The recent, rapid advancement of the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI) has revolutionized various industries. It is unsurprising then, that at this year’s South by Southwest Conference (SXSW), there are more AI related panels than any other subject — by far.

This year, the SXSW Health & MedTech track features panel discussions, workshops, and presentations where experts from various fields, including healthcare, technology, and law, will discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with implementing new healthcare technologies, often with a specific focus on AI.

Despite the ­­­excitement surrounding AI — which has the potential to not only improve outcomes, but also accelerate innovation — there are strong headwinds of regulatory hurdles and slow adoption of new technology by the healthcare industry that may delay the widespread adoption of AI driven technology for many years. Time will tell whether the healthcare industry will be willing to reconsider how it implements new technologies into health care practice.

In the ever-evolving landscape of medical technology and healthcare in general, improving the interaction and collaboration of frontline healthcare workers and the medical device industry is crucial for advancing patient care. Despite the continuous introduction of groundbreaking medical devices, a prolonged gap between innovation and widespread adoption persists.

Mind the Gap:

Medical device companies and healthcare workers often refer to a “17-year practice gap” between the creation of new evidence-based practices or technologies becoming “standard” in healthcare settings. Multiple factors contribute to this delay, including regulatory hurdles, resistance to change, and the extensive process of translating innovations from research to routine clinical use.

This prolonged practice gap has significant implications for patient care. Despite the availability of innovative medical devices, their delayed adoption means that patients may miss out on potential benefits, leading to suboptimal outcomes and increased healthcare costs.

From an intellectual property (IP) perspective, the prolonged practice gap significantly impacts the potential value of patent protection for new technologies. By the time a new technology is widely adopted, patent protection on the technology may have already expired or nearly expired. As such, any reduction in the practice gap would increase the potential value of IP related to the underlying technology.

Innovation on the Frontline:

Frontline healthcare workers, particularly nurses, bring a unique and underappreciated perspective to medical device development. Their daily experiences on the front lines of patient care provide invaluable insights into the practical challenges and needs of clinical settings.

However, Frontline healthcare workers often encounter challenges when integrating new technologies into their workflows. Resistance to change, time constraints (particularly around training and providing feedback), and concerns about disrupting established routines contribute to the slow adoption of innovative medical devices. In addition, Frontline healthcare workers often do not believe they have a voice within their health systems when it comes to which new medical technologies are worthy of development or adoption.

Shortening the Gap using AI:

AI technologies—particularly machine learning algorithms—have the potential to significantly expedite the analysis of large datasets. By quickly identifying patterns and predicting outcomes, AI can streamline the research and development phase of medical devices, reducing the time needed for evidence accumulation.

AI-powered decision support systems can provide frontline healthcare workers with real-time information and recommendations, which may improve/streamline the implementation of innovative medical devices into clinical workflows. This has the potential to address some of the challenges faced by healthcare professionals during the adoption process.

Finally, the medical device industry is exploring the ability of AI to analyze patient data on an individual level, which will hopefully allow for the development of personalized medical devices and treatment plans. This not only enhances patient outcomes but may also contribute to a more rapid adoption of innovative technologies tailored to specific patient needs.

What’s Next?

Closing the practice gap between innovation and adoption in healthcare requires a multifaceted approach that embraces the unique insights of frontline healthcare workers and leverages the transformative potential of AI.

By fostering collaboration between frontline workers and medical device companies, improving regulatory processes, the healthcare industry can work towards a future where innovative solutions reach patients in a timelier manner, ultimately improving overall patient care and outcomes.

I look forward to hearing what the panelists have to say at SXSW this year, meeting MedTech innovators, and exploring all that SXSW has to offer. See you there!