Aging APAC society to be the next hub for smart healthcare

November 30, 2022 06:00
Photo: Reuters

Aging populations pose an ever-increasing challenge for policymakers and healthcare professionals in Asia Pacific, with long held concerns about what the region’s rapidly changing demographics will mean for social and economic development.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, one in four people in Asia Pacific is expected to be over the age of 60 by 2050. In Hong Kong alone, the government predicts that people aged 65 and over will constitute 30 percent of the local population by 2036.

Large elderly populations put pressure on public healthcare systems. It is foreseeable that the demand for treatments to common diseases among this group will surge in the coming years. For example, we are already observing a significant increase in the need for solutions to osteoarthritis - one of the most frequent causes of physical disability among older adults. In mainland China, the annual volume of hip arthroplasty (THA) and knee arthroplasty (TKA) from 2011 to 2019 increased 2.4-fold and 5.9-fold, respectively. This growing need, coupled with a fluid COVID-19 administration challenge, has put a considerable strain on elective care over the past years.

The health of seniors can also have an impact on local communities – especially in North and East Asia where family members are often expected to stay at home to look after their elderly relatives.

These challenges require an effective response. Fortunately, one of the silver linings over the past decade has been the major advances in medtech alongside a greater willingness among patients and surgeons alike to embrace technology in medical care.

In the field of orthopaedics, rising demand and the impact of the pandemic means that surgeons are more eager than ever before to know what new technologies can do for their patients.

Robotics, big data and AI will offer an unprecedented amount of new information to physicians and care teams to improve the overall patient experience and deliver enhanced medical care. By using surgical robots, for example, surgeons can gain data during the procedure to ensure optimized implant fit, predict patient/implant performance, the personalized anatomy of the patient, and the biomechanics that will provide the best post-surgical outcome.

Big data and AI will offer new benefits to patients as well. In some countries, patients need to travel for several hours to meet with their physician to discuss prehabilitation or posthabilitation procedures and progress. In the future, wearables and implantables will offer new data connections between patients and their physicians and this will present new insights at a much quicker pace. Further, medtech innovation will offer connectivity and upgradability at paces never previously witnessed due to the big data available.

The adoption of tech goes beyond intra-operative usage, and is progressing at a rapid pace. In 2021, at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, surgeons inserted the very first smart implant – a smart knee that can measure metrics such as range of motion, step down, walking speed, the quality of a patient’s walk post-surgery.

With these data, surgeons can understand range of motion after the surgery, level of physical therapy, potential risk of readmission and complications. Years from now, surgeons may be able to monitor whether the implant is moving with quantitative data points, and may start to really see what is the best time and the best implant for a given patient. Furthermore, with the help of patient information that has already been gathered, predictive analysis is likely to emerge in the coming years, which will further optimize patient care.

Patients are also going to drive the usage of technology in orthopaedics. What we are facing is a more digital and health savvy population. In fact, senior citizens in Asia are already reportedly more willing to embrace digital technology than their Western counterparts. The platforms that elderly patients use to interact with health-related information in the future could be very different from today.

Through our engagement with patients, healthcare specialists and online communities, it is clear that patients in Asia Pacific are becoming more active consumers of digital healthcare information. They seek out information and are learning about the experience of other patients through their social circles. This is especially true in the digital-first society of mainland China, which is leading the world in smart digital platforms that bring together medical expertise and trusted advice in easy-to-use apps.

Patients in Asia Pacific are ready to reap benefits of technology in orthopaedic care, thanks to better education and access to enhanced healthcare resources. We are at the beginning of a healthcare transformation that is rapidly evolving. In the long-term, by leveraging these new technologies, we may overcome some of the challenges we have today in length of stay, patient outcomes, and impacts on family caregiver needs.

In recent years, Zimmer Biomet uses a co-developed application to collect post-operative data of patients who have undergone total or partial knee replacements.The data can be transmitted to physicians to analyze a patient’s performance after surgery. Our findings released in November 2020 showed that patients who used the remote care app required significantly fewer physical therapy visits, fewer emergency department visits, and lower rates of hospital readmission.

Traditional implants may be able to fix a range of physical ailments and conditions and relieve the pain that sufferers feel. However, it is only part of the solution in the entire continuum of care that is now augmented with tech and data. This new momentum of medtech innovation offers opportunities to ease mental pain or anxiety at levels never before seen. As digital healthcare scales up, leveraging deeper insight into a patients’ experience pre-, intra- and post operations further offers possibilities to improve patient outcome and lower the cost of care.

Aging populations are a real challenge for society but the accelerated adoption of medtech can offer a pathway to a future of better health and new opportunities. It is not only about improving the quality of life of patients, allowing them to regain vitality and re-engage with society, but also alleviating the time and cost burden for their families. With a close-knit family culture, this is all the more true in Asia: helping one person helps one family unit.

-- Contact us at [email protected]

APAC Regional Strategic Marketing Director at Zimmer Biomet

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