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Medical Device Daily Staff Writer

Three key trends in the med-tech sector could significantly shape the space throughout the next few years, according to Continuum (Boston), an innovation and design consultancy firm, that is dedicated to researching and designing devices that improve how medical professionals carry out their jobs.

Earlier this week, James Wilson, senior industrial designer for Continuum, spoke with Medical Device Daily about the three trends, which are, the miniaturization of devices; technology focused on earlier/more accurate diagnostics; and advances in IT/e-health technologies.

Wilson pointed out that exorbitant healthcare costs are aiding in the push toward the miniaturization of devices. He said that because of this, patients are now being treated in their homes and in less traditional healthcare facilities.

"I think one of the main reasons we're seeing the miniaturization of devices is perhaps because of the growth of healthcare," he told MDD. "The CDC identified that about 75% of healthcare dollars were focused on chronic care. As a result of that, a lot of people are getting pushed out of the hospitals and into the home for treatment. They're fitting into environments where traditional medical devices are now kind of being used in the home as opposed to a traditional healthcare facility. So there is this need to make these smaller devices for these smaller environments."

Another driver for these smaller devices comes from the patients' desire not to be tethered by heavy equipment or technology that would not impede too much on their daily lives.

"A lot of these patients want to be active," he said. "They don't want their conditions to hold them back. [Patients] want devices that are not going to force the way they're going to live but rather fitting in with the way they want to live."

Continuum pointed out that access of care is another main driver behind the miniaturization of med-tech devices.

"By making smaller more portable devices you can kind of have a clinician go on the back of a motor bike in a very rural environment to see a lot of patients, who previously potentially had to take days to walk into a larger urban environment to get the testing that they needed."

For the second trend – the development of earlier diagnostics – the company noted that traditional drivers aren't really influencing this occurrence.

"This trend is not necessarily being driven by traditional medical device companies, but a lot by start-ups that recognize the medical device problem or clinicians or physicians who see an opportunity and are working with potentially startup funding or alliances with organizations.

As an example of this Wilson pointed out to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT: Cambridge, Massachusetts) Medical Electronic Device Realization Center (MEDRC). The MEDRC establishes a partnership between the microelectronics industry, the medical devices industry, medical professionals, and MIT to achieve improvements in the cost and performance of medical electronic devices similar to those that have occurred in personal computers, communication devices and consumer electronics. The successful realization of such a vision also demands innovations in the usability and productivity of medical devices, and new technologies and approaches to manufacture devices.

"They invite medical device companies to come in and work with their researchers to figure out how to bring those devices to market," he said.

Wilson told MDD that there is more of a push to get data from patients to determine what they could be at risk for and that there are significant drivers from both the industry and insurance companies to accomplish this goal.

"How do we get preliminary data out of blood pressure; heart rates, sweat levels, body temperature in very noninvasive ways? A lot of these early diagnostic companies are taking that a step further and are asking what other kinds of diagnostics tools and parameters can we get out of that data."

"It's not only clinicians but we're seeing the drive by insurance companies who are looking to cut costs by helping patients to identify the problem earlier. The goal is to get it to low cost prevention as opposed to expensive intervention at a later date."

With more device companies moving in the e/health HIT domain, the third trend Wilson discussed, there are some challenges and issues.

"I think with the advances in technology [with smartphones etc.] that we're capturing that data, but we've got to be able to transmit that to a healthcare professional," Wilson said.

He noted that some patients were not receptive to the technology.

"This brings up some challenges with the older demographic that might not have a [tablet] or a smartphone. How do we work in situations like that to create infrastructures to allow that data to get from their home into the medical environment? Also what about those patients that live in a remote area of the country – without a massive Wi-Fi network- that aren't able to upload three months worth of blood pressure statistics to a clinician?"

While the e/health HIT domain is rapidly growing there are still some areas that need to be smoothed over. He noted that while the tendency to gather data from patients electronically could be beneficial, there is a danger of losing the closeness and familiarity with the patient.

He said that clinicians could "lose some of that firsthand" interaction with patients.

Omar Ford, 404-262-5546;

Published  March 29, 2013

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