Joachim Schaefer

What Medical Breakthroughs Will the Future Bring?

By Joachim Schäfer
Joachim Schaefer

A look at the latest trends and cutting-edge products provides plenty of examples.

This is possibly one of the most exciting questions in healthcare today. The general trend in medtech development continues to move toward smaller, low-cost devices, with a growing preference for smart, connected devices. As a result, device companies are asking suppliers to provide much finer and more lightweight yet powerful components, modules, chips and radiofrequency modules that have robust energy and data storage systems. Contract manufacturing and outsourcing of services in every part of the process chain (including development, production, supply chain management, quality management and spare parts management) is a growing trend that requires close collaboration during product development, manufacturing and marketing. Whether the OEM customer is a major corporation or small family-run business, suppliers must be able to support them as expert partners.

Digitization Inspires Product Development

Mobile app-based solutions for medical imaging and cardiology are examples of how digitization in healthcare is changing medtech development. Take High-tech ultrasound transducers and sensors to monitor vital signs, for example: Adding a smartphone or tablet connection provides a ready-made and fully functional technical solution for a variety of purposes.

A push towards digitization and connectivity is resulting in products that have different levels of vertical integration in the development process to meet a customer’s requirements. This includes, for example, user interfaces (touch screens and displays), navigation for medical devices and systems, complex electronics for wireless data transmission. Device OEMs are showing a strong interest in uniform, standardized operating and control concepts for a range of different systems and models. The advantage for healthcare users lies in not having to learn a completely new set of functions when they use different devices and switch between them.

Combining digitization with miniaturization also has benefits in laboratory medicine. A point-of-care device designed for the patient bedside can essentially replace an entire hospital lab. For example, many small labs are still analyzing samples virtually by hand and with the trained eyes of a large staff. Either automatic analyzers are too specialized or, if designed to cover a broad spectrum of tests, are too costly. Based on recent findings showing that diseased tissue emits and responds to light in different ways, comparatively low-cost automatic scanning methods can be developed for an increasing number of tests.

Small, Complex and Powerful

Manufacturers of minimally invasive surgical instruments continue to innovate. A COMPAMED exhibitor recently presented an MRI-compatible microendoscope with ultrasound functionality, equally suitable for diagnostic and treatment purposes. Measuring only a few millimeters, the integrated endoscope head is equipped with two light guides and an ultrasonic transducer that can destroytumor cells using acoustic waves. The device uses new materials designed for medical purposes—the endoscope is ceramic and plastic to avoid interference during MRI imaging. The instrument is currently designed to examine the brain of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or cancer patients.

Many of the manufacturers of the components and high-tech solutions discussed in this column will be exhibiting at this year’s COMPAMED and MEDICA event at the Düsseldorf fairgrounds in Germany, November 14–17, 2016.