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By Annie Keller

Published May 22, 2020

Every year there are new innovations in medicine that promise to change the field forever.  Not all of them do, of course – many despite that promise fail to yield.  But there are many that can be immediately pegged as game-changers.  Here are five that may fit the bill.

  1. Closed-Loop Spinal Cord Stimulation. Chronic pain is a disabling condition for millions, and new ways to reduce pain are welcomed.  Spinal cord stimulators have existed for many years, but their open-loop system cannot adjust stimulation as needed. Closed-loop systems can be adjusted as needed for pain.
  2. Virtual health care.  Coronavirus pushed the need for digital health visits into the public eye, but it had been growing for some time before that.  One virtual health care company had business grow over 1000% in one month; patients of many different virtual providers have expressed nothing but praise for the technology.
  3. Robotic exoskeletons. For most paralyzed people, keeping muscles that are no longer being used toned and fit requires a great deal of physical therapy.  The battery-powered suits developed by several companies allow paralyzed people the ability to move muscles no longer under their control.  Stroke patients paralyzed on one side of the body that used such devices were able to walk more rapidly and increased rehabilitation rates.
  4. Wearable device data. 23% of adults report wearing some sort of device that tracks health and exercise, such as smart watches and fitbit devices. That data could be a potentially important source of medical information – if it’s being collected. 4 million people have volunteered their data to Evidation, a company that tracks the data and allows large pharmaceutical companies to analyze it.  Several peer-reviewed studies have already come from that data.
  5. Open-source medtech.  The coronavirus brought the need for certain devices, like ventilators, to the forefront.  Aiming to cut down on shortages, university groups pooled their resources together to develop a low-cost, easy to make and operate ventilator.  While the shortages have eased, the potential for rapid innovation in medicine by making such information public is still huge.

As noted before, no matter how big an impact an innovation seems to have now, there can still be time where it will become unneeded or overhyped. Even so, these innovations show a great deal of promise.

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