Countries around the world are facing issues of aging population, particularly of the rising of healthcare and social care costs. In order to solve these related issues, aging countries are actively promoting the development of digital technology, preventive medicine, precision medicine and other technologies, in the hope of improving the efficiency of medical treatment and prolonging healthy life by accelerating the development of advanced medical technology and the application of smart technology. The goal is to achieve healthy aging by maintaining a healthy life.
Most diseases are treatable or controllable in their early stages. The key to prolonging healthy life is to detect changes in health status early, and actively intervene or implement precise treatment. In the past, the approach of precision medicine was to select the most suitable treatment based on individual genetic expression. With the advancement of science and technology and the emergence of the concept of precision health, the development of technologies that can accurately predict, diagnose, treat and care for diseases based on personal genetics or gene expression, environment and lifestyle has become the focus of advanced countries' scientific research and health policies to cope with aging population in recent years.
For example, in 2018, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the "All of Us Research Program", which collects ten-years of electronic medical records, health and lifestyle data, and biological samples of one million volunteers in order to further understand the changes in their health and to develop precision preventive medical strategies and new diagnostics and treatment methods for population of different genetic compositions, living environments and backgrounds. “Precision Health” is one of Taiwan’s Program for Promoting Six Core Strategic Industries launched in 2021. The industries included those that promote health by providing personalized prevention, medical treatment and care solutions, and the three major technology for achieving precision health are digital health, precision medicine, and regenerative and immune medicine.
These key technologies include those can quantify the health risks by using affordable or convenient diagnostic kits allowing for higher testing frequency and detecting the risks of disease earlier, thus pro-health lifestyle is promoted by using health data continuously generated in the individual’s daily life. The resulting emerging biomarkers and smart medical solutions improve the effectiveness of early diagnosis of diseases. At the treatment stage, companion diagnostics or customized therapeutics or medical devices, and medical technologies such as targeted therapy, regenerative medicine, and minimally invasive surgery are being developed for more precise therapeutic targets and therefore fewer side effects. In the care stage, personalized and automated digital technology can be used for managing chronic diseases, or convenient and personalized rehabilitation or empowerment devices can be utilized to accurately compensate for lost or degenerating bodily functions.
Through digital health, many important technologies have been provided in these three states: health, disease treatment, and post-hospital care; the Covid-19 pandemic has further stressed the importance of smart medical applications. On the hospital side, smart medical products that integrate a variety of medical information for clinical decision support can provide a variety of solutions for hospitals to automate and assist decision-making during times of stress such as the pandemic. In the emergency room, AI applications that can support X-ray image analysis and interpretation in real time and determine whether infected patients need urgent treatment or isolation accelerates patient triage. In intensive care units, AI that is capable of classifying risks based on real-time patient monitoring data and automatically notifying healthcare professionals can significantly reduce the loading on nursing staff and provide solutions for remote care.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the medical needs of non-infected or non-severely ill patients both drove the growth of telemedicine. Vendors provided more diverse services and more data has been being used to support clinical decisions. The business has expanded from virtual consultation and remote patient monitoring to psychological treatment, home rehabilitation and treatment, and other applications derived from home hospitalization.
According to the market research firm Frost & Sullivan, the global digital healthcare market was valued at US$178.3 billion in 2021, and the CAGR from 2021 to 2026 is estimated to be 15.2%, much higher than the 7.2% growth rate of the medical technology industry. In order to help the medical industry to seize the digital health application market, the Department of Industrial Technology (DoIT), of Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs has been supporting the development of the smart medical information platform "Smart Medical Assistant Solution” through a sponsored project. This platform is expected to accelerate the connection of medical data and enable hospitals to provide more personalized medical services.
In addition, with the development of next-generation sequencing (NGS), bioinformatics, machine learning big data exploration and biological sample processing technology, the detection sensitivity has been significantly improved through the key technology of precision medicine, or companion diagnostics (CDx), and new detection targets have been discovered. In the past, testing required invasive pathological sampling, but now it is possible to use liquid biopsy testing to assist medication decisions. In this way, patients with limited biopsy can still have choices of targeted therapy by blood testing of CDx, and monitoring of drug resistance during treatment and postoperative follow-up can also be conducted with blood draw.
In recent years, various blood screening technologies that can detect cancer in its early stages have been developed one after another, providing a more comprehensive solution to cancer disease management. The DoIT has also supported the sponsored project to develop “cancer precision diagnosis and dynamic monitoring technology”, which uses liquid biopsy for precision treatment and monitoring of cancer patients. Such development is expected to drive Taiwan's industry value chain of precision medicine by taking advantage of the global trend of precision health, and create a new direction for Taiwan’s medical technology industry.