The medical devices industry is brimming with new trends, from 4D printing technology to virtual reality.
We’ve gathered just a few examples that will certainly stir things up even more.
No, it’s not a typo – we didn’t mean to say 3D printing (that comes next!). The healthcare industry will be one of the first sectors to benefit from 4D printing. It’s the next stage up from 3D printing, in which special materials are used to print objects that change shape post-production when triggered by water, heat, wind, or other forms of energy.
For example, let’s assume that a patient needs a prosthetic. 4D printing makes the process easier because the materials with which the prosthetic is printed can reshape themselves on their own and adapt to the patient’s body and movement much more easily than regular prosthetics. 4D printing is also due to bring benefits to artificial organs, smart sensors and even nanotechnology. It’s a world where objects can manipulate themselves to physically fit certain needs.
Not something new, but still an impressive feat. 3D printing is expanding and when it’s used in the medical devices industry, there are remarkable possibilities with the potential to prolong and even save lives.
It’s possible to reproduce organs through 3D printing, as well as some of the tools used in surgery and even to create prosthetics. These printed objects can be used for the research and development of prototypes. However, the medical devices industry isn’t the only one reaping the benefits of 3D printing – orthodontics and dentistry have started using it as well!
Machine Learning (ML)
Yet another familiar technology that’s growing fast. This tech comes with several benefits and uses in the healthcare industry, such as:
- Imaging analytics and pathology. Machine learning can add to the skills of human radiologists by identifying more quickly subtler changes in imaging scans, increasing the chance of earlier and more accurate diagnosis.
- Natural language processing and free-text data. PDF images of lab reports, voice recordings of consumer interactions, and free-text EHR inputs all pose significant challenges for traditional analytics tools, but machine learning offers a new way to extract usable and meaningful information from these data sources.
- Cybersecurity and ransomware. Machine learning could help reduce the rising threat of ransomware, a piece of malware that prevents organisations from accessing certain files or infrastructure components. The ability to patrol security perimeters with more sensitivity and responsiveness than humans could be a major victory for the medical devices industry.
Natural Language Processing (NLP)
We’ve mentioned natural language processing before, or NLP for short, but there’s no over-emphasising just how important it is in the healthcare industry overall.
These systems can digest massive amounts of data, such as those in medical reports and notes, and extract useful information from these sources. On top of that, they can also interpret instructions to carry out tasks in due time if necessary.
Cybersecurity walks hand-in-hand with critical industries. There’s a new breed of cyberthreat – and that’s why enhanced cybersecurity is a priority in the medical devices sector for 2020.
There’s a constant exchange of medical information between multiple stakeholders, like manufacturers, healthcare providers and suppliers, so robust measures are needed to ensure that there are no security breaches whenever data is exchanged through medical devices. Moreover, a lack of proper cybersecurity can open the door for hackers to interact with devices like pacemakers and change their setup, which could possibly lead to a critical health situation for the patient.
Additionally, the emerging trend of ransomware attacks on medical devices has created serious vulnerabilities in the industry. These threats centre on the wide adoption of easily compromised operating systems used by medical devices, heightening their vulnerability with potentially life-threatening consequences, such as delivering a lethal dose of a drug. A few ways to combat this are to include application, white-listing, anti-virus and malware protection, and advanced data protection alongside medical devices security management. Curious to know more about our work on cybersecurity? Check out what we have to offer.
Internet of Medical Things
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is a variety of apps and medical devices used to connect IT systems in the healthcare industry. It’s a way for computers and medical devices to communicate with one another in various ways, including:
- In-hospitals and clinics. IoMT is used for patient monitoring, but this isn’t the only application where you can find it. MRIs, X-ray machines, CT scanners and other equipment can be remotely monitored for performance issues. IoMT in this context can also be used in remote diagnosis, predictive maintenance and performance upgrades for imaging products.
- In-home. IoMT extends healthcare beyond hospital walls in what is called remote patient monitoring (RTM), which enables patients with chronic diseases to avoid frequent visits to the doctor. Heart patients and diabetics can benefit from this technology. Portable RTM devices can monitor patients’ heart activity and glucose levels, and automatically alert the doctor when there’s a problem. Additionally, there are also virtual home assistants for elderly patients; these devices interact with the patient, reminding them to take medications and can be accessed remotely by family members and physicians.
- On-the-body. Advances in biosensor technology make wearable smart devices that monitor the user’s health possible. Be them embedded in apparel, attached to the skin or implanted, on-the-body IoMT sensors give patients freedom while ensuring close-watch on their health conditions.
IoMT also brings faster access to patient data. This means that operational efficiency is greatly improved. Furthermore, faster data access means faster data analysis, quicker diagnosis, and more efficient treatment. The sooner patients receive the treatment they need, the sooner they can go home.
It’s no longer surprising to hear that a hospital’s top-performing surgeon isn’t human. With unmatched precision and the ability to work without fatigue, medical robots are one of the most useful applications of robotics in the healthcare industry. These robots are used in several medical scenarios, such as difficult surgical procedures, and they have completely revolutionised the speed and efficiency of healthcare services across the world. The first medical robot and was Puma, first used in 1985. The robot placed a needle for a brain biopsy using CT guidance.
Here are two of the most well-known medical robots currently operating:
- Da Vinci Surgical Robot. Commonly used for prostatectomies, cardiac valve repair and gynaecologic procedures, this robot is controlled remotely by a surgeon from a console and is designed to perform highly complex surgery using a minimally invasive approach.
- ViRob Miniature Medical Robot. Developed in Israel, this medical robot was developed to crawl through the human body, locate tumours, and treat them with drugs. It’s only 1mm wide and 4mm long, using tiny arms controlled by an electromagnetic field to propel its way through different cavities in the human body.
Software as a Medical Device
According to the FDA, software as a medical device (SaMD for short) is a class of software that is designed to carry out one or more medical actions. This includes software or mobile apps intended to treat, diagnose, cure, mitigate, or prevent disease.
SaMD’s defining feature is that it performs these medical actions without the need for actual hardware. It’s usually used alongside non-medical computing platforms, which may be connected to virtual networks, traditional medical devices or other general-use hardware.
Here are some examples of SaMD:
- An app that calculates appropriate insulin dosage based on a person’s blood glucose levels.
- Software that draws data from other digital devices to determine risk factors associates with epileptic seizures.
- Software that uses the microphone of a smart device to detect interrupted breathing during sleep and sounds a tone to rouse the sleeper.
Virtual reality (VR) in healthcare often involves software that’s beneficial in many ways. For example, VR software can improve the training of surgeons and medical students by allowing them to “perform surgery” without the risk of harming someone. VR medical devices also benefit patients suffering from depression, autism, vision problems and many other conditions.
Medical VR can address issues of brain discordance and prevent a person’s brain from feeling pain during a procedure. There’s no question, then, that this tech has revolutionised healthcare and is clearly a trend that will continue to evolve.
2020 is unquestionably a year of major change in the medical devices industry and we’re looking forward to seeing what’s in store over the coming decade! In the meantime, have a look at our offer in the medical devices industry!
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