Implantable devices are not a new concept in healthcare. For decades, people have been kept alive by devices like pacemakers that assist the heart to function, for example, and orthopaedic devices that assist in fusing bones and joints displaced through injury. However, recent developments in the technology sphere have led to the increase and improvement in the types of implantable devices available in healthcare and generally.
You may have heard reports of companies implanting tech into staff to monitor things like punctuality and attendance. Three Square Market, a company in Wisconsin in the United States, has implanted a radio frequency identified (RFID) chip into some of its employees, which allows them to pay for merchandise, access the building and log in to their computers at work with a wave of the hand. The chip is about the size of a grain of rice. RFID technology is not new. We see its usage every time we scan an item at the supermarket and every time we use our credit cards. Their application is only being extended to incorporate other purposes and can now be implanted into the body.
Sweden is perhaps one of the more advanced countries in terms of technology and has adapted implanting devices into its population. Thousands of persons there currently have implants but this may be mainly because there is little technophobia in that country. People use these for routine activities like making purchases, gym membership and building access. Health data is also stored on these chips.
A very popular trend is to have an implant for diabetes management. Traditionally, diabetics have to prick the finger and take blood to test glucose levels. Technology has now allowed for digitial tracking through a smartphone and an implantable device. DexCom is one of several companies that have employed this type of continuous glucose monitoring. Many other companies have emerged in the market and have created devices for various purposes.
A company called Profusa Inc has an implant being used in Europe that monitors patients being treated for peripheral artery disease, but its use can eventually be extended to other illnesses. The device, inserted under the skin, can measure levels of biochemicals in the body which can alert physicians to developing health issues.
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland has developed a chip that is inserted under the skin that can more or less be considered an ongoing blood test. The company says it works best for chronic illness sufferers who need consistent monitoring. The device has five sensors and a tiny transmitter that sends the results to a physician. It can alert a doctor to a possible issue before symptoms emerge, which can lead to quicker intervention and preventative treatment.
Other devices include implantable loop recorders which are placed under the skin of the chest, measure heart rhythm and can easily detect abnormalities that a regular electrocardiogram (ECG) would miss.
The market for these devices is growing. According to Research and Markets’ Implantable Medical Devices Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2019-2024 report, “the global implantable medical devices market was worth US$96.6 billion in 2018… looking forward, the market value is projected to reach US$143.3 billion by 2024, exhibiting [a compound annual growth rate] CAGR of 6.8 per cent during 2019-2024”.
With the continued development of health technology, it is no surprise that this segment of the industry is moving at such a fast pace. These developments can have a profound impact on a patients’ electronic health records and implications for access. When, for example, there is an emergency, if a person has a certain type of implant, an emergency medical technician can do a quick scan and see that person’s health history. This can lead to quicker intervention and perhaps more lives saved. Implants can also result in more precise information being obtained to improve patient care.
It may seem that in Jamaica we are a little way from using any of these in a widespread manner. This may be so at this point, but I have seen technology progress to stages many persons never thought possible. I am confident that, sometime in the near future, we will also adopt some of these and incorporate them into our health information system.
Doug Halsall is chairman and CEO, Advanced Integrated Systems
Published: Sunday | November 10, 2019 | 12:36 AM Doug Halsall