Products on well-understood commercialization tracks often take an incremental approach rather than trying to create paradigm-shifting technologies. In this blog, I’ll take a look at medical devices that are on a commercialization track to heal the patient of tomorrow in a way that is substantially better than previous offerings.
They are generally broken into three broad categories based on their advantages over existing medical devices: either healing the patient at home, fixing issues with existing devices, or creating non-invasive diagnostic tools.
Connected Home Use Devices
Connected home-use devices allow a patient to undergo most of their recovery or treatment at home. This increases opportunities for rest and connects unedited patient data directly to the physician rather than getting a version of the story from the patient. In most cases, patients receive more physician attention than they would from visiting clinics periodically. The medical practitioner has information access on an instant feedback loop even when the patient is at home. Home-use therapy that connects directly to healthcare providers is a fantastic example of modern therapeutics and has been explored a number of times in digital health resources.
Patients using these devices can take part in their own care, where appropriate. Usage and improvement data, along with target achievements, motivate many patients to stick with their doctor-recommended plan. The detailed data can also be ported over to different facilities for additional medical support.
A number of medical devices utilize a home-use approach. Examples include tinnitus therapy, home dialysis, and corrective knee surgery recovery tracking. Collectively, these conditions affect millions of people each year. Home use devices improve efficacy, safety, and comfort for patients who may be adversely affected (or simply inconvenienced) by traveling to a clinical site.
Improving Current Standards of Care
Care is often based on the most accurate and successful procedures available in the current era. As time goes on, better technology and understanding of underlying conditions lead to new devices that may be better solutions than current standards. For example, the most common surgery in the world is cataract surgery, during which the eye’s natural lens gets replaced with an artificial lens. Standard artificial lenses can’t change focus, meaning post-operative patients will require reading glasses for the rest of their lives. New accommodating artificial lenses allow patients to be able to change their focus normally again, leading to improved lives after their surgery.
Medical devices that attempt to improve the standard of care are often presented with the same advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that the metric for success is clear (better than the current standard), the workflow and economics are well understood from the beginning of its development (in the case of the accommodating IOL, the reimbursement, logistics of care, and actual surgical procedure itself would be very similar), and there is typically a well understood potential market. Disadvantages may include a reluctance on the part of the users to shift from the current standard due to fear of change or lack of significant advantages.
A good example of these pros and cons is the intraosseous infusion system. There is a comparatively large amount of literature for normal IVs, and the profusion rate can be compared directly to show efficacy. There are thousands of EMTs who have experience in administering IVs, and the typical workflow, logistics, and usage statistics are well known. Though the new device has significant advantages over the traditional method of establishing a field IV where the conditions make access difficult, it is more traumatic to patients who are in more stable field conditions, so the intended application is to create a tool to utilize in difficult patient or environmental conditions.
Atrial fibrillation ablation requires a number of steps: electrical mapping, ablation of the correct tissue, and then checking the electrical mapping afterward. By combining some or all of these sensors, ablation can be done with a single device, which also allows the surgeon to see the changes in electrical features as the procedure is occurring. This reduces the amount of time taken for a procedure and improves the likelihood that it is effective and will not need to be repeated.
Early, Non-Invasive Diagnostics
The first step to an effective treatment is an accurate diagnosis. Often, diagnoses are ordered in a particular sequence, with preference given to cheaper, safer (less invasive) methods first. For certain conditions, early diagnosis makes all the difference, and for other conditions, the best methods are always the most expensive and dangerous, and so are performed months after initial consultation.
In the world of cancer treatment, early (and accurate) diagnosis is best. Most people don’t have access to expensive diagnostic equipment necessary to diagnosis many types of cancer, but skin cancer is easier to spot. Dermoscopy is the measurement of possible melanoma that may present themselves visually on the skin. By using a smartphone with a medical device attachment, the process can be semi-automated, and the user can collect data to share with their physician. This enables a more accurate diagnosis as fast as possible.
In the case of gut flora, things are a little more complicated. Bacteria in the large and small intestines play a critical role in digestion and health and are extremely difficult to assess without invasive procedures. Smart capsules, which are less invasive, can be swallowed to get straight to the source. The reduction in cost and danger by moving from an endoscopic procedure to a capsule is tremendous. Patients can expect to have access to these devices earlier on in the diagnostic sequence rather than waiting for an endoscopy as a last resort.
Healing the Patient of Tomorrow
The examples given in this article are not trying to completely fix (or prevent) certain conditions but to make big strides within the space. Each has either entered the market in the last few years or will be available in the next few years. Developing incrementally better diagnostic, treatment, and recovery outcomes will provide noticeable outcomes quickly, and go a long way toward healing the patient of tomorrow.