2020 will soon be over, and it has been an unusual year to say the least. For most of us, it’s a year that we are looking forward to putting in the rear-view mirror. Of course, no one knows what 2021 will bring, but one thing is certain: Medical technology companies will continue to innovate and push the boundaries of science. Here’s a look at the top 12 medical technology advances to expect in the coming year.

12 Medical Technology Advances for 2021

1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Valued at $2.5 billion, AI in healthcare has already made quite an impact in the medical field, and it’s expected to continue growing. This technology has the ability to improve disease-related therapies, diagnose disease and reduce medical errors, improve diagnostic tools, develop new medicines, improve electronic health records, make medical devices and machines smarter, and more.

One example of AI in action is Project Hanover. This Microsoft AI system is designed to catalog biomedical research papers from PubMed. This helps produce cancer diagnoses and determine which drugs should be used for each patient. And then there’s Google’s DeepMind, which outperformed in detecting breast cancer based on the molecular data with an average of 11.5%. AI is also playing a critical role in the fight against COVID-19, through pandemic detection, vaccine development, thermal screening, facial recognition with masks, and analyzing CT scans.

2. Augmented Reality (AR)

This medical technology takes the real-world environment, and augments, or enhances it, by overlaying computer-generated perceptual information. While many think of it as a gaming component (think of the Pokémon Go craze from 2016), today it’s used to help healthcare professionals practice procedures before entering the OR.

This immersive method of learning appeals to all types of learners (audio, visual and kinesthetic) and is a great way for students or residents to “perform” complicated procedures and for seasoned surgeons to sharpen their skills.

3. Blockchain

Another of the many medical technology advances is Blockchain.  Blockchain is becoming popular across various industries, but its application in the medical field is particularly exciting. So, what is it? Blockchain is a digital ledger used for managing medical data that is validated by members within the network. This peer-to-peer system allows large numbers of users to securely have access to a common ledger that cannot be tampered with. It allows healthcare providers to distribute transaction records to patients securely and will greatly improve data security.

Blockchain has been particularly beneficial during the COVID-19 crisis. In October 2020, IBM Watson Health revealed its latest blockchain certification solution: Digital Health Pass. This enables companies to verify employee health while maintaining privacy. It’s expected that this will encourage employees to return to the workplace while allowing employers to calculate their workforce’s potential risk.

4. Genome Editing

Gene editing medical technologies enable scientists to correct genetic traits, known as phenotypes, to treat and prevent the spread of diseases. By manipulating phenotypes through techniques such as those developed by CRISPR (Clusters of Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) scientists have already made many advances in treatments of deadly diseases, including Duchenne muscular Dystrophy, heart disease, and cancer.

This modern medical technology can also be used for fast detection of coronavirus infection. This “lab-on-a-chip” device could potentially deliver a coronavirus test result, over-the-counter, within 30 minutes, spotting active infections quickly and cheaply through a simple nasal swab.

5. The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)

The Internet of Things, or IoT, has already made its way into our lives, from smartphones to smart homes. Now, a variety of medical devices and mobile apps are becoming major players for patients and physicians when it comes to tracking and preventing chronic illnesses. Through a combination of IoT and telemedicine, a new Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) has emerged.

Now, instead of relying on patients for a subjective symptoms report, physicians can remotely monitor IoMT data to provide accurate diagnoses and personalized treatment planning resulting in better outcomes. And, the IoMT market keeps growing. The arrival of the FDA-approved smart pill, which digitally tracks whether or not a patient has ingested their medication, demonstrates that practitioners have more options than ever when it comes to patient care and health monitoring.

6. Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is a process in which scientists manipulate and control individual atoms and molecules (one nanometer is one billionth of a meter, so it’s difficult to imagine just how small one is… think of it this way: if one meter was the size of the Earth, one nanometer would be the size of a marble).

As one of the medical technology advances, nanomedicine scientists hope that by harnessing its power, they can simplify medical procedures, improve treatments, and ultimately save lives. One application of nanotechnology in medicine currently being developed involves employing nanoparticles to deliver drugs, heat, light, or other substances to specific types of cells (such as cancer cells). This technique reduces damage to healthy cells in the body and allows for earlier detection of disease.

7. Robotics

Not a new medical technology but one that is rapidly advancing, robotics is huge when it comes to surgical procedures. Robotics can help surgeons achieve quicker, safer, more precise and less invasive procedures. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most widely used clinical robotic surgical system includes a camera arm and mechanical arms with surgical instruments attached to them. The surgeon controls the arms (demonstrating that the skilled hands of a surgeon will always be needed) from a computer console near the operating table. The console gives the surgeon a high-definition, magnified, 3-D view of the surgical site.

One such robot is da Vinci by Intuitive. The da Vinci platforms are transforming the field of minimally invasive surgery, reducing variability in surgery, and delivering better care. Today, da Vinci has helped perform more than five million surgeries, and it continues to pioneer new capabilities in the OR.

8. Telemedicine

Telemedicine, or virtual doctor visits, were already on the rise – and the COVID-19 sent them into the stratosphere. Through virtual visits, patients can stay home to reduce spreading viruses or picking one up, and doctors can save time (and squeeze more patients into their busy schedules). This is especially useful for minor and routine appointments. Perhaps most surprisingly, patient and physician adoption rates (two groups sometimes hesitant with new technology) have embraced telemedicine, showing that it’s clear that the industry has a strong future.

9. 3D Printing

3D printing, sometimes called additive manufacturing, is the process of making three dimensional, solid objects from a digital file. Using the technology, medical devices can be matched to the exact specifications of a patient to improve compatibility, comfort, and performance. It’s also being used in surgical planning, with surgeons using a 3D printed model of the patient’s anatomy to personalize preoperative planning instead of using unreliable and complicated 2D imaging techniques.

However, that’s just scratching the surface of 3D printing applications. It can ultimately be used to:

  • Printing human stem cells to grow replacement organs
  • Printing skin to replace burned or damaged skin
  • Printing cancer cells to study them and test new drugs on them

10. Tricorders

If you’re a Star Trek fan, you know all about the Tricorder! The fictional, multi-functional device could scan anything, informing the user of what elements were in an alien environment and the DNA structures of a new species while providing comprehensive diagnoses of any condition or disease. Now, the Tricorder is a reality.

DxtER, by Basil Leaf Technologies, is one of these Tricorders. The system pulls together data from a patient’s personal and family medical history, physical exam, and multiple sensors to make a quick and accurate assessment. DxtER can diagnose 34 health conditions, including diabetes, atrial fibrillation, COPD, urinary tract infection, sleep apnea, leukocytosis, pertussis, stroke, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.

11. Virtual Reality (VR)

No longer just for gaming, VR is changing the healthcare industry and the patient experience in several ways. For example, VR therapy is being used to help patients in chronic pain by virtually “removing” them from their situation; researchers found that patients reported a 35-50% decrease in the amount of pain they experienced while suffering no loss of cognitive ability. VR also shows promise for helping stroke victims by putting them into a simulated environment of their choice where they can regain motor control.

Another unique example of VR improving lives is Maplewood Senior Living in Connecticut, where VR headsets are used to help give individuals who have dementia or cognitive impairments access to activities and experiences that would otherwise be unavailable, improving their emotional well-being.

12. Wearables

Healthcare wearables monitor everything from heartbeat to blood pressure, stress levels to sleep. According to Business Insider, fitness tracker and health-based wearables in the US are expected to grow at an annualized rate of 10%, surpassing 120 million users by 2023!  In addition, some companies are now seeing the benefits of offering wearable medical technologies to employees, furthering industry growth of the products.

Development of Medical Technology in 2021

In 2020, as the pandemic raged on, the world finally began to see medical professionals as the superheroes they are. In 2021, the medical community will continue to fight for the lives of citizens through advancements in various types of medical technology advances.

When you consider how quickly vaccines were discovered to combat COVID-19, it shows that when the medical community and scientists put their heads together, there’s nothing they can’t accomplish.

Diberin Solutions wishes you a happy and healthy 2021!