by John Koon

2013 is upon us. What is ahead of us?

Recently I asked a friend who is about to have his physical checkup, “Do you feel that your doctor really cares about you?” “No,” he responded without hesitation. I also read that some patients complain that their doctors (the primary physician) spent more time staring at the terminal or desktop instead of looking at the individual to have a real conversation. I know we all want to stay healthy, and deep down in our hearts we do want to care for each other. Having spent quite a bit of time studying and attending health and medtech-related conferences talking to many individuals and interviewing many leaders in the field, I asked myself this question: What does “healthcare” really mean?

Figure 1: An iPhone can be converted as a portable ECK machine

Taking the top-down view, I see two groups of people: those who are healthy and the not-so-healthy. We want the former to stay healthy. We encourage them to use whatever tools they have to stay that way: personal trainers, fitness devices, fitness machines, eating well and resting well, etc. For the latter, we want to “fix” them. If the person has a heart problem, we want to put an implantable defibrillator in the body.

If there is a blood clot, we can use a balloon to enlarge the blood vessel to prevent the person from having another heart attack. We now have all the remote or telemedicine ideas to make things easier. There is a whole host of portable medical electronic devices such as ultrasound and handheld EKGs (using an iPhone).

Not only do they save lives, they make access to medical resources in a remote region easier. Overall, however, the system is set up to do more “health-fixing” than “health-caring” today.

Figure 2: This small pill camera can be swallowed and take photos using an internal radio from Microsemi.

Why? The answer is simple. In a free society, people can eat what they want and not exercise if they don’t want to. Keeping hundreds of millions of people healthy is a big job and a very costly one. Insurance companies try their hardest to stay profitable and screen everything to determine if the “fixing” should receive reimbursement. We don’t need to be reminded of today’s unsustainable trillion dollar healthcare budget. That is why many organizations are working hard to tackle the problem. Each is proposing a different solution. Some are taking the approach of using remote connectivity to cut down the office visit time. Others are trying to use robots to deliver meals and medicine. I visited a hospital in Northern California and saw a bunch of robots running around in the hospital. Today there are robots that can help the surgeon with operating. Robots can enable patients to recover faster and reduce costs. Many are optimistic that technology is a promising solution to help reduce costs in the future.

Figure 3: A handheld glucose device is now available to monitor the patient anywhere, any time.

There is some caring going on. Many individuals now rely on technology to live independently. With built-in sensors and remote communication capability, grandma or grandpa feel more cared for. Children living in another city feel more at ease knowing there is a 24/7 care and communication system for their loved ones. Additionally, think about the convenience of recovering at home instead of staying in the hospital for a long time. Even though there are still a lot of challenges ahead of us, I feel we are living in a time when we could witness many new breakthroughs. I am also grateful that there are so many wonderful organizations aiming to make this whole ecosystem work together successfully. The goal of MEDS remains the same. We want to keep you (medical device developers) creating even better products and keep users better informed. Therefore, we will be connecting with many leading organizations (AAMI, CMIA, Continua, DeviceAlliance, FDA, MDISS, MD PnP, OCTANe, West Health and WLSA, etc.) to provide you with relevant industry information and to share our knowledge.

The market is changing rapidly and there are a lot of challenges ahead. Safety is definitely at the top of the list. Security, interoperability and innovation are also among the topics we are focused on. As we enter 2013, we will share the voices of medical industry leaders such as Philips Healthcare and others to show you where the market is heading. If you have an insight or know someone who has an innovative idea, let us know and we will report it. We will include these ideas and solutions in our print edition, online and in our e-newsletters. We will continue to work with you to make the eco-system better. Let’s work together to bring real care to the healthcare market.