Making patients with devices less dependent on doctors

New Medical Devices Get Smart in today’s Wall Street Journal tells an encouraging story about how patients with prosthetics are gaining more autonomy from physicians. It features a man who lost his leg in a motorcycle crash and has a prosthetic. Used to be whenever he bought a new pair of shoes he’s have to go to the orthopedist to make adjustments to his prosthesis –otherwise he’d have discomfort and an awkward gait. Now he can make adjustments himself using a smartphone as a controller, or even let the prosthesis adjust itself.

Advancements like this have real potential to improve the quality of life for patients and reduce the demand for high-priced physicians and other clinicians. We should keep these innovations in mind as a partial solution to what otherwise could be a shortage of physicians and nurses. The orthopedics industry is actually a good one to look to for such solutions. That’s because orthopedic companies are quite focused on tamping down the demand for follow-up maintenance for their devices. They know orthopedists would much rather do the initial, lucrative procedure to install or implant the device rather than the low margin, mundane work of follow-up. Not only that, if an orthopedist has more capacity, s/he (usually he) can be a bigger customer of the device maker since more time is devoted to new procedures rather than follow-up.

Orthopedic companies are careful not to burden physicians, but there are definitely concerns that providing more technology to patients could lead to more demands on the providers rather than less. For example, with remote patient monitoring patients and physicians can become aware of random deviations and false positives that could compel a patient to seek care that they would have never thought to pursue before. So keep your eye on the device companies –not just orthopedics but cardiac, too– to see how their innovations help patients while decreasing the load on doctors.

August 14, 2012

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