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Medtronic ups ante in digital health

Medtronic wants a slice of the burgeoning digital health market and is teaming up with startups and other organisations in Asia-Pacific’s healthcare ecosystem to raise its game

Medtronic is shedding its image as a medical device company as it strives to become a major player in harnessing artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other emerging technologies in digital health.

The company recently refreshed its brand to reflect its desire to engineer next-generation healthcare technology, going beyond its stable of medical devices such as pacemakers and mechanical heart valves.

The move comes amid the burgeoning digital health landscape that has seen startups and technology giants jostling for a slice of the market in recent years.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Chris Lee, Medtronic’s Asia-Pacific president, noted the region’s role in the company’s journey in digital health, starting with the recent launch of an open innovation platform in Singapore that will facilitate partnerships with others in the healthcare ecosystem to address the region’s healthcare needs.

“Asia-Pacific is probably one of the most diverse regions and it’s home to more than half of the global population,” said Lee. “We are also home to ageing populations in countries like Japan, Singapore and South Korea.”

Lee said with many Asian countries having unmet medical needs, coupled with the rapid pace of technology development, no single company can deliver all the innovations in digital health.

“Whether it’s computing, engineering or AI and robotics, we realised that we have to work with everyone in the game, including healthcare professionals, governments, institutions and startups,” he added.

On startups, Lee said Medtronic is working with Singapore’s Economic Development Board to identify and incubate startup firms in healthcare technology, with a focus on AI and medical transformation.

These companies will also receive funding and work with Medtronic on healthcare technology solutions at a new digital innovation centre in Singapore which will be ready by the first half of 2022.

Asked whether Medtronic would acquire promising startups, especially those with products that can plug gaps in its portfolio, Lee said the company prefers to leave them alone, other than providing funding and the information they need to innovate more quickly.

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Meanwhile, Medtronic has started to apply its AI capabilities through partnerships with healthcare providers, such as a Singapore hospital that is looking to improve diagnoses of heart conditions.

Although these partnerships can advance digital health and benefit patients, Lee called for greater collaboration between countries, which often require medical technology and pharmaceutical firms to repeat clinical studies already conducted elsewhere.

Lee said the studies often led to the same results and were a waste of time and resources. He hopes that through improvements in AI and sharing of data, “we can prove that these things are unnecessary and bring the product to market faster”.

However, data sharing is easier said than done because of strict patient privacy regulations in many parts of the world. “This needs to be somehow improved so that we can share clinical data and other information between countries,” said Lee.

He noted that Medtronic has what it takes to succeed in its journey in digital health, citing the company’s investments in R&D, which is expected to grow by 10% in its next fiscal year.

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