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Great medical advances don’t have to be sexy
By Dave Saunders, VP Product Development, Corocent Medical
There’s a reason why a bionic contact lens gets top billing in the medical news. It’s cool. you want them. I want them, too.
I’m always glad to see medical device innovation swinging for the fences, but not every medical device needs to be replaced with a cybernetic, super-enhanced, whizbang, state-of-the-art-engineered gadget. Not everyone needs a new app-enabled wearable or a robot surgeon for their medical care. Today, millions of people benefit every day from simple advances in medical devices which may not be as sexy as a surgical robot that can carve a replica of Michelangelo’s David into the end of your femur, but still bring huge benefits to the medical industry, from patient to practitioner. Here’s just a sample of devices doctors and nurses have mentioned as their favorite new advances to come onto the scene.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) tens of thousands of people are infected with disease through unintentional needle use every year. One of the biggest culprits when it comes to unintended needle use is that practitioners sometimes stick themselves with needles immediately after using them on patients. Even if the patient is believed to not be a carrier of the disease, the practitioner is benched for six months until blood tests prove they are without disease. Consider that cost. This is why the WHO is promoting the use of safety needles which automatically shield themselves after their first use. The safety needle is more expensive than the standard hypodermic needle (about five cents versus two cents), but the advantages that it offers in safety and efficacy far outweigh the expense of an individual needle, or of medical pros contracting disease or being sidelined
There are several variations of the safety needle avail- able today, but none of them require advanced computer technologies or access to big data to operate. By providing simple and easy-to-use accessories to the standard hypodermic needle, patients and practitioners enjoy a better standard of care around the globe.
Medicine is prescribed and dispensed day in and day out at every hospital. Incorrectly administering drugs has disastrous effects. With the number of people moving through the medical system and the amount of prescriptions tendered, even a small percentage of error translates into big numbers of people affected. The simple solution is using one of the new automated medicine dispensing systems. These require the patient be scanned for positive identification. The prescription is verified and can be checked against other known medications to help ensure a potential interaction isn’t about to occur and the patient record can automatically be updated by systems that are integrated with the hospital EMR.
Medicine scanners are one of the beneficial side effects of improved hospital data management. Adding a medication to a patient’s chart or looking it up from a record is nothing new, but when these tasks are managed separately, mistakes can be made and drug interactions can be introduced as data and record updates lag behind the care being given to the patient. All records should be kept up to date in real time through the hospital EMR system. Barcodes and laser scanners certainly aren’t cutting-edge technology but seamlessly integrating their use into patient management should be seen as a cornerstone of managing big data in hospitals today.
This is a great example of the technology solu- tion that enhances the existing training and skill of a practitioner. Put simply, it makes it easier to find a vein when placing a needle. Depending on the patient this can be more difficult than one might think. Practitioners are trained to find even the most elusive of veins, but it can still be difficult depending on the health of the patient. The venous Doppler takes the guesswork out of finding a good vein and helps ensure that fewer attempts are necessary in order to care for the patient.
Technology-wise, the venous Doppler employs some sophisticated imaging technology. Perhaps it’s not as advanced as a bionic contact lens but in the right hands it provides the right kind of vision for people who need it the most. This device doesn’t replace existing training and skills, but enhances them to allow the practitioner to focus on caring for the patient.
RAPID LAB TESTS
With the rising incidence of hospital infections, accurate and rapid testing of patients for serious infections can be the difference between life and death. Rapid testing can stop disease in its tracks while saving time and money. You name the infectious disease and you can be sure that it’s probably better to get a rapid and accurate assessment than it is to wait days or weeks on the lab. Rapid insight into illness improves diagnosis and ensures the best possible patient care.
Monitoring of the patient’s vitals can be a very important source of lifesaving data in the hospital. With all of those wires, the patient is “tied to the bed” which can be an inconvenience and can even slow healing and recovery processes. Increased ambulation for a patient can help them be more alert, more independent, require less nursing assistance and improve patient mood. It may even mean fewer bedpans to clean if the patient can get up and go to the bathroom for themselves. Wireless telemetry devices typically use rechargeable batteries, and wirelessly transmit monitoring data to a nearby base station. When you think about what goes into a device like this, there isn’t any earth shattering technology to taking something big and making it smaller and battery-operated. Remember the Walkman? But like so many portable devices, these sorts of advances can provide big benefits even though they’re harder to see.
HONORABLE MENTION: THE HOSPITAL BED
The hospital bed itself has undergone many changes over the years. They may not seem like much but a hospital bed is way more than a mere alternative for sitting on the floor. The mattresses have been changed to air mattresses in an attempt to prevent bed sores. The air mattress has been modified further to allow the pressure to be changed on one side or the other, effectively “rolling” the patient to prevent too much pressure on one side at a time. Some beds have sophisticated raising and lowering systems, contoured support, elevation and drop-away areas depending on patient need; all in an effort to improve patient care through improved support.
These are just some examples of medical devices used on a regular basis in hospitals, where small enhancements can make a big difference. It’s not always about the most sophisticated technology, and not every medical device will even benefit from integration with your smart phone, the Internet of things and the hospital EMR. What matters is applying the right kind of technology to the problem and remembering that even the most tried-and-true medical devices might benefit from a small upgrade.
There are literally thousands of patented and patent pending medical devices awaiting entrepreneurial sponsorship at hospitals and universities from coast-to-coast. Without commercial sponsorship to clear them with the FDA and take them to market many of these devices will never see the light of day. Many are, as described in the previous examples, simple and easy to explain advances to existing medical devices devised by the practitioners with the hands-on experience to recognize their need. While the medical industry certainly needs the big money and forward-thinking to develop and promote big advancements in biosciences and medical care, it also needs attention placed on improving every day solutions that make up the bulk of the tools used in medical practice.