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Where Are All the Medical Breakthroughs?

I have seen very few major breakthroughs in medical technology over the last decade when it comes to clinical diagnosis and patient treatment. It's not because there are not huge efforts and brilliant ideas in play, but as an electronic engineer, and also in my work as a doctor, I am acutely aware of the many challenges there are to bring these brilliant ideas to life.

There has been somewhat of a shift of late in focus to the healthcare and fitness market. Sports watches and heart rate and activity monitors are receiving more press focus versus innovations within clinical and diagnostic markets (i.e., artificial pancreas, telehealth gateways, lab on chips).

There are two main differences between clinical and diagnostic devices and healthcare and fitness. Traditional medical markets like diagnostic, therapeutic, and imaging face challenges such as long design cycles, expensive clinical trials, and complex regulations, but once adopted the devices can generate long-term revenue with low risks. The healthcare and fitness market is not traditionally used to actually detect health conditions, so it has fewer issues with regulators, but there's also a shorter term revenue stream with higher competition and shorter life cycles.

As a result, the more challenging medical regulations and standards become, fewer organizations are willing to invest in this market, generating advances in medical devices for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. I believe if we are going to deliver better solutions for patients, we must understand that it's done through innovation and risk taking.

A big gap separates big and small medical device companies. Larger companies have great financial backing, which in turn fosters developments in the industry and supports creative innovation. Smaller companies tend to fall short unless they have support from a government institution. This in turn causes a global monopoly of sorts, allowing for the same companies to continue doing the same things.

I believe there should be a specific branch of major regulatory agencies devoted to innovation and experimental treatments with medium to high risk. This sort of group could enable government institutions and others focused on sheltering innovators and guiding them through the difficult path of launching a new product into the market place.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on sparking innovation in this sector.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on EETimes .

8 comments on “Where Are All the Medical Breakthroughs?

  1. _hm
    November 23, 2013

    I would say there are so many positive major developments in medical clincal and diagnostic field. It is difficulat to understand why you mentione they are not!

    How do you define major medical breakthrough? What are your expectations? Are you looking from prospect of marketing more parts for medical science field?

     

     

  2. t.alex
    November 25, 2013

    Sometimes i heard about robots that really help doctors to perform detailed and accurate surgery – even from a remote location. That's really one breakthrough, isn't it?

  3. Daniel
    November 26, 2013

    “Sometimes i heard about robots that really help doctors to perform detailed and accurate surgery – even from a remote location. That's really one breakthrough, isn't it?”

    Alex, it's a doctor assisted robots for surgery. The roles of such Roberts are limited to pin point the accurate location of surgery and to determine the optimal size of the wound. Its working principle is more or less like a CNC based machinery.

  4. Daniel
    November 26, 2013

    “I have seen very few major breakthroughs in medical technology over the last decade when it comes to clinical diagnosis and patient treatment. It's not because there are not huge efforts and brilliant ideas in play, but as an electronic engineer, and also in my work as a doctor, I am acutely aware of the many challenges there are to bring these brilliant ideas to life.”

    Jose, your observations are right. There are many hurdles in implementing human logics and analyzing skills through machine readable and analyzing. Eventhough there are many efforts happening at back end to realize such technologies, still most of them are not in fruitful stage.  I hope experts from medical electronics domain may address such issues in near future.

  5. SunitaT
    November 26, 2013

    Yes, every healthcare CEO knows about the risks involved with making a technology that will be easily adoptable by people. But mostly, apart from all these things, they must generate enough interest within customers to seek for such alternatives. If necessary leads are not generated then revenue won't come. The starting sales of a product (in this case a gadget for healthy living) come from hype.

  6. Michael Steinhart
    November 27, 2013

    Excellent article, Jose. I wonder two things: 

    1. Will we see / are you seeing incremental improvements in patient outcomes through advanced analytics of EHRs, as opposed to 'big' breakthroughs? Or do they not have to be opposed?

    2. Do you think the monopolies you mentioned have a hand in stifling innovation? The really interesting projects involving stem cells and biotech and alternative delivery methods seem to be based primarily in emerging countries like Ukraine. Or am I misinformed?

  7. SunitaT
    February 22, 2014

    One such commendable medical breakthrough took place recently at the Mississippi Medical Centre where a new-born was cured of HIV, using a cocktail of three anti HIV drugs which are generally given to older children and adults.

  8. SunitaT
    February 22, 2014

    @_hm: I think the author meant that more investment is needed in clinical and diagnostic field because that's what is needed more in the critical medical fields such as cancer, AIDS, Parkinson's and others, rather than investing millions in building pregnancy checkers, and check-your-blood-sugar-at-home meters.

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