Medical Devices Expected to Change the World by 2020

New medical innovations emerge every day that improve health and extend lifespans. Much of the credit for such advancements goes to a plethora of new medical device startups and university research labs. Today researchers work to create noninvasive therapies, to counter treatment-resistant diseases, to make medical research safer, and to revolutionize organ donation. With so many new devices flooding the market, it can be difficult to keep track of major game-changers that really move their segment of healthcare forward. Fret not: this article explores four medical devices which are reshaping people’s approach to healthcare.

Dr. A.I.

Dr. A.I. connects patients with personalized medical direction through an app downloaded on their smart devices. The platform digitizes healthcare triage, which means it assesses one’s medical risk and recommends the first step toward treatment. Dr. A.I. uses on health parameters like one’s weight, age, and medical history, and a series of follow-up questions to devise those recommendations. While physicians can already use AI-enhanced software to monitor patients, Dr. A.I. is an important step in putting medical AI squarely in patients’ hands. The app aims to improve consumer medical information to minimize misdiagnoses and unnecessary—or potentially dangerous—home treatments.

How It Works

Dr. A.I. uses machine learning, individual patient medical histories, and more than a half-decade of knowledge from 105,000 triage experts to direct patients with medical concerns. Unlike internet search engines often used to research symptoms, Dr. A.I. considers one’s personal medical background to develop highly-targeted questions. It then produces a list of potential causes of one’s symptoms ranked by the seriousness of the conditions. Dr. A.I. also uses a cloud-based digital health platform that connects patients with doctors via phone, text, or video chat. It is available on both Android and iOS devices.

Why It’s a Big Deal

Experts expect artificial intelligence to revolutionize healthcare as we know it. Google began developing AI surgical robots in 2015, for instance, and doctors can already use AI-enhanced software to monitor patients. Dr. A.I. is an excellent example of how accessible such tools are becoming, and how quickly. While the app is a major step in consumer-driven medical triage in the United States, the UK’s National Health Service is already using a similar platform called Babylon to reduce lengthy patient waiting lists by weeding out cases that do not necessarily require a physician visit. Like Dr. A.I., Babylon lets patients monitor their health and ask medical questions using an AI chat tool. Because it is a government-condone app, however, Babylon users can actually order medical kits and tests for at-home diagnostic purposes.

As helpful as it might be, medical use of AI is the subject of ethical debate. Some experts worry devices do not have the personal insight of human healthcare providers and could, therefore, overlook something critical. Nonetheless, AI proponents believe the ease and accessibility of tools like Dr. A.I. can theoretically prompt more patients to mitigate life-threatening medical situations and reduce home-health mishaps and the load of unnecessary doctor visits. The technology is perhaps even more important to rural and economically disadvantaged patients with limited healthcare access.

The Details

  • Creator: HealthTap
  • Cost: Free, though there may be in-app purchases.
  • Projected release: Dr. A.I. made its public debut in early January of 2017.

Ron Gutman is the co-founder and CEO of the Silicon Valley startup HealthTap and an active speaker and curator in the TED community. He is an advisor and angel investor to such companies as Harvard Medical School’s SMArt Initiative and Stanford Medical X. Previously Mr. Gunman served as founder and CEO of the online community of health writers Wellsphere. While a graduate student at Stanford University, Gutman lead a diverse group of faculty and students to research ways to personalize health and increase patient engagement. Several national publications have covered his work in healthcare, innovation, and smiling. Among them: Forbes and the Huffington Post.

The Future of Health Innovation: How to Get Involved

Many of the companies highlighted here are, or were, small startups founded on little more than a very good idea, some investment capital, and sheer will. In other words, the medical device market is no longer reserved for major pharmaceutical companies and labs. The University of Utah has even published a list of instructions for future innovators. Interested, prospective students are encouraged to invest their time in the med-tech professions and degrees that improve one’s chances of getting involved, especially those that deal specifically with biomedical engineering, medical lab technology, and business.

Kortex VR Device

Fisher Wallace Labs’ Kortex VR is a small brain-stimulation device shown to increase the production of endorphins, mood-regulating serotonin, and sleep-promoting melatonin while reducing that of the stress hormone cortisol. The device attaches to the back strap of any virtual reality headset to create a relaxing, immersive experience that promotes healthy sleep, though its creators note it can be used independently. The Kortex VR relies on the same technology as the Fisher Wallace Stimulator, which is cleared by the FDA to treat depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and insomnia. The device itself, however, was successfully crowdfunded through IndieGoGo (linked above).

How it works

Kortex gently stimulates the brain with patented brainwaves that produce mood- and sleep-promoting neurochemicals. Columbia University psychiatrist Dr. Richard P. Brown told Fisher Wallace that the technology brought relief to more than 70 percent of about 400 severely depressed patients resistant to other therapies. That’s about twice the rate of antidepressants.

Why It’s a Big Deal

The rapidly-growing field of brain stimulation is a often more effective—and less invasive—means of psychiatric treatment compared to most existing therapies. Recent studies suggest it may even improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and autism, among other medical conditions. Kortex’s novel VR-integration, portability, accessibility, and comparatively low cost brings brain stimulation technology to a whole new level.

The Details

  • Manufacturer: Fisher Wallace Labs
  • Cost: $299
  • Projected release: Fisher Wallace aims to make Kortex publicly accessible in July of2017. One can already order the device through IndieGoGo.

Dr. Richard P. Brown is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry and clinical researcher at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and co-founder of Breath Body Mind health workshops. As one of the first medical professionals to test Kortex, he has a keen professional interest in non-invasive healthcare and serving treatment-resistant patients, particularly those who suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. He also developed a comprehensive physiological theory dealing with the relationship between yoga breathing and such challenges as insomnia, stress, mood disorders, and difficulties with emotion regulation. Dr. Brown has published more than 100 scientific articles and delivers more than 100 lectures each year globally. He earned his MD from Columbia University and a Certificate of Psychopharmacology from the American Society of Clinical Pharmacology.

YourBio Health Blood Collection Device

The Blood Collection Device from YourBio Health (formerly known as the TAP Blood Collection Device from Seventh Sense Biosystems) is an FDA-cleared device that collects blood painlessly using an array of tiny needles called microneedles. Users simply push a button and blood is vacuumed into the device; samples are anticoagulated and ready for lab transport. Researchers hope the device can reduce the number of patients who delay or forego medical tests that rely on drawn blood. It could also be a helpful resource for clinical trials, pharmacies, athletic monitoring, and more.

How It Works

According to manufacturer YourBio Health, the Blood Collection Device’s spring-loaded ring of microneedles, which are smaller than an eyelash, creates tiny punctures through which blood is drawn. YourBioHealth CEO Howard Weisman says the needles are deployed and retracted so rapidly that patients do not feel them at all. The device itself is about the size of a stethoscope.

Why It’s a Big Deal

Though life-changing for patients terrified of traditional phlebotic needles, it is YourBio Health’s use of microneedles that is especially revolutionary. It is only one of a whirlwind of new and developing devices using them. Researchers are testing a wearable patch called SkinJect, for instance, that uses dissolvable microneedles to treat basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers directly. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for nearly 80 percent of skin cancer diagnoses, or about two million cases a year.

Another forthcoming device called sugarBEAT is a reusable electronic sensor—also applied using a skin patch—that continuously monitors one’s glucose via a non-perceptible current across the skin. The Bluetooth-enabled device lets diabetics access this information anytime with an app. According to University of Bath pharmaceutical sciences professor Dr. Richard Guy, when paired with microneedles, the patches could painlessly inject insulin whenever patients need it, without any action on their parts.

The Details

  • Manufacturer: YourBio Health
  • Cost: TBD
  • Projected release: Mid-to-late 2017

Dr. Robert S. Langer is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) David H. Koch Institute Professor—the highest honor awarded to faculty members—and co-founder of YourBio Health. With more than 1,000 issued and pending patents licensed or sublicensed to more than 300 medical device, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical companies, some sources call Dr. Langer the “most cited engineer in history.” He once served on the FDA’s highest advisory board and was profiled by dozens of prominent publications. Dr. Langer received more than 220 major awards. Among them: The United States National Medal of Science and the United States National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Dr. Langer earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University and his ScD from MIT.

Aimee Hosler
Aimee Hosler Writer

Aimee Hosler is a long-time journalist specializing in education and technology. She is an advocate for experiential learning among all ages and serves as Director of Communications for a non-profit community makerspace. She holds a degree in journalism from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.