Originally Published January/February 2001
Is This Any Way to Spend the Holidays?
It was the day after Thanksgiving, and I joined hundreds of other people massed at the entrance waiting for the doors to swing open. As we trickled through the turnstiles, the jostling and elbowing began in earnest. But this wasn't Macy's, and the commotion had nothing to do with a cache of PlayStation 2 consoles. The main event was an endless array of medical products, from the simplest disposables to next-generation digital imaging equipment. You may have guessed by now that I spent my Thanksgiving holiday at the Medica trade show in Düsseldorf, Germany.
On some years, the four-day show coincides with Thanksgiving week. This causes some understandable grumbling from the U.S. contingent, which is none too pleased to be abroad on the one day of the year when, as Art Buchwald puts it, Americans eat almost as well as the French do. Nevertheless, if you're involved in the medical industry, Medica is hard to pass up. For me, the show represents one of the best opportunities of the year to develop article ideas and generally take the pulse of industry, which brings me to the subject of the wireless stethoscope.
I noticed the sleek device at the booth of PDD Product Innovation Consultants, a UK-based design firm. The company developed the product in part to get the attention of Medica visitors (mission accomplished, if I'm any indication), and partly to illustrate the company's capabilities, according to Alun Wilcox, head of medical projects.
"You know how long it takes to bring a medical product from concept to market," says Wilcox, who adds that by the time PDD has received approval to display an instrument they helped to develop, it's already old news. "So we decided to identify a medical device that could be improved upon and to display it at Medica to demonstrate what we can do." The venerable stethoscope was an ideal candidate, he adds.
The general design of the stethoscope has changed little over the years, yet it has limitations that modern technology could eliminate. For one thing, the doctor is tethered to the instrument and must get annoyingly close to the patient to use the device. While this may be of little concern to most of us, it can have a disturbing effect on the youngest patients, notes Wilcox. Children who are already skittish about seeing the doctor may be frightened by this large head bearing down upon them to eavesdrop on their organs. PDD conducted research among medical professionals and compiled a number of other drawbacks: the single-user design, a loss of sound quality caused by deteriorating tubing, and the fragile nature of the device, especially the diaphragm membrane. Clearly, it was time to build a better stethoscope.
The Radius incorporates remote communication technology to free the physician from old-technology shackles. About the size of a small mobile phone, Radius can transmit sound to a number of receivers, allowing medical personnel to listen in, and the transmitter can be left on the patient for ongoing monitoring.
The product has numerous other features and enhancements, according to Wilcox, but what it doesn't have is market clearance. PDD is currently seeking partners who would be interested in helping to bring the product from the concept to the trial stage. If you are interested in finding out more about Radius, contact Alun Wilcox by fax at +44 20 87351122 or e-mail him at [email protected].
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