Medical technology: much more than science fiction


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Medical technology: much more than science fiction

Medical technology is a common theme in science fiction books and movies, leaving many people wondering what will be possible in the medical field in the not so distant futurei. Some tell stories of medical experiments gone awry such as the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and others tell of advanced treatments that can cure any disease, such as the healing pods in the 2013 film Elysiumii. While the invention of a single device that can instantly cure any ailment will likely remain firmly on the silver screen for now, there are many real life technological innovations already improving everyday treatments.

Advancements in medical technology are revolutionising how doctors care for their patients.

Technology trends

IBM has developed a cognitive computing system called Watson which is being used by medical professionals to help diagnose illnesses and prescribe optimal treatment solutionsiii. The Watson computer combines artificial intelligence with mechanical learning algorithms to sort through the vast quantities of big data available to medical professionals. Watson is able to examine information given to it by a physician and then search through a vast database of up-to-date medical journals, research, test results and even patient data to provide potential treatment optionsiv. By using Watson, healthcare professionals will be able to access the most current information and reduce the rate of misdiagnosesv.

Robotics have been used successfully for decades in surgery and ongoing research is enabling robots to move beyond the operating theatrevi. The i-limb ultra-hand is the first commercially available hand prosthesis that replicates the function of a human handvi. Robotics can also be combined with the growing trend in telehealth, allowing surgeons to perform procedures on patients who may live hundreds of kilometres awayvii who otherwise may not have access to the care that they need.

Designed to help ensure that patients take their medications, the Proteus pill is a tiny sensor, taken along with medication that sends a signal to a patch worn on the patient's torsoviii. The patch then sends a message to a physician's or caregiver's smartphone letting them know that the medication has been taken. The sensor is coated with small amounts of copper and magnesium and reacts with fluids in the stomachix. Currently available in the UK, this system is being investigated for use in Australiax.

The widespread use of smartphone apps is making it easier for doctors to collect information and communicate with their patients.

Medical technology in Australia

The electronic pacemaker and the cochlear implant are just a few of the medical technology breakthroughs to come from Australiaxi. During 2011-12, $237 million was spent in Australia on research and development of medical and surgical equipmentxii.

Bionic Vision Australia has been working on developing bionic eye devices to help restore vision to people suffering from degenerative eye diseasesxiii. The first bionic eye implantation occurred in 2012 and gave researchers valuable insight into how the brain interprets the signals generated from the devicexiv.

Empowering patients through technology

With constant access to smartphones and tablets, the future of medical technology is mobile. The development of apps combined with social networking and cloud based storage is expected to give healthcare providers real time insights on their patients. Better technology could help improve the efficiency of the healthcare system, potentially reducing costs and providing better services to patients overallxii.


iHandley, A. 2013, 'GEreports: Read about the technology, research & innovations shaping your tomorrow', Listverse, viewed on 18 November 2014,
http://listverse.com/2013/03/22/10-medical-technologies-that-could-shape-the-future/

iiKenigsberg, B. 2013, 'Elysium', Rogerebert.com, viewed on 23 October 2014,
http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/elysium-2013

iiiKotler, S. 2013, '5 medical technologies revolutionizing healthcare', Forbes.com, viewed on 23 October 2014,
http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenkotler/2013/12/19/5-medical-technologies-revolutionizing-healthcare/

ivIBM 2014, Implement Watson, viewed on 23 October 2014,
http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/ibmwatson/implement-watson.html

vNisen, M. 2013, 'Watson is moving beyond 'Jeopardy!' to improve cancer treatment', Business Insider Australia, viewed on 18 November 2014,
http://www.businessinsider.com.au/watson-supercomputer-solving-healthcare-problems-2013-2

viBeasley, R.A. 2012, 'Medical robots: current systems and research directions', Journal of Robotics, vol. 2012, Article ID 401613, viewed on 23 October 2014,
http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jr/2012/401613/

viiHealthcare Business Tech 2014, Medical technology, viewed on 23 October 2014,
http://www.healthcarebusinesstech.com/medical-technology/

viiiDrevitch, G. 2013, 'The newest, high-tech pill will text when swallowed, Forbes.com, viewed on 23 October 2014,
http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/04/16/the-newest-high-tech-pill-will-text-when-swallowed/

ixProteus Digital Health, Digital health feedback system, viewed on 23 October 2014,
http://www.proteus.com/technology/digital-health-feedback-system#sensor_text

xMundy, L. 2013, 'Technology brief medication compliance technologies', Queensland Health, viewed on 13 November 2014,
http://www.health.qld.gov.au/healthpact/docs/briefs/WP154.pdf

xiAustralian Geographic 2010, Australian inventions that changed the world, viewed 4 December 2014,
http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/history-culture/2010/06/australian-inventions-that-changed-the-world/

xiiMedical Technology Association of Australia 2013, Medical technology in Australia: key facts and figures 2013, Occasional paper series: Sydney, viewed on 23 October 2014 ,
http://www.mtaa.org.au/docs/key-documents/mtaa-factbook-2013-final.pdf?sfvrsn=0

xiiiBionic Vision Australia, The bionic eye, viewed on 29 October 2014,
http://bionicvision.org.au/eye

xivRoyal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital 2012, First implantation of prototype bionic eye with 24 electrodes: 'All of a sudden I could see a flash of light', Science Daily, viewed on 29 October 2014,
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120831065003.htm