The Next Big Thing In Medical Devices


Barry Braunstein

June 1, 2016

Acorn exhibited at the 2016 New England Electronics/Bio-Med Conference here in Boston recently; the conference was well attended with about 5,000 attendees including a good mix of suppliers and customers sharing information and experiences. Charlie Baker, governor of Massachusetts, spoke at length this year about digital health initiatives. It was good to hear that there is support at the state level for utilizing technology to improve healthcare and reduce costs.

The next several years promise to provide significant advances in how people’s health is monitored, diagnosed, improved, and how diseases are treated. Wearable, non-intrusive technologies that will monitor more than just vital signs are in development. These devices will have the ability to send data to not only the patient but through the cloud to your physician. Data will be monitored and reviewed, with alarms and analytics that will provide both early warning of an impending problem and real time data of an issue that is occurring. Feeling tired? Perhaps your blood sugar is low – or maybe your white cell count has suddenly increased, indicating the onset of a cold or flu. Or if you’re a diabetic, perhaps your insulin level has started to drop prior to your knowing and needs a boost.

By providing early warnings, and consistent monitoring of patients with conditions, the ability to prevent and treat a variety of ailments will improve healthcare and ultimately reduce costs. Of course, many issues remain before these technologies become mainstream. The already overloaded FDA has been working for several years to define their role, be it oversight and/or regulation of these technologies. While they want to encourage development, there also needs to be some level of certification and validation of the output of these devices when used on people to monitor health conditions – but where is the line drawn? Does a heart rate monitor need to be certified? What about a blood sugar monitor? And despite the “legalese”/warning labels on devices that state the devices have not been certified/approved by the FDA, etc., people will still use these devices as if the data is accurate and potentially take action. And from a legal perspective, who is liable in the event of something going wrong (when was the last time you actually read the warranty/liability information associated with any electronic purchase beyond just how long the term is? That’s what I thought – me neither).

Then there is the issue of ownership and protection of the data generated by these devices – researchers and doctors can utilize this information to better understand your own health parameters as well as the general populations’, but no doubt marketers who sell a variety of products would also be interested. And how will privacy be assured?

In the end, the pertinent players, including hardware and software engineering firms and the regulatory bodies will find a way to make this all work, as the potential life-saving and life extending benefits, along with huge potential monetary savings in health care will far outweigh the risks. And another technology revolution will become as mainstream as the cell phone in your pocket.

About the author

Barry is responsible for Acorn’s sales and business development activities in the eastern United States.