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.
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.
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.
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!
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...
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.
Thanks for the explanation, Charles - I was envisioning a much more expensive product. It certainly makes sense with low price points. I also would prefer a "new" product rather than a "refurbished" one when it comes to medical equipment. Really nice to see these products being developed - it will really help folks stay active which will only increase the health benefit.
Since it’s medical, none of the wearable devices will be cheap. Innovation is apparently there, but can we seriously say it will not come at an arm&leg price? In the latest State of the Union speech (2/13/2013), President Obama essentially said he will plead with pharmaceutical companies to get medical prices down. I’m sure they will humor him.
Nancy, I completely hear what you are saying, but I can sort of see both sides. On one hand I, too, think reuseable is the way to go to eliminate unnecessary waste, since there is already plenty of that. But I can also see how it would be nice to have fresh, clean patches or devices to use if it's something for the long term. At the same time, if it's meant to be used long-term, you're right, it should be made to last.
Yes, Al, disposability is important. Today's Holter monitors, for example, are not disposable and require refurbishing after every use. The refurbishing can be costly. So if electronics manfacturers can make low-cost systems that can be disposed of, and therefore don't require refurbishing, the uptake of the technology will be greater.
Charles, you are right. Now lots of developments are happening in medical electronics and many old manual equipments are becomes most soficated devices due to the advancement of technology. There is no doubt that within a couple of years, embedding self monitory and communicating chips in human body may become popular.
Mydesign, MIT has a research group called Little Devices. Their mission statement is:
"The Little Devices group at MIT develops empowerment technologies for health. We believe that innovation and design happens at the frontline of healthcare where providers and patients can invent everyday technologies to improve outcomes."
They employ the use of everyday products ranging from toys to items found in an ordinary home's junk box to develop low cost medical devices for third world countries. The technologies mentioned in this article could easily be integrated within Little Devices research to create enhanced medical tools. The uC's that have an analog front end like Analog Devices ADUC7601 precision analog microcontrollers are key to the development of low power, and efficient health monitoring wearable medical devices. Very interested article Charles! Below are links to MIT's Little Devices Group and Analog Devices ADUC 7601 precision analog microcontroller.
Chuck, It will be interesting to the cost for some of these devices. Disposable versus refurbishing always seems good to me. But unless the unit cost can really be reduced by greater production quantities, the problem becomes the yearly cost of this kind of device. Thanks for the article.
Digital healthcare devices and wearable electronic products need to be thoroughly tested, lest they live short, ignominious lives, an expert will tell attendees at UBM’s upcoming Designers of Things conference in San Jose, Calif.
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