Approximately 50% of adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have suffered from one or more chronic health conditions over the past five years. Nearly one-quarter of these patients have experienced two or more. Chronic health conditions are a root-cause reason why the cost of healthcare is rising in the United States.

The “Yellow Emperor” of China in 240 BCE said, “Treating an illness after it has begun is like suppressing revolt after it has broken out. If someone digs a well only when thirsty…one cannot help but ask: Aren’t these actions too late?” Medical devices are both the shovel and the well, creating a source of medication-free relief for chronic health conditions.

Medical devices are biomedical engineering “miracles” that provide relief to the health consumer throughout the continuum of care, extending beyond the episodic encounter. Medical devices are becoming increasingly important as our healthcare system moves away from fee-for-value to fee-for-value in the Meaningful-Use era. As we enter 2017, there are five emerging medical devices shifting the paradigm from fee-for-service to fee-for-value:

Cutting Back on Melanoma Biopsies

“Today dermatologists have new help in making the right call — a handheld tool approved by the FDA for multispectral analysis of tissue morphology. The MelaFind optical scanner is not for definitive diagnosis but rather to provide additional information a doctor can use in determining whether or not to order a biopsy. The goal is to reduce the number of patients left with unnecessary biopsy scars, with the added benefit of eliminating the cost of unnecessary procedures.”

Electronic Aspirin

“Doctors have long associated the most severe, chronic forms of headache with the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG), a facial nerve bundle…. A technology under clinical investigation…is a patient-powered tool for blocking SPG signals at the first sign of a headache…. The lead tip of the implant connects with the SPG bundle, and when a patient senses the onset of a headache, he or she places a handheld remote controller on the cheek nearest the implant. The resulting signals stimulate the SPG nerves and block the pain-causing neurotransmitters.”

Needle-Free Diabetes Care

“Continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps are today’s best options for automating most of the complicated daily process of blood sugar management – but they don’t completely remove the need for skin pricks and shots. But there’s new skin in this game.…technologies that would replace the poke with a patch [, such as] a transdermal biosensor that reads blood analytes through the skin without drawing blood.”

Robotic Check-Ups

“Telemedicine is well established as a tool for triage and assessment in emergencies, but new medical robots go one step further—they can now patrol hospital hallways on more routine rounds, checking on patients in different rooms and managing their individual charts and vital signs without direct human intervention.”

A Valve Job with Heart

“The Sapien transcatheter aortic valve is a life-saving alternative to open-heart surgery for patients who need new a new valve but can’t endure the rigors of the operation.”

These five examples are a sampling of the innovative work being performed by biomedical engineers to keep consumers healthy throughout the continuum of care, moving the United States’ healthcare system beyond a fee-for-service into a true fee-for-value system.

Source: “Top 5 Medical Technology Innovations.” The American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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