Healthtech is, quite simply, the application of technology to healthcare. The field is broad and encompasses everything from the development of new diagnostic and treatment technologies to the use of existing ones in new ways. While the field of healthtech is evolving rapidly, there are a few key terms and phrases that you should be familiar with if you plan on working in or with the field in the near future.
Health technology is a broad term that covers a variety of healthcare products and devices. Some of these products are incredibly niche and only used in specific situations, while others are used throughout the entire healthcare industry. Below, you’ll discover an overview of some of the more common terms used in the industry. Consider this glossary to be an essential resource for anyone working in or around the healthcare industry.
Innovation, as with most broad terms, has a whole host of meanings and a familiar one that you may be familiar with:
- The introduction of new and improved products or treatment methods.
- The use of technology to create new products, processes, and treatment methods.
- The development of new health technologies often involves research and testing to prove their efficacy before they are widely adopted.
- The use of technology for a specific purpose.
While this definition may sound like a good thing, it is essential that healthcare innovation is patient-centered and meets existing needs. Adopting innovation that is simply market-orientated or feels like a gimmick and is not specifically designed to meet patient needs will do little to make you a unique healthcare professional.
Just like any other industry, healthtech is also subject to the law of territorial competition, which means that companies that operate in multiple countries will fight for market share and attract the most clients to their networks. In this case, the networks are known as ecosystems and are made up of all the companies that intersect in some way with the health and life sciences. This includes providers of medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and insurance.
An important part of the ecosystem relationship is that many healthtech companies are global in scope, with headquarters located in one of the world’s most globalized cities: Singapore, Tokyo, or London. This means that they often work with foreign companies that are located in less developed countries, which can create challenges when it comes to regulation and compliance. It is also important to note that the ecosystem is always changing, as dominant companies can become insular and shut off from the rest of the industry, leading to a domino effect of companies closing down and unemployment in the healthcare sector. Finally, just like any other healthcare industry, healthtech is also highly regulated by government agencies, including the FDA, EMA, and MHRA in the United States and the MHRA, HTA, AND HCD in the United Kingdom. This means that just like any other industry, healthtech is not a risk-free venture, and risks should always be managed and mitigated.
Healthtech Delivery Model
It’s of prime importance to understand the different methods by which healthtech is being delivered to the consumer. There are a few key terms to describe this:
- Direct-to-consumer (DTC)
- Direct-to-patient (DTP)
- Direct-to-caregiver (DTC)
- Direct-to-merchant (DTM)
- Pricing model: Cost-plus VS freemium
The first two terms describe the traditional model of purchasing health products or services directly from manufacturers, which is often called the bricks-and-mortar model. In this case, the consumer will enter a medical practice or a hospital and, based on their diagnosis, will be presented with a list of prescribed medications or treatment methods. They will then make a selection and pay for the service at the end of the visit.
The direct-to-patient (DTP) model is often referred to as show and tell because in this case, the healthcare provider will show the patient products and instructions for use, and tell them to come back if they have any questions. Based on the patient’s diagnosis, they will be presented with a list of therapies and drugs that may be beneficial in their case. This is often done in a face-to-face encounter, although video conferencing is becoming more commonly used to accommodate workflow variations worldwide. The patient will then select the products and payment method and continue their care progression on their own throughout the course of treatment. Upon completion of the program, the patient will be discharged with a summary of their experience and progress.
The direct-to-consumer (DTC) model is, by definition, a model where the consumer is in the direct purchase of health products or services. In a nutshell, this means that the individual is learning about a condition and its treatment options without reference to a medical professional. Some of the well-known DTC modalities include:
PEMF therapy is a modality of treatment for many different types of medical conditions. It stands for “Permanent Electric Field” therapy and is based on exposing patients too weak electrical fields. The therapy was first developed in the 1950s and has since been shown in studies to have certain health benefits for certain conditions. The therapy can be delivered in various ways, including by implantable devices, patches, and external PEMF devices. The external version is similar to a defibrillator and is often used to treat cardiac arrest or serious cardiac arrhythmias. The external version is generally safe for use and requires only brief preparation by the patient before use. However, excessive exposure can cause severe side effects. PEMF therapy is also sometimes referred to as “electromagnetic therapy” or “microwave therapy” because of its pulsed nature. In some cases, it may be more effective to test for specific genotypes and develop individualized treatment plans for patients based on their genetic makeup.
The FDA is the Food and Drug Administration, an agency of the United States government responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation of the manufacture, distribution, and sale of food, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. While the term may sound relatively straightforward, the FDA actually has an extremely broad scope of responsibilities. Among other things, the agency is responsible for the approval of new drugs and the oversight of all clinical trials involving these drugs. The vast majority of drugs and other medical devices sold in the United States will pass through the FDA’s purview. In addition, the FDA has the authority to enforce all federal food and drug laws as they pertain to health claims and advertising. If you or your company is developing a new food, drug, or cosmetic product, you’ll need to file an application with the FDA and include information about how the product will be manufactured, stored, and labeled. Furthermore, all medical devices sold in the United States must be classified as class I or class II medical devices according to the FDA’s guidelines. Devices that are deemed class III (such as electronic cigarettes) are generally not approved by the FDA and must be manufactured to high safety standards or be labeled as being of “high risk”.
An ICD is an abbreviation for “implantable cardioverter defibrillator”, a cardiac implantable device that automatically detects and treats certain types of potentially dangerous heart rhythms. The first implantable cardioverter defibrillator was approved for sale in 1998 and has since become a commonly used tool for heart doctors. ICDs vary in size and shape but are usually slightly rounded in order to fit comfortably within the chest cavity. If a patient has survived a heart attack or other serious cardiac incident, they may need an ICD to protect against further episodes. As with most medical devices, an ICD requires regular and frequent maintenance in order to provide adequate function. In some cases, patients will need to undergo surgery in order to have an ICD surgically placed and attached to their hearts.
NMR imaging is an abbreviation for “nuclear magnetic resonance imaging”, a form of medical imaging that uses nuclear physics to create images of the internal structures of the body. The technique was first developed in the 1970s and has since become a widespread diagnostic tool. NMR imaging is useful for detecting a variety of different health abnormalities, from tumorous growths to blockages in coronary arteries and other vessels. As with other types of medical imaging, NMR imaging is also helpful in the planning of medical procedures, such as surgeries and biopsies.
An MRI is an abbreviation for “magnetic resonance imaging”, a medical imaging technique that utilizes high-energy magnets and radio waves to produce images of the internal structures of the body. The technique was first developed in the 1970s and has since become a standard diagnostic tool. Like other types of medical imaging, an MRI can be used to identify a variety of different health abnormalities, from tumorous growths to blockages in coronary arteries and other vessels. An MRI is also useful in the planning of medical procedures, such as surgeries and biopsies.
An MRA is an abbreviation for “magnetic resonance angiography”, a type of medical imaging that detects differences in blood flow through the body and can be used to diagnose a variety of vascular diseases, such as peripheral artery disease and coronary artery disease. An MRA uses a combination of high-energy magnets, radio waves, and a contrast agent, such as gadolinium, to create images of the blood vessels. Like other types of medical imaging, an MRA is useful in the planning of medical procedures, such as surgeries and biopsies.
A PET scan is an abbreviation for “positron emission tomography”, a technique used to create three-dimensional images of the internal structures of the body. The technique was first developed in the 1970s and has since become a commonplace tool in both medical and scientific research. In medicine, a PET scan is often used to identify tumors and other abnormal tissue. The primary difference between a PET scan and other types of medical imaging is that while other types of imaging merely identify structural abnormalities, a PET scan provides additional information about the functioning of the patient’s brain and other organs. For this reason, PET scans are often used in conjunction with other types of imaging, such as MRI and x-rays. A PET scan is also sometimes referred to as a PEPT or a chemo scan because it can be used to diagnose and stage various types of cancer, as well as examine the responsiveness of tumors to specific treatments. (PEPT is an abbreviation for “positron emission photo-therapy”, a treatment for cancer that combines PET imaging with photodynamic therapy.)
SPECT is an abbreviation for “single photon emission computed tomography”, a type of medical imaging that uses a gamma radiation source and a computer to produce images of the internal structures of the body. The technique was first developed in the 1970s and has since become a standard diagnostic tool. Like other types of medical imaging, SPECT is useful for detecting a variety of different health abnormalities, from tumorous growths to blockages in coronary arteries and other vessels. SPECT is also sometimes used in the planning of medical procedures, such as surgeries and biopsies.
In pharmacology, an SPCA is an abbreviation for “specific patient care assistant”, a handheld medical device that connects to a cellular network and allows pharmacists to communicate with doctors while performing drug prescriptions. The SPCA is essentially a computerized reminder system for pharmacists and has been shown to increase the accuracy of drug prescriptions and the overall effectiveness of drug therapy. Studies have also shown that SPCAs can improve the efficiency of workflows throughout the entire drug distribution process, from prescription to dispensing. The software behind the SPCA is proprietary to Aledon Medical, and the devices are made by MioTel Computing.
A UV is an abbreviation for “ultraviolet”, a form of electromagnetic radiation that is shorter than visible light but longer than X-rays. Like X-rays, UV can be used to detect structural abnormalities, such as tumors, but it is also useful in the treatment of medical conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. In dermatology, UV therapy is the use of UV radiation to treat medical conditions and cosmetic defects. UV therapy improves the appearance and feel of the skin by enhancing collagen production, killing off dead skin cells, and preventing future mutations that may lead to cancer.