With the rise of COVID-19, consumers have become not only more health conscious, but conscious of where they can obtain medical treatment from.
To avoid potential infection hotspots, the public has increasingly sought “healthcare from a distance” – in 2020, 90 per cent of doctor consultations in the UK were carried out remotely, compared with only 31 per cent during 2019.
Doctors and patients overwhelmingly agree that remote consultations played a vital role in reducing infections.
However, the increase in decentralised healthcare has not been without issues.
In 2019, potential cancer symptoms were reported following 21 per cent of face-to-face doctor consultations in the UK the in over 50s, compared to only 13 per cent following remote consultations – an indication that important patient information is being missed.
This suggests that the current technologies being used by healthcare providers are not as effective as face-to-face treatments.
If the increase in remote healthcare is to continue to grow and provide the same efficacy as face-to-face treatments, it is clear that the technology available to healthcare providers must catch up to current demand.
A Solution – Telemedicine
One solution to the problems faced in remote healthcare is the field of telemedicine.
It involves the use of technology to allow healthcare providers to diagnose and care for patients at a distance, and provide patients with better access to a range of healthcare treatments.
Telemedicine has many benefits over traditional, face-to-face healthcare.
In particular, it can help to limit the spread of disease, reduce waiting times, save on transport costs, and increase the efficiency at which healthcare providers can treat patients.
As might be expected, the field of telemedicine includes a vast array of different technologies.
How these technologies are classified within the field of telemedicine is not definitive, but some of the key areas of research include:
- Interactive Medicine – Telemedicine technology which allows patients and physicians to communicate in real-time.
- Store and Forward – Telemedicine technology which involves the exchange of pre-recorded data between two or more individuals at different times.
- Remote patient monitoring – Telemedicine technology which allows remote caregivers to monitor patients that reside at home by using mobile medical devices to collect data, typically done in real time (e.g. a patient’s blood sugar levels).
Patent Filing Statistics
Patent filings and publications can be useful to gauge the amount of research going on in a given area. Generally, an increase in investment and research will lead to an increase in patent filings.
Figure 1 shows the number of patent publications between 2010 to 2021 in Europe which have used the IPC code G16H (Healthcare informatics, i.e. information and communication technology [ICT] specially adapted for the handling or processing of medical or healthcare data) to classify their invention.
Figure 1: Patent publications in Europe between 2010 and 2021 which used IPC code G16H to classify their invention.
As can be seen in Figure 1, telemedicine technologies have seen an enormous amount of growth in recent years.
In 2010, there were 194 European patent publications using this IPC code; in 2021 there were 3015, an increase of over 1400%.
From looking at this graph it also becomes clear that this increase in telemedicine technologies was not simply a response to COVID-19.
The increase in patent filings using IPC code G16H appears to have started around 2018.
It therefore seems likely that whilst COVID-19 has helped to increase research and development relating to telemedicine, other factors such as the availability of improved videoconferencing technologies, the opportunities to reduce healthcare costs and the overall development of a digital healthcare ecosystem, may have been even more important.
This is great news for companies innovating in telemedicine inventions, as it suggests a fundamental shift in how healthcare will be delivered in the future.
But who are the companies filing patent applications in these areas?
Figure 2: The top 10 companies with the most patent publications in Europe using IPC code G16H between 2010 and 2021.
As seen in figure 2, KONINKLIJKE PHILIPS NV was the clear leader in terms of European patent publication using IPC code G16H during this time period, followed by SIEMENS HEALTHCARE GMBH and HOFFMANN LA ROCHE.
Case Study – Siemens
Siemens (with global revenues of over €62 billion, and employing over 300,000 people worldwide) produces a number of telemedicine products, for use in the home and in hospitals.
They develop a large number of telemedicine and telehealth products that improve healthcare providers ability to care for patients.
Some of their most recent telemedicine developments include the “eHealth Virtual Visit”, an application which allows healthcare providers privately video chat with patients and quickly access patient demographic data, which reduces patient no-shows by allowing patients to seek care at times suitable for them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has helped to reshape the way healthcare providers and consumers think about healthcare.
Importantly, however, the benefits provided by telemedicine technologies are not limited to pandemic situations, but can provide permanent benefits to the healthcare sector.
Telemedicine technologies can help to reduce wait times for appointments, reduce healthcare costs for patients and providers, enable greater convenience and reduce travel times.
With the global telemedicine market valued at over USD 70 billion, and expected to grow by 19.5 per cent annually until 2030, there has never been a better time to invest in telemedicine products.
Reddie & Grose has a wide breadth of experience in drafting and prosecuting patent applications relating to telemedicine, medical devices, and digital healthcare related inventions.
If you have products in this space and are looking to obtain patent protection, or would like to discuss this or any of the content of this blog, please reach out to us.
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