When industry experts discuss the most promising innovation in the context of MedTech, they often refer to trends such as telemedicine, or wearable health-tracking—which we report on regularly in The Decentralization of Healthcare.
One medical discipline that only rarely comes to mind when we think of digital innovation is orthopedics. Orthopedics, which refers to the care of the musculoskeletal system—meaning the skeletal system and its interconnected muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons—is often overlooked in the context of innovation disrupting the medical sector. This is quite tragic, given the fact that orthopedic medical conditions are among the top contributors to chronic pain in adults. Take back pain as an example:
- As of 2019, around 39% of adults above the age of 18 in the United States reported experiencing back pain in the last three months.
- More than half of U.S. adults suffering from back pain have had the condition for five years or longer.
Despite the relevance of back pain and other orthopedic conditions, there has been little talk of more innovative solutions for treating these illnesses.
Fortunately, there is an armada of up-and-coming startups driving the orthopedic discipline forward. This article will present some of the most promising players, including a startup mapping at the end of the piece.
Orthopedic treatment seemed hard to digitize – until startups did it
The main reason for the marked lack of innovation potential in the orthopedics sector is quite obvious. Common conditions treated by an orthopedist—including arthritis, bone fractures, back and neck pain, and congenital conditions like clubfoot—are usually diagnosed through in-office procedures and treated through physical (meaning manual, or non-virtual) therapy such as rehabilitation and exercise programs, injections, acupuncture, mobility aids, and in some cases, surgery.
These treatments seem difficult to “virtualize” in the sense that they aren’t easily outsourced to digital means, as in the case of, for instance, mental health issues. In this space, patients have found excellent treatment in the form of virtual therapy sessions with specialists through dedicated software tools, as well as DIY treatment programs found in mobile apps targeting the condition in question.
Even though orthopedic therapy is harder to digitize than treatments in other medical disciplines, there is plenty of digital innovation taking place in the space today. The past five years in particular have brought many exciting trends to light, among them those proving how digital health can in fact deliver musculoskeletal care.
Image Credit: MedTech Pulse