Future-ready medical devices - Answering the current and future needs of patients and users

April 19, 2019
By Dafna Raiman

The fax machine was initially introduced by Xerox in 1966, revolutionizing everyday communications. By the 1980s, this technology was ubiquitous, a fax machine in offices and homes worldwide. Almost 40 years later, the communications industry has significantly evolved, the fax machine is obsolete and Xerox is a non-player in the communications world. The Xerox example provides an important lesson to the technology industry. While embracing new technology, we must simultaneously plan for future innovation within our space. This approach is particularly important in the medical device industry, where devices must have the wherewithal to perform today and be future-ready.

Today’s medical devices are more advanced than ever before, capable of accomplishing multiple tasks in addition to their main functions. Infusion pumps, used to deliver medications or nutrients directly to patients, are a prime example of this, combining hardware and software to accomplish their infusion delivery objectives and more. By understanding how the infusion industry is developing future-ready devices, the medical device industry at large can follow suit to ensure that the devices being created can stand the test of time and technological advancement.

Technologies that make medical devices future-ready
Infusion pumps are being taken to the next level by implementing a few key features: “smart” communication capabilities, add-ons, and advanced software. By introducing smart connectivity technology, pumps maximize their communication potential and connect with other devices and even grander, more sophisticated entities, like machine learning and big data solutions. These external devices and entities can cause immediate changes for patients, with either health staff or the device itself reacting to new key patient data.

Smart connectivity can also lead to future positive impacts on patient health. Just as a retailer may collect user data from connected devices for business analytics purposes, advanced infusion systems can track the medications and fluids they deliver to accumulate reliable and accurate patient readings for big data analysis. This give-and-take is incredibly important, as it provides scientists and doctors with the pure data necessary to make impactful medical discoveries and improvements through analysis and derived clinical insights.

Another hybrid hardware/software feature that infusion pump manufacturers are integrating is the ability to install add-ons. Connecting to the device either externally or internally, add-ons provide an added feature to the pump, feeding the pump with additional information for better decision-making capabilities. Add-ons are diverse and can be used for many different purposes. For example, a vital sign reader add-on allows an infusion pump to account for a patient’s vital sign readings and adjust its delivery of drugs to the patient accordingly. This feature is invaluable to hospital staff to help streamline workflows and improve patient safety.

Both connectivity and add-on capabilities are highly dependent on the software and processing hardware with which an infusion pump is outfitted. It is, therefore, crucial for a pump’s software to be capable of handling the processes required of it and also have the power to connect with external devices or add-ons without compromising the pump’s primary functions. Additionally, device manufacturers need to anticipate future software updates that will most likely require more from the processor. These updates generally improve ease of use and device functionality, and also allow for a more streamlined external device/add-on integration.

Ensuring device future-readiness
When developing medical devices, device designers need to have a finger on the pulse regarding what demands their device is meeting today, and the foresight to know the demands the market will have on their device tomorrow. The most important aspect of this approach to device making is with regard to the physical architecture of the device. In fact, device build is the key component to future-readiness. A forward-thinking device build ensures that all a device’s internal components are properly placed for effective device functionality, and also leave room for easily insertable upgrades (Wi-Fi, GPS, etc.). Additionally, medical device companies must be wary of the regulatory entities at play when designing their devices. Receiving FDA Clearance for medical devices is complicated, and many companies inserting new add-ons fail to pass the regulatory standards when trying to integrate new components.

Dafna Raiman
As medical device makers pursue their dreams of creating devices that help patients and lift the burden from health staff, keeping an eye toward the unknown future and preparing for it is crucial for their success. By planning ahead, medical device makers can avoid Xerox’s fate within the communications industry with the ability to adapt and stay relevant for years to come.

About the author: Dafna Raiman is VP of Systems at Eitan Group