Medical devices with cutting-edge technology are getting smarter in their ability to monitor our health condition and make our lives easier.
Take, for example, a prosthetic leg that can change its heel height — required when walking up or down an incline — when the wearer pushes a button on a smartphone that triggers the adjustment. Such changes in the past would require a trip to the prosthetist’s office so the adjustments could be made with a wrench.
The prosthesis, developed by Orthocare Innovations LLC in Oklahoma City, is one of many medical devices that help people deal with health conditions in ways that used to require the aid of medical professionals, reports Sarah E. Needleman of The Wall Street Journal. Now, the trend is a do-it-yourself mentality that may have started with home pregnancy tests that reduced the need for professional medical support. The trend is accelerating because consumers are accustomed to using the Internet to gather information, says Jason Hwang, a physician in Mountain View, CA, and co-author of The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care.
“Booking our own travel, doing our own taxes — these are things that are options for convenience,” he says. “We want to make these tools available for consumers who demand them and the same thing apples in health care.”
Another example of advanced medical devices is a T-shirt with wireless sensors that measure respiration in sleep-apnea patients. The device, designed by Rest Devices Inc. in Boston, has sensors embedded in fabric to measure the user’s breathing and a small data logger with a USB port to record the output from the sensors. Users wear the shirt at home instead of at a hospital or sleep lab where patients with sleep apnea usually go to be evaluated for treatment options.
Additionally, a handheld device, designed by Scanadu Inc., in Moffett Field, CA, interacts with smartphones to identify health conditions, such as the flu and strep throat. Parents could use it to determine whether their child’s symptoms warrant a trip to the doctor’s office.
A shirt from Alignmed Inc. provides high-tech posture correction to help patients with chronic back, shoulder, and joint pain avoid orthopedic surgery. The form-fitting shirts are embedded with elastic bands that were designed using a combination of biomechanical technology, neurological research, and advanced body-imaging systems.
Finally, in another example of how technology from the 1960s TV series “Star Trek“ is coming true today, Qualcomm Inc., a San Diego-based chip maker, has developed a workable “tricorder,” a handheld diagnostic device. It uses artificial intelligence, wireless sensing, imaging diagnostics, lab-on-a-chip, and molecular biology. The designers hope that it will eventually diagnose a dozen medical ailments, such as heart disease and diabetes.
These devices could help patients who have a tendency to ignore or delay care because of the costs and hassles that come with having to make frequent or overnight visits to health professionals. However, on a cautionary note, it also raises concern that the products could give patients a false confidence about their ability to manage their own health.
“That’s a danger when you hand somebody a medical device that looks professional and therefore they think they’re just fine using that a substitute,” Dr. Hwang says. Still, the devices can give patients with chronic conditions more control over their health, he says, and that is a move in the right direction. “This is a critical trend to disrupting health care that provides greater convenience and access for patients who otherwise wouldn’t get care or would delay treatment,” he says.
Source: “New Medical Devices Get Smart,” The Wall Street Journal, 8/14/12
Image by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Tyler J. Wilson, U.S. Navy.
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.