Healthcare Technology Primed for a Breakthrough

Innovations as medical game-changers

lab technician with test tube

By: Delos M. Cosgrove, MD

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Technology has touched every facet of medicine. It’s helped us diagnose, prevent, monitor and treat patients.

In fact, blood tests, imaging, vaccines, online tele-health programs, medications, radiation, and surgical techniques all bear the fingerprints of advancing technology.

And we’re only becoming more technologically dependent.

The internet allows patients to easily learn about their conditions and treatment options. Electronic medical records give doctors and patients easy access to all of their medical data.

Robots perform surgery and deliver supplies throughout the hospital. IBM’s Watson, of Jeopardy! fame, is in medical school, working with our physicians to provide fast, efficient access to relevant knowledge buried in huge volumes of unstructured data.

In the very near future, more innovation is on the way, including:

MEMS (micro-electrical mechanical systems)

Cell-sized machines may soon rove through your vascular system, trawling for cholesterol or hunting down cancer cells.

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At Cleveland Clinic, our BioMEMS lab is working on tiny biochips that will do pressure sensing, imaging, drug delivery and tissue sampling from the tip of a catheter.

We’re creating systems that will tag stray cancer cells in the bloodstream and reduce the risk of metastasis. We’re also implanting chips in common sports equipment like helmets and mouth guards.

Breath analysis

Up to now, blood sampling has been the basic tool of medical testing. But breath analysis may soon overtake it.

Lung disease, liver disease, kidney disease and heart disease all leave traces in the breath. The trick is to separate their chemical signatures from all the other chemicals carried in respiration.

Devices are now being tested at Cleveland Clinic to detect lung cancer, asthma and other conditions.

Personalized healthcare

Our health profiles are as individual as fingerprints and family histories, and doctors who have personalized data on their patients will be able to diagnose more accurately and treat more effectively.

Cleveland Clinic’s new Center for Personalized Healthcare is showing the value of this approach, being able to anticipate and prevent serious health events in families whose members are at risk for hereditary disease.

There are plenty more developing technologies where these came from. However, here’s a stunning fact: It takes 13 years to take a new healthcare innovation from the point where we’ve demonstrated its benefit to the point where it has been established as the standard of care.

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We need to reform our medical institutions so that they energize innovation through clearly articulated goals and strategies, and so that their culture does not automatically discourage the new and untried.

In our society, medical advances are brought to the patient bedside through the mechanism of the marketplace.

At Cleveland Clinic we’ve created a technology transfer organization that takes innovations created by our 3,000 doctors, invests in them, determines if they are commercially viable, and if they are, license, patent, and start companies around them.

We now have almost 300 patents issued in the last 10 years, with 1,700 in the queue. We have spun off 45 start-ups. We want those ideas out and in use.

What will be tomorrow’s game-changers?

For innovation and technology to thrive, they need our personal and institutional support: capital investment, philanthropy, open research.

Which of today’s innovations will be the game-changers? We can’t say for sure. But we know that ones that won’t be: the promising research, technology and business ideas that never get the chance to benefit humanity because no one was willing to take a chance.

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