Another outcome of the shift away from acute care settings is the development of home monitoring and home therapies. Physicians and other caregivers can monitor the status of patients (particularly the elderly and those with chronic diseases) without repeated office visits that place a burden on these individuals and add to healthcare costs. The Center for Technology and Aging said in a 2009 position paper:
The U.S. health care system could reduce costs by nearly $200 billion during the next 25 years if remote monitoring tools were utilized in congestive heart failure, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and chronic wounds or skin ulcers...
Point-of-care monitoring devices, such as weight scales, glucometers, implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, and blood pressure monitors, may individually collect and report health data. They may also become part of a fully integrated health data collection, analysis, and reporting system that communicates to multiple nodes of the health system.
Mechatronics technology makes it possible for designers to reconfigure stationary monitoring equipment for home use by:
- Including wireless (cloud) features to communicate results to caregivers
- Enabling analysis of trends in critical health parameters, particularly for population studies
- Ensuring patient usability by simplifying the user interface
- Strengthening patient safety by incorporating alarm systems
From reusable to disposable
Disposable medical devices are an exciting development being driven by the availability of low-cost, miniaturized consumer electronics technology. Single-use devices featuring affordable consumer electronics not only eliminate autoclaving costs, but they also help to prevent the spread of infection. The endoscopy capsule mentioned on the previous page is inexpensive enough to be flushed after it has traveled through the digestive tract. Drug delivery devices are another potential application.
In addition to developing novel disposable sensors that incorporate more electronics and software, companies are converting reusable mechatronics devices into disposable ones by using low-cost and recyclable components.
Of course, expertise in consumer electronics is extremely valuable in designing single-use mechatronic products. Design and manufacturing service providers typically have extensive capabilities in consumer electronics that are readily transferable to the medical device arena.
Mechatronics, building on a long and rich history, is writing a new chapter in the medical field by leveraging low-cost consumer electronics and miniaturization technologies such as tiny video cameras and ubiquitous wireless networking and software components. Mechatronics offers great potential to enhance the patient experience, deliver new tools to clinicians, and drive down the enormous costs of healthcare delivery.
Ralph Hugeneck is director for medical technology for Nypro, a Jabil company.