Healthcare technology is rocketing forward as fast as ever, and 2017 is shaping up to have some exciting new developments in store. Medical researchers and tech companies alike are working overtime to develop new solutions to advance patient care and provide effective, efficient treatments and products. It looks like they’ve come up with some exciting ones for the upcoming year.
Healthcare advances come in all shapes and sizes, from new ways for doctors to perform delicate surgical procedures to a vape starter kit for smokers looking for an alternative. We’ve gathered some of the most impressive ones that are on the horizon.
5. 3D Printing
3D printing technology has been around for awhile now, so it may not seem like anything new. The technology has made several advances recently, though. While several hospitals have turned to 3D printing to provide affordable prosthetics to their patients, a few dramatic improvements are opening up additional uses.
Currently, researchers are attempting to use 3D printing to manufacture medicines. This would allow much more precise dosages tailored to each individual patient. At the same time, 3D printing could also allow pharmacies to print pills in a wider variety of shapes to make them easier for some patients to swallow. It could even be used to create new combinations of drugs.
Even more impressive, researchers are also developing ways for hospitals to use 3D bioprinting to actually create tissues, blood vessels, and even whole organs. The ability to print a working heart or set of lungs could do a lot to alleviate the shortage of organs for transplants and shorten the time it takes to get a viable organ to the patient.
4. Augmented Reality
Augmented reality is probably most famous for being the basis for Google Glass, the smartglasses that tech giant Google developed a few years ago. Augmented reality systems use the physical environment around the user and then overlay, or augment, them with supplemental audio and graphical elements. This provides the user with a richer and more informative experience.
The medical industry has begun to adapt this technology for several uses. For example, universities that provide medical education are using augmented reality to build dynamic 3D models of the human body that medical students can study and interact with. This gives students a clearer picture than 2D drawings and diagrams provide. Students can also manipulate the 3D models, zoom in on specific areas for a more detailed view, and view multiple cross-sections of a single model, something that can’t be achieved with a cadaver.
The medical applications of augmented reality go even beyond that, however. Developers are working with neurosurgeons and retinal microsurgeons—two of the most intricate surgical fields—in order to provide them with high-resolution, 3D imaging to aid them in their tasks and provide vital information to help them to operate more effectively.
3. Bioabsorbable Stents
Coronary stents save hundreds of thousands of lives each year, helping to keep coronary arteries clear of blockage. After a while, however, they are no longer necessary, and they can cause problems later on. The stents that are left behind can interfere with future surgeries or scans, and if not treated properly, they can cause blood clots.
Bioabsorbable stents are a new technology that can help to prevent those problems. A bioabsorbable stent is made of a polymer that dissolves naturally in the body, but still lasts for approximately two years. With the current metal stents, patients typically need to be on blood clotting medication for years; once the bioabsorbable stent disappears, though, those medications are no longer necessary. Experts are speculating that within six years, the market potential of the products could come close to $2 billion.
2. Robotic Surgery
Robotic surgery, or robot-assisted surgery, is already in use at some locations, such as the Mayo Clinic. It offers more precision, flexibility, and fine adjustment than human hands are capable of providing.They have already been used to replace hips and kidneys, as well as in mitral valve repair.
Medical providers are also looking into using robots in other capacities, such as delivering food and medications to hospital patients. Robots can be used to help sick and elderly patients from their beds into wheelchairs and back. Researchers are even considering “telepresence robots,” built to allow physicians to examine their patients from outside the room, or even across the country if necessary.
1. Warm Blood Perfusion Systems
Although organ transplants save thousands of lives each year, there is still a major shortage of usable organs available for transplantation. Often, even when an organ is viable, the storage and transportation process can damage the organs to the point where they can no longer be implanted in the patient.
To combat this problem, scientists have worked to develop a new process, called warm perfusion. Essentially, the organ is connected to a box that stimulates it and provides it with a supply of blood to keep it active. In other words, the box actually keeps the heart beating or the lungs breathing so that it is still healthy when it reaches the recipient. Because it can restart hearts that have already stopped beating, it expands the pool of viable organs. Currently, hearts are only transplanted from brain-dead donors, because once the heart stops beating, it is quickly starved of oxygen and can become too damaged to use in a transplant. The new method allows the organs to be fully healthy when they arrive.