In December 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic officially began. And within four months, the global demand for ventilators was at least 10 times higher than what was available. From 2019 to 2027, the market for ventilators is expected to almost quadruple to $1,843.1 million, driven by the pandemic and the rising incidence of respiratory illnesses.
In Asia, countries including India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Malaysia faced ventilator shortages. Combined with a shortage of healthcare workers, the situation for respiratory healthcare is dire. Between now and 2030, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts a shortage of 15 million healthcare workers globally. During the same time, the WHO also sees a need to increase nurses and midwives by 1.9 million in Southeast Asia. While Asia has thus far managed to recover from rising cases with structured responses, a new surge threatens to overturn the delicate situation.
The crucial role of telehealth
In light of this, remote management of healthcare has become more important than ever, especially for rural areas with limited healthcare infrastructure and vaccination uptake issues. With telehealth, trained healthcare workers can monitor and make real-time adjustments from anywhere, reducing bedside visits, costs of equipment and exposure to infection. For example, tele-ventilators in respiratory care slashes the need for travel, expands the reach of providers and offers an alternative solution for those who require immediate support.
To recover, improve and strengthen respiratory healthcare, we cannot work in silos. As the region grapples with one of the most defining health crisis of all time, a collective effort by all stakeholders of the healthcare industry has never been more critical.
Against this backdrop, there is a need to support and accelerate respiratory care globally, for the current pandemic and other respiratory needs, as well as remain resilient for future crises. How then can we further drive innovation in respiratory care to address the burgeoning need for support amidst an already strained industry? A collective approach is needed to tackle this crisis effectively and quickly – one that encapsulates adapting R&D capabilities, fostering strategic collaborations and empowering from within.
Adapt R&D capabilities
Globally, telehealth and telemedicine saw a meteoric rise in uptake, especially in developed countries. Particularly for COVID-19 therapies, timelines for research, production and approvals have all been accelerated. Research has found that companies which invest in innovation during a crisis perform better than their peers during the recovery period.
However, developing an entirely new technology for new and unique needs that emerge from the crisis may not be possible, considering the urgency and amount of resources needed. Given the current situation, adapting existing R&D capabilities and leveraging available resources is one way to speed up this process. To illustrate, in response to the need for ventilators, we adapted our biWaze™ Airway Clearance system platform to create a hospital-grade ventilator that provides tele-ventilation to enable trained healthcare professionals the ability to monitor and programme a large number of ventilators from anywhere in the world, with real-time response. By utilising the telehealth connection, they can reduce the number of bedside visits they perform to check the ventilator and thus reduce their exposure to infected patients.
Driving strategic collaborations
To work within extremely short timelines, garnering institutional buy-in and partnering with established institutions is pivotal to supporting financial and logistical requirements. Collaborations with established institutions can also bolster the reputation of companies seeking to create innovative solutions and expedite collaborations with other organisations.
For example, to expedite the development of our innovative ventilator, the Alpha ventilator, we partnered with Advanced MedTech and Temasek Review.
Pre-pandemic, cross-functional teams often worked in the same location to ensure that products are made to specifications. However, with a crisis, old ways of working must change. Supporting them with flexible schedules, adequate resources, and promoting an environment where employees can collaborate speeds up discussions and advances innovative ideas.
With COVID-19, remote working has become the new normal. Travel restrictions have caused teams across the globe to find new methods of collaboration. During the pandemic, cross-functional teams working to accelerate innovation for health solutions for COVID-19 must work in tandem to ensure final products are accurate in short periods of time. Under tight timelines, companies and management must introduce technology to improve cooperation and project management.
To work within extremely short timelines, garnering institutional buy-in and partnering with established institutions is pivotal to supporting financial and logistical requirements.
We initially faced issues with travel restrictions and remote working, as our R&D and manufacturing teams were across geographies. However, the teams communicated over daily conference calls and were able to work in conjunction to deliver our tele-ventilators as soon as possible.
To recover, improve and strengthen respiratory healthcare, we cannot work in silos. As the region grapples with one of the most defining health crisis of all time, a collective effort by all stakeholders of the healthcare industry has never been more critical. Besides driving R&D capabilities, we also need to realise the power of strategic collaborations and internal empowerment. This is key to uncovering the most innovative solutions to one of the world’s biggest challenges.
Vinay is an entrepreneur with two decades of experience in the medical device industry. In addition to managing early-stage startup companies, he has held senior roles with GE Healthcare and Hill-Rom, where his responsibilities were focused on respiratory health products in the disciplines of product development and marketing. At GE Healthcare, he worked on diagnostic imaging and life support systems like ICU ventilation. At Hill-Rom, he worked on their airway clearance product portfolio.