Where medical devices are and where they could go in the near future.
Medical devices play instrumental roles in helping physicians diagnose or monitor patients. They can also improve the quality of life for patients who use medical equipment that helps physicians track changes in chronic conditions outside of office visits.
Here are 10 medical device trends likely to impact the health care sector this year and for the foreseeable future.
It's already becoming more common for medical practitioners to don virtual reality (VR) headsets to get training about complicated medical procedures. But, a company called Osso VR partnered with the Medical Sales College, which is the only licensed and regulated college for medical device sales specialists. The VR company aims to enrich training by helping sales students learn more about the gadgets they promote.
This trend is a crucial one to watch because it could assist salespeople in making more effective pitches and setting accurate expectations for potential buyers. The VR training could also allow the sales specialists to better target individual facilities or physicians that have identified needs device makers could fill.
Market analysts keep a close eye on the medical device market to assess expected changes. Reports suggest 2019 revenues for medical devices will surpass 2018's numbers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced a faster pathway for medical device approvals, and that's a primary driver of growth in the medical device market.
Moreover, product manufacturers continually look for ways to use medical devices to remove care management barriers. An increasingly older population means physicians will likely see an increase in chronic conditions. Medical devices could help manage them, especially if they allow at-home monitoring.
Battery replacements for medical devices can be inconvenient. But, researchers at Rice University developed a method using laser-induced graphene that charges devices with help from the triboelectric effect. It produces static electricity when the material becomes separated from substances with which it initially had contact. The scientists attached the laser-induced graphene to a flip-flop sandal, and the resultant charge generated as someone walked powered a small capacitor.
If this trend withstands real-world usage, people might never have to worry about plugging their medical devices in or changing the batteries. The gadgets may stay powered up through everyday activities.
Tariffs are a popular topic of discussion by U.S. President Trump. He recently threatened to impose escalating tariffs on Mexican products until the country stopped the illegal immigration of people coming across the U.S. border. However, an update suggests Trump will call off the threatened tariffs, provided Mexican lawmakers pass a new deal worked out between the countries.
Everything's up in the air for now, but it's worth thinking about how any imposed tariffs could negatively impact the medical device market. For example, about 17% of all medical devices the U.S. imports come from Mexico.
If new tariffs are ever announced, however, Mexican device manufacturers and the patients in the U.S. who use them will likely suffer.
Smart glasses have changed the way people collaborate. For example, they can show someone's perspective to a remote expert so the person can offer insights to help. It's easy to imagine how smart glasses could upend the usual video-streaming methods often used to allow medical professionals to weigh in about complex patients and how to treat them.
VSee is a Californian company currently recruiting health care providers to assess the technology used in its smart glasses. The glasses work by having an on-site provider wear them while working with a patient. Then, a remote colleague could see the perspective of the on-site provider and give guidance as needed. VSee says the glasses are idea for telemedicine.
Similar to the flip-flop charging method are gadgets powered with the piezoelectric effect, which produces an electric charge in response to mechanical stress.
Researchers at Dartmouth are looking at ways to harness the piezoelectric effect for pacemaker improvements. They envision a pacemaker charged by the heart's kinetic energy and think it's possible to achieve that by applying a dime-sized piece of piezoelectric material to existing pacemaker models. They say this same approach could also collect real-time data about patient health.
Self-charging pacemakers could reduce or eliminate risks of complications occurring during pacemaker battery replacements.
Medical devices may soon be a standard part of the options used for depression treatment. The United Kingdom's health system just made a brain stimulation device available to people via prescription. People with depression often have reduced activity in the left frontal lobe, which helps regulate emotional expression and cognitive skills.
This wearable device, the Flow headset, attaches to the head with electrodes and gives low-grade electrical stimulation to that part of the brain. Sessions typically last 30 minutes.
Scientists are also working on a small, implantable device that monitors conditions in the brain and pulses of electrical stimulation when a patient starts getting in a low mood.
Many of the medical devices on the market are only for people 18 or older, which leaves children out of luck and looking for other options. However, that's gradually changing as more gadgets become available for children to use.
The FDA recently gave the go-ahead for a nerve-stimulation device that sits behind the ear and relieves pain for kids with irritable bowel syndrome who are as young as 11. There's also the Insulets Omnipod Horizon System, a tubeless insulin pump for pediatric patients with Type 1 diabetes who are as young as 2.
In 2018, the FDA hosted a workshop to discuss the scarcity of pediatric medical devices in the market. That raised awareness could mean the marketplace becomes more populated with devices children can use.
An emerging and potentially dangerous medical device trend involves a phenomenon where patients source old insulin pumps with known security flaws and hack into them to make the devices automatically adjust themselves to perform like an artificial pancreas. Some patients who try the hacks say they achieve more stable blood sugar levels with the jailbroken devices than with whatever they used for diabetes management before.
It's easy to see how these device tweaks could go badly for the people who rely on insulin pumps for their health. But, some of them are desperate for better treatment options and unwilling to wait the long periods that often pass before new devices with better functionality receive approval.
Antibiotic resistance is a severe problem that makes previously effective antibiotics no longer work to fight off bacteria. There is no single cause for the problem, but one of the contributors is the overprescribing of antibiotics. Physicians often take that route if they want patients to get started on treatment while they wait for lab results to come back.
But, researchers at Penn State University developed a medical device that detects the presence of bacteria in minutes and classifies it into types. This achievement could make it so doctors no longer need to unnecessarily prescribe antibiotics for their patients, thereby helping cut down on antibiotic resistance.
Researchers have also devised a "microgel" coating for implanted medical devices that releases targeted amounts of antibiotics if bacteria come near the implants. Each microgel has a lattice structure of flecks that are 100 times smaller than the diameter of a strand of human hair.
Researchers believe this innovation could dramatically cut the number of post-surgical infections patients experience. If so, they could become less likely to suffer complications, and may not need to get antibiotic treatments to fight existing infections as often.