Doctor What?: medical technology revolutionises the industry

Posted by Ms. Gadget
Ms. Gadget
Megan Ellis is a New Media student and young journalist at Rhodes University.
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on Monday, 14 May 2012
in Digital Blogs

While cool gadgets and weird tech excites and entertains, I find that truly amazing technology is that which helps people in meaningful ways. 

it's no wonder then that after looking into assistive technology, that I found equal fascination with medical technology. After all, it is within this sector that we've seen some remarkable advancements. It's as though all those scifi films had psychics as writers (except for the aliens of course).

Robotic exoskeletons

Iron Man seems to sum up Cyberdyne's latest development: a robot exoskeleton - or as they call it, HAL: Hybrid Assistive Limb. This exoskeleton has promised to give superhuman strength to its users. Of course, its target market is primarily those who are movement-impaired and therefore require the suit. The exoskeleton, and others similar to it, have granted new possibilities to patients.

Seiji Uchida, a paraplegic Japanese man, used the suit to achieve his dream - climbing Mont Saint Michel in Normandy. To add to this, he did the climb carring an adult man to prove HAL's strength.

Implants and minimally-invasive surgery

But some medical technology is not simply worn, but implanted. This is the case with RegJoint, biodegradeable joint implants which help to regrow finger and toe joint tissue. This innovation will replace permanent implants used for those with severe osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

While medical technology is greatly improving the lives of its patients, it also greatly aids surgeons and doctors. This can especially be seen through the strides made in the last few decades in surgical equipment. Some invasive surgeries have turned into laparoscopic or minimally-invasive surgeries (MIS), cutting down surgery duration, patient recovery time and post-surgery complications.

Not only can machines perform incisions and operations, but now these can be done from remote locations. Some are uncertain about the benefits of remote-controlled surgery, but if this technology were to be made cheaper and more widely available, it would have huge benefits for health care in developing countries where hospitals are often understaffed and ill-equipped. Emergency patients would no longer have to be transferred - operations to stabilise patients could be done immediately with the help of surgeons in other locations.

Developing world

But this will likely remain a pipe dream for a very long time. The only downside to medical technology is its price. It seems that many of the most important and innovative developments continue to be the most costly.

The exception to this is laser surgery. While I am not sure of the price of the equipment, some surgeries' prices are significantly reduced by the use of this equipment. A notable example is the laser tonsillectomy - adult patients remain awake during the surgery and only local anaesthesia is used. Recovery time is halved and the surgery costs a quarter of the price of a traditional tonsillectomy. This is one medical advancement I can personally attest to.

Once again the digital divide plays a major role in the spread of technology. While it is getting cheaper and cheaper to produce ICTs such as mobile phones and tablets, medical technology continues to be extremely expensive in comparison.

In a country in South Africa, it is unlikely that government medical research and development branches will produce this kind of technology as the technology industry is somewhat stunted when compared to other developing countries.

It seems that whenever I blog about new tech, price seems to be a major factor. But unfortunately, living in the developing world, many issues boil down to the limitations brought about by poverty and stunted economic growth. The majority of people cannot afford to buy the tech from overseas companies, and our own tech industry is too far behind to produce its own. NGOs and non-profits often struggle to stay afloat, so it seems they aren't a viable option to create access to medical advancements.

What do you think? Am I simply being a pessimist? Or do you know of other issues I've missed?

To hear more about medical technology's affordability in developing countries, listen to my blog audiocast:


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