Good question, Nancy. Some of today's semi-permanent solutions -- such as Holter monitors -- must be returned to the doctor and "refurbished" before the doctor can pass it along to the next user. Refurbishing can cost $30 to $40. Makers of the new systems want to bring the cost of the device down to about $10, so that it makes more sense to toss it after it's been used than to refurbish it. Also, the fact that it's disposable (and waterproof) means that users can wear it in the shower and at the gym. They can perspire on it and not worry as much about damaging it, or passing it along to the next user.
All of this is absolutely wonderful, but I am a bit puzzled on the throw-away aspect that is being emphasized, "'And when you throw it away after a few days, you use another one,' he said." It seems to me that we would want to develop products that lasted, rather than having to buy another one. If it's a matter of personal hygeine, it would be understandable but being able to wear something a few days implies otherwise - and if that was the case than accessories could be developed so that the main expense of the device itself could have increased longevity. Some applications make sense (disposable contacts) but if one had to wear a medical device I would think it would be much more cost-effective for the consumer to have one that lasted awhile. But then, I feel the same way about printers and appliances...
That is also a great idea, rpl3000. That way athletes could know when they need to recharge even before the critical point of when their muscles and energy starts to fail. Perhaps these types of devices could be a natural way to boost performance rather than performance-enhancing drugs!
Exactly, naperlou. I think electronics innovations will go a long way to driving down the cost of these devices, not to mention make them easier to administer to use as well as more comfortable for patients. The promise of non-invasive internal treatment through transient electronics, which I wrote about, is especially exciting. Of course, it will take time for all of these things to be commercialized.
Elizabeth, I have seen some of those articles. It is a fascinating field. I was first introduced to it a couple of years ago at a lecture by Marty Cooper, who led the handheld cell phone team at Motorola. He is in his late 80s, and talks about these medical patch devices in the context of how commuications will revolutionize medicine. He typically shows a couple prototype decices at his lectures.
Now we are seeing this type of innovation become a commercial reality. My belief is that, if we are to lower the cost of medical care and increase its effectiveness, we need to apply technology to it.
Great article, Charles. I also have written about some of the innovations in electronics that are changing the medical industry--stories on electronics that dissolve inside the body and pacemakers that run on the energy of a human heartbeat. I agree that this is definitely one of the forces behind the changes and advances in the medical device industry. It's quite exciting.
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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