Innovation in medical electronics is hard due to technical, legal, and financial conditions, but new regulatory structures could help.
I have seen very few major breakthroughs in medical technology over the last decade when it comes to clinical diagnosis and patient treatment. It's not because there are not huge efforts and brilliant ideas in play, but as an electronic engineer, and also in my work as a doctor, I am acutely aware of the many challenges there are to bring these brilliant ideas to life.
There has been somewhat of a shift of late in focus to the healthcare and fitness market. Sports watches and heart rate and activity monitors are receiving more press focus versus innovations within clinical and diagnostic markets (i.e. artificial pancreas, telehealth gateways, lab on chips).
There are two main differences between clinical and diagnostic devices and healthcare and fitness. Traditional medical markets like diagnostic, therapeutic, and imaging face challenges such as long design cycles, expensive clinical trials, and complex regulations, but once adopted the devices can generate long-term revenue with low risks. The healthcare and fitness market is not traditionally used to actually detect health conditions, so it has fewer issues with regulators, but there's also a shorter term revenue stream with higher competition and shorter life cycles.
As a result, the more challenging medical regulations and standards become, fewer organizations are willing to invest in this market, generating advances in medical devices for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. I believe if we are going to deliver better solutions for patients, we must understand that it's done through innovation and risk taking.
A big gap separates big and small medical device companies. Larger companies have great financial backing, which in turn fosters developments in the industry and supports creative innovation. Smaller companies tend to fall short unless they have support from a government institution. This in turn causes a global monopoly of sorts, allowing for the same companies to continue doing the same things.
I believe there should be a specific branch of major regulatory agencies devoted to innovation and experimental treatments with medium to high risk. This sort of group could enable government institutions and others focused on sheltering innovators and guiding them through the difficult path of launching a new product into the market place.
I'd like to hear your thoughts on sparking innovation in this sector.