What to watch: Technologies with high potential to transform health care

By Barbara Greenwood Dufour

Wondering what new and emerging health technologies are about to impact Canada’s health care system? CADTH does too.

CADTH has released its 2022 Health Technology Trends to Watch: Top 10 List. This list describes the 10 technologies Canada’s health care system decision-makers should prepare for over the next 2 years. CADTH is an independent, not-for-profit organization responsible for providing health care decision-makers with objective evidence to help make informed decisions about the optimal use of drugs, medical devices, tests, and procedures.

To develop its “watch list,” CADTH convened a working group of health care and technology innovation experts. Then, CADTH’s Horizon Scanning service gathered information about new and emerging technologies by surveying health care stakeholders and conducting a literature search. From this information, CADTH and the working group developed a list of 16 technologies to be ranked. CADTH then held a workshop, attended by a diverse group of stakeholders, who ranked the technologies to arrive at a top 10.

This article describes the top 5 technologies featured in the watch list.

Remote Care Technologies

Until recently, many of us probably wouldn’t have considered accessing health care remotely rather than in person. But, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have had to do so. The convenience remote care offers may be driving a new interest in remote care technologies. These technologies are ranked #1 in the list.

Emerging technologies to support remote care include internet-connected medical devices for a patient to use during a virtual medical appointment. These devices (e.g., thermometer, stethoscope) are designed for use at home to collect and transmit data in real time to the clinician.

Remote care technologies have the potential to allow health care resources to be allocated more strategically and expand the reach of services to those who face barriers accessing care.

Point-of-Care Testing

In the #2 spot, point-of-care testing is another technology many of us have used during the pandemic, thanks to the substantial uptake of COVID-19 point-of-care tests. Some point-of-care tests can be performed at home without specialized training. This flexibility makes them more convenient to use than laboratory tests.

Point-of-care tests that are emerging for use in Canada include tests for HIV, type 2 diabetes, and mild traumatic brain injuries. Availability of these tests could ease demand on central laboratories, provide timely guidance for treatment decisions, and support public health efforts in disease control and surveillance.

Molecular and Genomic Testing

Molecular and genomic testing — at #3 — refers to medical tests for detecting an individuals’ unique genetic makeup. This information can used to personalize treatment to each patient, potentially leading to better clinical outcomes.

Molecular and genomic testing can also be used to diagnose disease earlier than is possible with conventional methods. Emerging examples include tests for genetic mutations that increase one’s risk of developing certain cancers, whole genome sequencing to diagnose rare diseases, and whole genome sequencing of children with complex medical conditions to determine if there’s a genetic cause.

Mobile Health Apps

Mobile health apps, including wearable devices, are #4 in the watch list. These apps are intended to help diagnose, treat, or prevent health conditions or diseases.

Some mobile health apps are designed for autonomous use. These apps could make health care available to people who avoid traditional care for reasons of stigma. There are several mobile apps for managing specific mental health conditions, for example.

Other mobile health apps send health status updates to both the user and their health care provider in real time. These updates could be used to inform treatment and might improve the timeliness of medical interventions.

Companion Diagnostic Tests

Companion diagnostic testing, like molecular and genomic testing, supports personalized medicine. This technology is #5 in the watch list. These tests identify an individual’s unique genetic mutations, or biomarkers, to determine their likelihood that they will benefit from, or have a serious adverse reaction to, a particular treatment.

Companion diagnostic tests are increasingly being used to optimize cancer treatments. A similar test for optimizing psychiatric disorder treatment based on an individual’s genetic makeup has also recently been developed.

Preparing for Potential Disruption

The technologies on the watch list are considered “disruptive” because, if implemented, health care consumers and providers, and the health care system, will need to access or provide care differently. This is why it’s important to anticipate and prepare for the potential widespread adoption of these technologies.

With any new or emerging technology, there’s only limited evidence so far on how effective they are or how they compare with existing treatments. But CADTH’s watch list provides a heads-up to Canadian health care decision-makers about the technologies they’ll need to think about soon.

On March 17, CADTH hosted a webinar during which leading experts discussed the challenges associated with new and emerging technologies and how decision-makers can prepare for them. A recording of the webinar — “10 Trends Shaping the Future of Health Care in Canada” — has been posted on our YouTube page (youtube.com/CADTHACMTS).

To see the complete list of health technology trends to watch and find out about the potential challenges of implementing them, visit techtrends.cadth.ca. To learn more about our Horizon Scanning program, visit cadth.ca/horizon-scanning, or to suggest a new or emerging health technology for CADTH to review, email us at HorizonScanning@cadth.ca. If you’d like to learn more about CADTH, visit cadth.ca, follow us on Twitter @CADTH_ACMTS, or speak to a Liaison Officer in your region: cadth.ca/Liaison-Officers.