What's trending right now in healthcare technology? Keep an eye out for these exciting developments in the medical device world.
Innovators are using the newest advances to offer doctors, patients, and healthcare providers more medical technology for diagnosis, consultation, and treatment.
1. The Trend Toward Wearables
Experts expect wearables to continue to take off in 2023 and beyond.
More and more healthcare providers are utilizing home health devices such as:
- Fitness bands
- Heart rate monitors
Many of these wearables are made for specific kinds of diagnosis. For example, some pulse oximeters can diagnose sleep apnea when worn at night.
Heart rate monitors can also replace outdated and bulky equipment that doctors used to order for diagnosing things like atrial fibrillation or arrhythmia.
2. AI in Medicine
It's hard to overstate the potential of AI in the healthcare industry.
One place that AI is taking off is in diagnosis — for example, in diagnostic imagery, computers outperform radiologists and specialists in identifying abnormalities in X-rays, MRIs, and other kinds of imaging.
However, as the trend toward AI continues, there is another popular approach called HITL, or “human in the loop.” That means that many AI technologies are assistive rather than replacement technologies. They will help human doctors to diagnose rather than take over the job of diagnosis itself.
AI is also helpful in a wide range of consultation services, improving workflows and handling healthcare records.
3. 3D Printing
In other medical device innovations, 3D printing is revolutionizing how we approach making the physical devices and parts we use for clinical treatment.
Here are some of the use cases for 3D printing in medicine today:
Various kinds of prosthetics use 3D printing as a manufacturing practice. Designers can build with precision and implement with confidence.
In orthodontics, some types of treatment rely on careful modeling of a person's mouth and dental arrangement. 3D printing has a lot of potential here, too.
3D printing can also help in the world of implants, where people might need some type of physical apparatus in a knee, hip, or other joint.
3D printing can even help design surgical tools for doctors, increasing precision and quality outcomes in surgical interventions.
4. VR and AR
Another big medical device trend is the implementation of virtual reality and augmented reality in medical technologies.
Designers are incorporating VR and AR into tools for treating PTSD, tools for surgical instruction, and much more.
Some experts discuss using holograms and other modeling solutions to help clinicians improve processes. In surgical and clinical interventions, these tools can guide the doctor, while in behavioral health, they can help with things like diagnosis. Some examples are VR/AR tools for identifying phobias or for positive mental conditioning.
This is particularly beneficial given the intricate nature of human anatomy, as VR and AR technologies offer comprehensive visual guidance for users.
Another trend that goes along with VR and AR development is “immersive technologies.” This term refers to technologies that place the human user in a fuller virtual context through advances in headsets, modeling, and more.
5. The Internet of Things (IoT)
Here's another big trend in medical device manufacturing today — it has to do with next-generation networking for devices with a wireless connection.
Some call this the “Internet of Things” phenomenon, where more and more of what we use gets digitally connected to the Internet for better data transfers. Others refer to machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, especially in industrial or medical uses.
Machine-to-machine, again, references digital communication between devices, using wireless technology and skipping the traditional cables and wires that previously had to snake everywhere to hook hardware up in a network.
Generally speaking, these network devices can bring data to where it is needed to provide the best value.
One important note is that these systems can be tied to a patient self-service portal. This way, people can access their health information better in real-time or after procedures or tests.
Analysts also expect cybersecurity to play a critical role in the ongoing design of medical devices in 2023 and beyond. Multifactor authentication (MFA) is becoming a common standard for limiting the reach of hackers and bad actors. Biometrics is also expected to play into medical device design.
In general, the trend is toward more robust cybersecurity for medical devices. Manufacturers must adhere to regulations from agencies like the FDA, calling for tighter controls concerning the misuse of these devices.
That can involve creating a “thinner attack surface” and making medical devices less vulnerable to outside access.
7. Robotics in Medicine
Many of the benefits of robotics in medicine are apparent. Robotics can improve surgical outcomes and make other medical processes more efficient and effective.
A recent Harvard Magazine piece talks about the use of robotics for processes like artery cleaning, or for the navigation of small complex systems like the bronchi, in the context of medical device development.
Look to the evolving design of endoscopic tools or intravenous technology for less invasive surgery.
Miniaturization will drive those health outcomes that are cutting down on the need for general anesthesia, major recovery, and many sizeable surgical intervention costs. But along with the potential for decreasing costs, the life-saving power of miniaturization appeals to those looking to incorporate the latest technology to help patients.
That can mean anything from a better initial cancer diagnosis and treatment to interventional heart or vascular work with less invasive methods.
9. Software as a Medical Device
Under the general category of “software as a service” or SaaS, where software is delivered via the cloud, the medical world has conceived software as a medical device (SaMD).
The FDA has weighed in on a common framework and principles for SaMD to expedite how these non-hardware solutions will replace specific medical devices.
This is, in a way, like other kinds of virtualization. Instead of traditional hardware approaches, engineers are designing the hardware as software for more versatility and better logistics.
For instance, a diagnostic application utilizing artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze medical imaging data can be considered SaMD. This software can process and interpret MRI or CT scans, assisting medical professionals in identifying potential health issues without needing a traditional hardware-based imaging device.
By incorporating SaMD, healthcare providers can benefit from increased flexibility, streamlined logistics, and the potential for more accurate and efficient diagnoses.
SaMD can also be appealing to procurement departments. There’s often less work involved in delivery and setup since these tools can be ported through existing equipment. Providers can often “do more with less” when getting new equipment.
10. Genomic Medicine
Then there's that whole range of medical device improvements based on genomic medicine, or the study of DNA for human health outcomes.
As extensive data systems are getting better at crunching human genomic data, all of that is feeding into the ongoing design of medical devices for more powerful intervention.
Some of this is aimed at the cancer treatment component of healthcare — other genomic medicine work tackles other chronic diseases like:
- Heart disease
- Vascular problems
There is a wide variety of applications of genomic medicine to healthcare, which are expected to keep playing a role this year and in the future. Initial genomic research continues to uncover new healthcare possibilities and medical device applications.
11. Medical Devices and Home Use
Some of the above medical device trends will promote a more significant trend toward home use, where things that used to happen in a hospital or inpatient environment or a doctor’s office can occur at home.
If people use wearable medical devices and IoT devices for self-monitoring in real time, they effectively take on that burden of clinical diagnosis that would have had to happen in a controlled medical environment.
Those are some of the big things happening today in the medical device world. Look for these technologies to expand and improve in the future. It’s an exciting time for healthcare, and medical devices are part of the drive to evolve care and systems.