnostic course is concluded to return the device.
Now ECG patches can deal with all of the challenges that I just mentioned. They’re very small; they’re lightweight; they’re waterproof; they’re very discrete; and patients generally just forget that they’re wearing them most of the time.
We’re catching more heart rhythm disorders with ECG patches.
But secondly—and this is particularly important in the context of the pandemic—the device is shipped directly to the patient’s home. It’s easily applied by the patient, and when the patient’s done with their diagnostic course, they put the device in a box and they ship it to the patch manufacturer for analysis and evaluation.
Now consider for a moment the implications of that technological shift. Number one, we’ve reduced the burden for the patient. Number two, we’ve reduced the burden for the doctor and the healthcare system because we’re shifting patients from the hospital into the home.
And then finally and most importantly, we’re actually improving the quality of care for that patient because the patient is inclined to wear that patch for longer than they would a Holter monitor. We’re catching more heart rhythm disorders with that device.
Remote Pulse Oximetry
Another example of an important connected medical device is remote pulse oximeter. During a COVID case, especially severe COVID cases, the patient’s blood oxygen level declines precipitously, and if a doctor doesn’t identify that and intervene early, that patient is at risk of a very long recovery, lifelong complications, or worse.
The silver lining is that we are now very rapidly adopting innovative new technology that is going to improve the standard of care.
With remote pulse oximetry, we send that patient home with a connected oxygen sensor that can be monitored by the hospital. At the first sign of blood oxygen levels decreasing, that patient is notified and they’re brought back into the hospital for evaluation.
Now consider the implications of this technology shift—very similar to the implications of ECG patches. Number one, reduced burden for the patient. Number two, reduced burden for the health care system. And then finally, improved quality of care. When a hospital is utilizing its resources most efficiently, the quality of care of patients in aggregate goes up.
The net impact of the pandemic was undoubtedly negative. But if there is a silver lining, that silver lining is that we are now very rapidly adopting innovative new technology that is going to improve the standard of care in lives of everyone: doctors, nurses, patients, and their families.
Travis Cope, partner, is a research analyst with William Blair Investment Management.