The MedTech Conference Takeaways: Part 1

AI, the Biggest Health Development Since Antibiotics?

by Scott Whitaker, President and CEO, AdvaMed

The MedTech Conference has grown into the industry’s premier annual event worldwide. Every year, attendees come away with unmatched insights, connections, and enthusiasm for their work in this incredible industry. At this year’s event held in October in California, keynote speakers covered everything on the minds of our industry’s most forward-thinking players: the digital transformation of health care, AI, top trends, global policy developments, workforce diversity opportunities, and lessons for aspiring leaders. Here are some highlights I took away from this year’s tremendous event … 

AI is a game-changer.  

Ginni Rometty, former chairman, president, and CEO at IBM, cited the Stanford University medical school dean’s description of AI as potentially the “most positive transformation in health since the introduction of antibiotics.” 

That’s a pretty remarkable statement, considering it’s been nearly a century since penicillin was discovered. 

Rometty said the considerations of implementing the technology are complex. Ensuring data governance controls and ensuring patient privacy are big undertakings. 

One reason is, the stakes are really high. With most technologies, consumers have a relatively high tolerance for error. We’re used to restarting our laptops when they malfunction. When it comes to medical technologies, though, the tolerance for error is zero, Rometty said. As a result, AI presents a trust issue, not a tech issue. Doctors must trust the technology to work every time to serve patients and critically, do no harm. 

A question to anticipate the role of digital technology is whether it’s meant to “augment” mankind or “replace” mankind, Rometty said. Her vote: augment. That thinking shapes the risks and abilities of each application. 

Geoff Martha, chairman and CEO of Medtronic, said, “I don’t see us replacing surgeons anytime soon. But I think those physicians that use AI will be replacing those that don’t.” The company’s AI-driven colonoscopy technology is a lot of work but beginning to show returns clinically and financially, he said.  

Back to Rometty … medtech innovators building solutions should consider: “Are you a feature, a product or a platform?” she asked. The categorization helps connect the solution to its real-world application. 

AI and the complex policy implications that come along with it is one of AdvaMed’s top priorities as we work with member companies, FDA, CMS, and Congress to ensure the policy environment both protects patients and keeps our companies and innovators free to innovate in order to save and improve more lives. 

Equipping the workforce for change. 

Incorporating digital technologies into medtech is an example of the changes companies may face and the need for the right tools for employees to adapt.  

“Think hard about what you’re asking people to do in a new environment, and have you given them the tools to do it?” Rometty said. If not, it would “be like telling someone to go run a marathon and giving them hiking boots. Only leadership can change that.” 

For more of these valuable insights, join The MedTech Conference 2024, October 15 to October 17, in Toronto, Canada.