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Medical Device Technology: Our Best Hope for Delivering Global Healthcare

Wed, 05/29/2013 - 11:36am
Simon Karger, Associate Director, Surgical & Interventional, Cambridge Consultants

The technology at the heart of the next generation of medical devices is critical to our ability to offer comprehensive care in the coming decades.

While our current systems of care have served us well thus far, they are crumbling under the pressures of modern expectations of care, economics, scale, and the sheer breadth of medical science. As patient populations grow, co-morbidities increase, medical knowledge expands, and budgets tighten, we have an uncomfortable question to answer: Is it realistically possible for us to treat more people for more conditions with fewer resources?

While global medical businesses and policymakers strive to “reform” our industry, their impact will be marginal at best. At its core, our system of medicine still relies on the ability of a highly knowledgeable few to treat the many; that’s a model that is not sustainable as the global patient population (and its needs) continues to grow.

This leaves us with two options: build a system that accepts that we can’t care for everyone and every condition, or build a system that removes the reliance on the knowledgeable few to allow us to do so.

While our attempts at reform are clearly heading towards the first of these outcomes, it is well within our capabilities to deliver the second. Technology—and the way that we integrate it into our medical devices—has the potential to revolutionize medicine on almost every front. Through careful implementation of novel technologies, we can not only reduce the cost of care but make it globally accessible while improving overall outcomes.

While medical devices have seen incredible developments over the past 10 years, our systems are still in the dark ages when viewed through a broader technological lens. We only need look to other industries to see technologies that are decades ahead of today’s medical devices. Airlines allow their planes to fly themselves; oil companies identify new reserves non-invasively from miles above; handheld devices navigate us to places we’ve never been; the internet allows us to share video, pictures, and text around the world in real time; and we build machines more capable than us of building better machines.

Our industry—and regulators—need to find a way to safely harness that rich pool of technology. By bringing leading-edge technologies into our medical devices, we can allow our systems to support our medics. By developing smart tools and systems that can guide surgeons, we can allow less-accomplished professionals to carry out a wider range of procedures and tasks. By better integrating patent data with historical treatment trends, we can predict and plan for not only likely conditions but the success of different treatment regimes. By making our diagnostic, treatment, and recovery devices work together, we can reduce the risk, duration, and cost of treatments.

This is not an easy task, but it is possible. It is the companies developing our next-generation medical devices, not our policy makers, that will enable a new, better, faster, cheaper form of medicine.

The picture is exciting for those who respond—and terrifying for those who don’t. Integrating views from some of the industry’s largest players (like Covidien, Boston Scientific, and Bausch & Lomb) with those from some of the most progressive (like Vitalitec, Corindus, Arthrocare, John’s Hopkins University, and Harvard Medical School), Cambridge Consultants’ recent workshop painted an exciting but challenging picture of the next 20 years. Read more in our report: “Disrupting the Operation: The Surgical Landscape in 2030.”

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