Today, some chronic diseases and conditions need to be monitored around the clock, but with our aging population and the increase of medical conditions, it’s getting harder for doctors and nurses to grapple with the overabundance of patients. Thankfully, we’re in an era of major technological advancements, especially when it comes to wearables and implantables. As miniaturization captivates the attention of medical device makers and power sources, a whole new world of possibilities is available. Specifically, when it comes to implantables.
Implantable technologies can sense factors of different diseases, and can either relay that information to a facility, provide guidance to the patient for their next steps of action, or autonomously perform a function based on what the sensors are interpreting. This has innovated the implantable market to create a variety of implanted sensors and even “smart tattoos” that monitor health. One such example of this is a smart tattoo ink, developed by Harvard and MIT researchers, that monitors a person’s health by changing color. The color change indicates if a person is dehydrated, or if an individual has diabetes, it can change color to notify them if their blood sugar has risen.
In response to the trending theme of implantables, we conducted a survey where 295 of our trusty readers participated in providing more insight on what’s in store for the future of implantables.
Q1: How would you characterize the growth in medical implantable devices over the next year?
- 48.8% – Strong
- 27.1% – Very strong
- 23.73% – Modest
- 1.7% – Flat or declining
Based on our responses, almost half of our readers strongly believe medical implantable devices will continue to grow, and that this trending technology has not reached its peak. Less than two percent believe implantables will be on the decline or plateau. As most of our readers see implantables on the rise, there’s a variety of applications where our respondents believe this technology will be applied.
Q2: In which of these sectors do you see implantable medical devices making the most impact, in terms of fighting disease and improving patient comfort? (Choose one)
- 38.3% – Cardiovascular
- 21.7% – Orthopedic
- 19.7% – Reconstructive joint
- 13.9% – Spinal
- 3.4% – Other
- 3.0% – Breast
Over half of our respondents see implantables impacting the cardiovascular and orthopedic fields (Figure 2). Devices such as Abbott’s MRI-labeled implantable cardioverter defibrillator devices, Stryker’s SpineJack implantable fracture reduction system, and Zimmer Biomet’s OsteoGen surgically implanted bone growth stimulator are all examples of how implantables are making their way into a plethora of applications. Additionally, many of the responses under the ‘Other’ category included implantables that could be used for diabetes management and monitoring. One such instance of this is the American Diabetes Association’s fully implantable glucose monitor that remains implanted in the arm for up to six months and provides continuous glucose measurements. Undoubtedly, as the technology for implantables surges, a variety of unmet applications may also be unearthed.
Q3: What do you consider to be the most significant factors driving changes in the implantables market? (Check all that apply)
- 59.3% – Aging population
- 56.95% – Technology advances
- 42.0% – Higher awareness of implant technology options
- 30.2% – Increased incidence of degenerative medical conditions
Our readers indicated that our aging population and technological advances are the top two factors for driving changes in the implantables market. As individuals get older, performing surgery on them increases many risky factors. Implantables could help mitigate the risk of performing surgery on seniors, and completely change the way surgeons navigate the operating table. Additionally, as technology’s ever-increasing avenue of solutions continues to proliferate the healthcare field, implantables could become even more customized and provide doctors with the necessary tools to monitor multiple patients at once without having them physically be in the hospital. Although just potential driving factors that could change the implantable world, our readers have also looked at the possible concerns implantables may face.
Q4: What do you see as the major issues in implantable devices? (Check all that apply)
- 60.3% – Reliability and safety
- 59.7% – Cost and healthcare reimbursement
- 48.1% – Battery and power
- 27.5% – Compliance and regulatory issues
- 27.5% – Security and privacy
- 15.6% – Obsolescence of existing devices
- 2.4% – Other
Many of our trusty readers’ concerns with implantables included safety, cost, and battery or power. Some asked, “How long can these devices deliver for a patient’s benefit?” While others were more concerned about an implanted unit not being replaceable. As medical facilities adopt implantables as a procedure norm, undoubtedly the reliability and safety of these devices will also increase. Device engineers will also need to take into account the materials needed to create these implantables, so they are cost effective when it comes to the world of hefty medical costs. Additionally, as engineers consider the materials needed, they must consider how they will power the device while it’s part of the body. Lastly, the security and privacy of information that is transmitted from a person’s body, transferred to the implantable, and finally forwarded to experts is an ongoing concern patients have with the integration of technology.
Q5: Which of these future developments will be most significant for medical implantable devices? (Choose one)
- 36.3% – More intelligence in implants
- 35.3% Greater use of bioelectronics implants
- 13.6% – Higher levels of security
- 12.5% – Power advances
- 2.4% – Other
Our readers foresee the development of medical implantables having to do with more intelligence integrated into the implant and a greater use of bioelectronics. Bioelectronic implants provide targeted treatments with minimal side effects. Contrary to oral drugs that interact with organs and the bloodstream as they travel, bioresorbable implants could target a medical condition inside the body and control the neural signals going to a specific organ.
Researchers at Northwestern University and Washington University School of Medicine developed the an example of a bioresorbable electronic medicine in late 2018. This device is an implantable, biodegradable wireless device that speeds up nerve regeneration and improves the healing of a damaged nerve. As researchers continue to incorporate more intelligence and bioelectronics into implants, our readers have also noted additional developments that may be significant for medical implantables. This includes technology advances in materials and design, adoption and acceptance from individuals, and biodurability and stability of medical implantables.
Q6: Because the Internet of Things (IoT) is playing an ever-larger role in medical technology, how confident are you that existing and potential cybersecurity issues with implantables can be resolved?
- 50.5% – Existing IT technology can be adapted to resolve most potential cybersecurity issues with implantables
- 47.5% – Implantable companies and IT experts will be hard-pressed to find adequate solutions
- 2.0% – Other
Interestingly, our readers were almost 50/50 when it came to being confident whether existing and potential cybersecurity issues with implantables can be resolved. The ‘Other’ category included concerns about software and avoiding software updates. One reader writes, “We will need hardware solutions. The software is not adequate all by itself.” Another reader says, “Security issues will never be solved, but the benefits will out-weigh the risks.” Others are fully optimistic. One reader writes, “Implantables will have unique challenges, but new solutions will be found.” As some of our readers have a positive outlook on the benefits of implantables, others foresee unwanted side effects to implantables as a concern.
Q7: There is some concern about the safety of implantable medical devices, with anecdotal evidence of unwanted reactions or other side effects to patients. How much do you see this as a potential issue?
- 50.9% – This is definitely a growing concern
- 42.7% – There may be some concern, but it is not critical yet
- 6.4% – Haven’t seen this as an issue to date
Over half of our readers see some concern about the safety of implantables as they increase in usage. Since data is usually being inferred from the implantable device to a medical expert, there may be concerns about the security of a patient’s data. Additionally, the materials used to create an implantable device is extremely important since it has to be completely compatible with a human body. Another concern some have is determining who has control over the implantable if the individual is not coherent. Does the doctor have the right to disable a device if he/she deems it ineffective or responsible for an unwanted reaction, despite the patient’s wishes? These are questions that will unfold as the future of implantables progresses. For now, our trusty readers see a surge of growth in implantables, and it will surely be an exciting year to see what innovative implantables make their way into the world.