Not long ago, wearable devices were considered "state of the art." Now, Fitbit bands and Apple Watches are commonplace. Innovation never slows. If anything, technology is accelerating, especially in the healthcare sphere.
Cutting-edge technologies are often associated with innovation leaders, but research and development require a team's contributions. From medical providers to entrepreneurs, individuals passionate about innovation within healthcare can break into this progressive space.
The Rising Stars of Medical and Scientific Technology
Many of the projected innovations of the 2020s involve artificial intelligence (AI), but that's just one component in the burgeoning field of medical and scientific technology. Here are some of the most promising healthcare innovations breaking onto the scene.
1) Drone-Delivered Medical Supplies
It is one thing if your drone delivery from Amazon doesn't hit the mark — but it's quite another if a drone carrying precious medical samples falters. Fortunately, UPS has been developing the delivery of medical supplies via drones.
The company's trial program, Flight Forward, recently received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to expand to 20 hospitals across the U.S. These autonomous drones can deliver urine, blood and tissue samples, and medical essentials like drugs and transfusable blood. Drone delivery has already been used in Ghana and Rwanda to bring critical medical supplies to rural villages.
2) Data for Good
Where does all the data from your smartwatch go? Companies should prioritize personal data privacy, but if a technology could assure complete anonymity, think of the impact that robust, collective information would have on drug development, lifestyle studies and more. Measuring chronic pain effectively is one key research area, which could help mitigate the increasingly problematic opioid epidemic.
3) Using Stem Cells to Cure Diabetes
Individuals living with type-1 diabetes don't have it easy. They're constantly monitoring their blood glucose levels and require daily insulin injections and a carefully designed diet.
Harvard biologist Doug Melton has been working on a stem-cell solution to type-1 diabetes for over 10 years. A large pharmaceutical firm recently acquired his company, and his research could improve the lives of those with diabetes.
4) Mind-Reading Wristband
Though it sounds like something from a television show's premise, development has begun for a "mind-reading wristband." The technology behind the device, as described in this TIME article, "detects electrical impulses that travel from the motor neurons down the arm muscles and to the hand almost as soon as a person thinks about a particular movement."
Applications for the device include rehabilitation and access for patients recovering from a stroke or amputation. It could also benefit those living with Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, or other neurodegenerative conditions.
5) 3-D Digital Hearts
People with suspected heart problems (e.g., blocked, or narrowed arteries) are often required to undergo invasive procedures to diagnose a condition. Former Stanford professor Charles Taylor developed technology that creates personalized 3D models of a patient's heart. Doctors can zoom in, rotate, and simulate different treatment approaches. The goal is to improve outcomes — or even avoid invasive procedures altogether.
6) Pocket Ultrasounds
TIME also reports that more than four billion people worldwide are unable to access medical imaging. Butterfly iQ is a handheld ultrasound device developed by Jonathan Rothberg, a Yale genetics researcher, and serial entrepreneur. Instead of relying on (or investing in) a $100,000-plus machine, this gadget gives medical professionals access to imaging for much less.
While it doesn't work as well as standard imaging machines, this "pocket ultrasound" aims to make scanning more routine. Rothberg likens it to blood pressure cuffs or thermometers, which were previously only used in medical settings.
7) The Vast Applications of Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (VR) serves as fun for many, but its potential is far greater than a video game experience. The technology holds promise in physical and neurological rehabilitation as well as addressing chronic pain or migraines. Healthcare organizations can also use VR to conduct virtual tours of their facilities or showcase example procedures — something those with "white coat syndrome" or other medical anxiety may appreciate.
Innovation: It's Not Just About Technology
Of course, innovation isn't just about bringing novel ideas to life. Medical device manufacturers must also consider regulatory, economic, sociopolitical, clinical and reimbursement constraints within the healthcare industry.
Effective communication with the healthcare professionals who will be using the technology is also critical. Unless they get on board, innovation may stagnate.
If you're interested in helping advance healthcare technology and innovation, online certifications can help get you on this exciting path. With a completely online program, you can earn your Health Care Commercialization Certificate in as few as six months.
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