June 1, 2000

3 Min Read
The Way Things Work, Idle Conversation Excepted


Originally Published June 2000


The Way Things Work, Idle Conversation Excepted

At parties and other social functions, I don't look forward to the moment when conversation turns to careers. When I mention that I am editor of a magazine, people tend to act interested. "Oh, and what sort of magazine do you edit?" is the traditional follow-up question. Medical Product Manufacturing News, I reply, noting that it's a trade magazine for the medical device industry. My stock continues to rise among the crowd.

"Maybe you can give me some advice," someone often ventures during the conversation. "My father has a heart condition, and his doctor has been pushing him to try this new procedure . . . perhaps you've heard of it?" That's my cue to explain that MPMN doesn't cover medical procedures, per se, but that it serves as a sourcebook for engineers who design and build medical equipment. "We report on components, manufacturing processes, and technological advances that make possible the development of those "smart" scalpels or digital mammography equipment that you hear about on the evening news," I trumpet. Foolishly thinking that I'm on a roll, I might cite the example of a scalpel in development that will tell surgeons in real time whether or not a tumor has been completely removed. The device, I stress, would not be possible without two key components, a laser beam and a miniature pump, which are precisely the types of products we routinely cover in MPMN. That's when it dawns on me that the interest level in my career has plummeted faster than the NASDAQ on a bad day.

I have come to terms with the fact that advances in laser technology or the introduction of an RF-weldable polyolefin film do not make for intoxicating cocktail chatter. That's unfortunate, because these technologies that are invisible to the general public enable some remarkable advances in healthcare. A case in point is a noninvasive bilirubin analyzer that is featured in this month's Profile on page 22.

Traditionally, physicians have tested newborns for jaundice by drawing blood, a procedure that most infants undergo. The blood is then sent to a laboratory, which measures the total serum bilirubin content. Noninvasive analyzers achieve the same result without inflicting pain, and they may even produce more-accurate results according to clinical studies. The core enabling technology of these devices is a miniature spectrometer that measures the intensity of specific wavelengths reflected from the skin of the infant. The article explains in greater detail how the component functions and why SpectRx, the manufacturer of the analyzer, selected a particular spectrometer for use in its system.

An abundance of devices that have advanced the state of medical care will be showcased at MD&M East in New York City. The finalists of the Medical Design Excellence Awards (MDEA) will be on display in Hall B, to your right as you enter the convention center. Noninvasive devices that minimize patient trauma, including a blood glucose monitoring system and a tester for carpal tunnel syndrome, are among the laureates that will be exhibited. Having an aversion to pain, no matter how minimal, these are among my personal favorites.

Another trend duly noted by the MDEA judging panel involves the proliferation of more-intuitive user interfaces. As devices migrate out of the hospital and into physicians' offices and even homes, ease-of-use features are becoming more central to the product design process. Portable equipment that measures and transmits patients' vital signs via telephone lines from the home to the healthcare provider's computer is one manifestation of this trend that you can see firsthand at the MD&M East show this year.

I encourage you to spend a few moments visiting the MDEA pavilion while you're attending the show. Canon editors will be on hand to answer any questions you may have about the awards program.

Norbert Sparrow
[email protected]

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