Top 10 Medical Technologies
Past, Present, and Future
Today, technology plays an important role in every industry and aspect of life. Medical technology is a field where innovation plays a crucial role in the sustainability and advancement of health. The dependence on medical technology and its advancement cannot be overstated, and as a result, health care practitioners can continue to find ways to improve their practice and/or research for better diagnoses, surgical procedures, treatments, and improved patient care. From innovations like adhesive bandages and ankle braces, to MRI machines and prosthetic limbs, technology has undoubtedly made an incredible impact on medicine.
The integration of advanced medical equipment is intended to improve the quality of health care delivery through earlier diagnosis, less invasive treatment, and reductions in hospital stays and rehabilitation times. Medical technology broadly includes medical devices, information technology, biotech, and health care services.
Below are the top ten technological innovations that have made huge strides in the medical field:
1. 3D Medical Printing
3D medical printing is already making strides in the world of medical technology. For example, through the e-NABLING the Future project, a global network of volunteers and doctors give to those who need prosthetic hands.
Bioprinting is based on bio-ink, which is made up of living cell structures. Bioprinting research is being developed to print different types of tissue, while inkjet printing, the type of printing most people think of when they hear “3D printing,” is being used to develop advanced medical devices.
Three dimensional bioprinting is the process of creating cell patterns in a confined space where cell function and viability are preserved within the printed construct. In addition to being used for growing organs, this new biotechnology also creates customized skin for prosthetic limbs and skin grafts to fit an individual patient’s needs.
2. Prosthetic Limbs
Prosthetic technology has come a long way since the peg leg, and advances in prosthetic (artificial) limbs are making life easier for amputees. From legs and hands controlled by the brain to skin printed by bio-ink that can simulate the sense of touch, medical researchers are on their way to developing artificial limbs that are as good as the originals.
How well a prosthesis enables the user to function depends on their anatomy and several other factors, such as:
- Fit, stability, and comfort of the prosthetic
- Prosthesis’ socket type and components
- overall health, age, and frame of mind of the user
The invention of prosthetic limbs has given amputees a chance to regain their mobility. Today, carbon fiber is used to make stronger, lighter, and more realistic limbs. As mentioned above, these new, futuristic prosthetics have built in myoelectric sensors that process brain signals to automatically carry out tasks such as gripping and walking, giving the wearer a sense of natural and effortless movement.
3. Medical Thermometer
Of the many tools and instruments that contribute to clinical examination, none has had such widespread application as the clinical thermometer. One of the first instances of an instrument developed to measure temperature was the thermoscope, invented by Galileo in the late sixteenth century; based on the principle that the density of a liquid changes in proportion to its temperature. However, it lacked an accurate scale and could be affected by changes in atmospheric pressure.
The medical thermometer wasn’t in general circulation and practice until Hermann Boerhaave (1668–1738), and his students Gerard van Swieten and Anton de Haen. By observing the fluctuation in a patient's temperature and the physical symptoms of the illness, such as shivering or a fever, Boerhaave and his students concluded that one's temperature could inform the doctor of a patient's health and progression of illness.
In 1868, Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich found that a healthy human's temperature fell within the range of 36.3 to 37.5 °C (97.34 to 99.5 °F). Just a couple years prior to this discover, the medical thermometer had been about foot long and took as long as twenty minutes to take an accurate temperature reading. Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt’s design of a much more portable device, measuring only six inches long and taking only five minutes to record a person’s temperature, greatly contributed to Wunderlich’s research findings.
4. X-Ray Imaging
The x-ray, a now common medical procedure, was discovered by accident by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen in 1895. He discovered that his cathode ray tube was glowing and could produce images. A scientific bombshell, x-ray imaging utilizes the ability of high frequency electromagnetic waves to pass through human body tissue, but not metal or bone.
A radiograph is the image obtained by placing a part of the patient in front of an x-ray detector and then illuminating it with a short pulse. This procedure is used in the detection of pathology of the skeletal system and some disease processes in soft tissue.
5. LED Phototherapy
Phototherapy is the use of certain types of electromagnetic radiation to treat some skin disorders, such as jaundice, a common, temporary condition in newborns caused by high levels of bilirubin. Phototherapy, or light treatment, is a process that involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet light on a regular basis under medical supervision.
Phototherapy is the most effective treatment when the light used is around 450nm of the light spectrum wavelength (blue color). Super LEDs provide light at this wavelength and have an abrupt reduction of the irradiance from the infra-red and ultra-violet wavelength ranges, reducing undesired effects to the skin.
Other medical uses of light therapy include:
- Skin conditions
- Acne vulgaris
- Retinal conditions
- Mood and Sleep conditions
- Seasonal affective disorder
- Circadian rhythm sleep disorder
6. Blood Glucose Monitor
To keep their blood sugar levels close to normal, diabetics need to daily monitor the level of glucose in their blood. Current technology to measure glucose in the blood includes the use of a portable testing meter called the blood glucose monitor. Using the device, a finger prick blood sample applied onto a test strip generates a numerical read-out. For this diabetic equipment, there are generally two terms to keep in mind:
A blood glucose meter is the device for measuring blood glucose level when a drop of blood is placed on a test strip. Within seconds, the level of blood glucose will be shown on the digital display.
An insulin pump is a medical device used for the administration of insulin, also known as continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion therapy. The pump is an alternative to multiple daily injections by syringes or pen and allows for intensive therapy when used in conjunction with blood glucose monitoring and carb counting.
The stethoscope was invented in 1816 by René Laennec and consisted of a wooden tube and was monaural. Laennec invented the stethoscope because he was uncomfortable placing his ear on women's chests to hear their heartbeat.
It would not be until 1851 that the stethoscope would become bi-aural. Rappaport and Sprague designed a new stethoscope in the 1940s, which became the standard. Consisting of two sides, the respiratory system and cardiovascular system.
In the late 1970s, David Littmann introduced the tunable diaphragm which raises the frequency bias by shortening the wavelength to auscultate a higher range of physiological sounds.
In 1999, Richard Deslauriers patented the first external noise reducing stethoscope, which featured two parallel lumens containing two steel coils which dissipated exterior noise.
In 2015, Tarek Loubani announced an open-source 3D-printed stethoscope. This 30 cent 3D-printed device reportedly beats the world's best $200 equivalent and is intended to make the medical device more accessible and obtainable.
8. CT Scanner
Computed tomography (CT) is an imaging procedure that uses special x-ray equipment to create detailed pictures of areas of the body. It is also called computerized tomography and computerized axial tomography (CAT).
The first commercial CT scanner was developed by Dr. Godfrey Hounsfield in 1971 and used computer-processed combinations of many x-ray images to produce cross-sectional images of specific areas of a body section, allowing practitioners to see inside the patient without cutting.
Digital geometry processing is used to generate a three dimensional image from a large series of two dimensional radiographic images taken around a single axis of rotation. However, most modern CT machines take continuous pictures in a helical or spiral fashion rather than a series of pictures of individual slices of the body. Helical CT produce faster and better 3D images of areas inside the body. The newest CT scanners, called multislice or multidetector scanners, allow more slices in a shorter period of time.
9. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
An MRI is a medical imaging technique in radiology that uses strong magnetic field, or radio waves, to generate pictures of the anatomy and physiological processes of the body.
MRI is widely used for medical diagnosis, staging, and follow-up without exposing the body to ionizing radiation (like a CAT scan). Unlike a CT scanner, a MRI can differentiate between white matter and grey matter in the brain and can be used to observe brain structures and determine which areas of the brain “activate” during various cognitive tasks.
10. Portable Defibrillator
An automated external defibrillator (AED) is an electronic device that checks the heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm. The portable version of the defibrillator was invented in the mid-1960s by Frank Pantridge, a pioneer in emergency medicine.
AEDs are designed to be simple to use for the everyday person, and the use of AEDs is taught in many first aid, certified first responder, and basic life support (BLS) level cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) classes.
AEDs are lightweight, battery-operated, and portable devices that are easy to use. Sticky pads with sensors are attached to the chest of the person who is having sudden cardiac arrest.
- Magnifying Glass
The magnifying glass is one of the oldest optical devices known to science. Ancient Egyptians used chips of crystal or obsidian to enlarge small objects. In Rome, Emperor Nero was known to have peered through gemstones at actors on a distant stage. The first constructed magnifier for purely scientific purposes is believed to have been designed by the Roger Bacon in 1250.
Pacemakers use electrical impulses to regulate the beating of the heart. They treat disorders making the heart’s rhythm too slow, fast, or irregular. In 1932, Albert Hyman devised the first artificial pacemaker powered by a hand cranked motor. The device was about 10 inches long, weighed less than a pound; and supplied the heart with an adjustable voltage current. Today, pacemakers are the size of a large coin and implanted near the heart.
- Viaskin Peanut
The National Institutes of Health is publicizing results of a study it sponsored investigating a skin patch designed to treat peanut allergies developed by DBV Technologies. Called Viaskin Peanut, the patch delivers a small amount of peanut protein through the skin, training the immune system to deal with the allergen so that it can handle accidental ingestion of peanut-based products in the future.
This list is only a minuscule fraction of technology that is contributing to some groundbreaking scientific work. There are still numerous devices and innovations that need entries. What are some medical devices missing from the list? Add them to the comments below.