Medical devices have existed in some form for centuries, resulting in thousands of innovative implementations over the years. Throughout history, medical devices have addressed a wide array of disease states – often, one device has purpose across different disease states. Devices fall into categories including single use devices, implantables, imaging equipment, medical supplies, software and surgical instruments.
As medical devices evolve and become more sophisticated, we are seeing a trend toward specialization. When robotic devices for minimally invasive procedures started to proliferate the market in the 1990s, for instance, we tended to measure the value of the devices by the variety and quantity of maneuvers and procedures they could handle. That inspired a generation of devices that attempted to “do everything,” particularly in the burgeoning field of laparoscopic surgery.
However, one-size-fits-all solutions have disadvantages in medicine today. Medical device design and development strategy is now changing at an astonishing rate, and device innovation has to keep pace. Building customized solutions for specialized disease states creates a nimbleness to respond to new conditions and develop a platform uniquely suited for that condition.
Today, there is an escalated appetite to address emerging procedures because they offer an opportunity for device makers – and physicians like me who are interested in cutting-edge technology – to influence new areas of medicine. It is akin to pioneering the untamed West in the 18th Century.
One of those novel procedures is called intravascular lithotripsy. It is a minimally invasive treatment that has shown tremendous promise in addressing vascular calcification, which increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, or blood clots, and can lead to limb amputations. In the fall of 2022, I had the honor of participating in one of the early clinical trials for a new device in the intravascular lithotripsy space. These niche areas are where industry-leading innovators are looking to meet growing market demand and give patients more treatment options.
That demand for specialized solutions has drawn the attention of investors and the largest manufacturers. In February of 2019, Johnson & Johnson acquired Auris Health and its FDA-cleared Monarch platform for $5.75 billion. At the time, it marked one of the largest venture-backed robotics acquisitions of all time. The Monarch platform specializes in diagnostic and therapeutic bronchoscopic procedures. Later in 2019, Germany-based Siemens Healthineers announced its acquisition of Corindus and its FDA-cleared CorPath GRX System, a robotics platform specifically for percutaneous coronary interventions. Both medical devices specialized in highly technical procedures, allowing them to emerge as leading solutions in their space and help to generate superior patient outcomes. It also showed the value of performing one type of procedure at a very high level.
Medical devices will continue to enter new areas because medical discovery is continuously finding new procedures that demand new solutions. As technological capability advances, it creates the opportunity for unique, imaginative approaches to treating illness. It will become commonplace to see devices that break new ground.
As scientific discovery continues to progress, we will see more specialization and more capable devices in those areas of expertise. One-size-fits-all may feel efficient, but in the face of a rapidly evolving field of medicine, the specialized approach to device innovation will continue to raise the standard of care.
Editor’s Note: The author has no relationships with any companies named in the article. with the exception of Siemens Healthineers, for which he has been a consultant.
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