The impact
of technology
on medical

Author: Whitney J. Palmer

Today's medical manufacturing doesn't look the same as it did 10—or even five—years ago. Hardware assembly isn't necessarily the main focus any longer. Instead, advancements in technology have reshaped the industry, transforming medical devices into tools that can actively contribute to improving healthcare.

The pivot has concentrated largely on digital solutions, particularly those powered by 5G. Rapid, low latency communication can help bolster telemedicine, encourage the use of wearable sensors, augment personalized care and power remote services, such as telehealth consultations and telesurgery.

There are multiple ways that technology has pushed medical device manufacturing to progress, and the next step on this journey is continued adoption of 5G capabilities.

How has technology helped medical device manufacturing evolve?

Over the past decade, medical device manufacturing has evolved. New technology development has specifically improved the quality of currently available medical devices in three ways.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Healthcare innovators are focused on developing AI-enabled medical devices that can help enhance patient care through improved diagnostics and treatment. For example:

  • AI-based imaging captures high-definition pictures that facilitate diagnosis, potentially reducing a patient's radiation exposure.
  • AI-based wearable devices that monitor a patient's condition and deliver treatment make chronic disease management, such as controlling diabetes, easier.

3D Technology

3D printing is frequently used to create complex medical devices. It also played a significant role in medical manufacturing evolution because it enables the customized development of devices. This method is growing in popularity, with the U.S. industry projected to grow from $1.6 billion in 2022 to $3.2 billion by 2026. Manufacturers feed digital models created through CT, MRI, ultrasound or X-ray scans through a 3D printer to produce on-demand medical devices. Creating medical devices faster has led to better patient outcomes and reduced costs.

In fact, several medical manufacturing technologies pair closely with 3D printing. For example, one can combine the latter with computer numerical control (CNC) machining to create durable, high-performance medical implants and artificial body parts. Pre-programmable software and code can be used to control the production of equipment.

3D printing can also be used with several other medical manufacturing technologies:

  • Injection molding can create medical device prototypes. While certain medical devices are metal, this strategy focuses on creating plastic prototypes.
  • Fused deposition modeling (FDM) can construct medical devices that don't require significant strength, such as surgical planning models or medical implants made of sterilizable materials.
  • Stereolithography can produce high-level, precise medical devices, such as prosthetics, wearable assist devices and dental implants. This tactic can also produce patient-specific devices for pre-operative planning.
  • Selective laser sintering produces highly detailed, complex and strong devices such as surgical or dental tools.
  • 3D imaging combines CT or MRI scans with 3D printing to create complex, patient-specific products. To date, it's been mostly implemented with orthopedic implants.

Augmented Reality (AR)

AR allows medical devices to project digital information into the real-world field of vision, potentially enhancing patient care accuracy. For example, handheld scanners help nurses find veins for intravenous procedures, and AR software displays digitally enhanced images through the microscope of surgical devices to assist surgeons during minimally invasive robotic surgery.

Why is device upgrading from 4G to 5G chipsets important for medical equipment?

The current 4G chipset (LTE) has moved the needle for medical devices considerably. Its launch gave users high-speed connectivity through high-frequency bandwidth. But healthcare needs more. The volume of patient data is growing rapidly. By 2025, 36% of the world's data is expected to come from healthcare, far outpacing the financial and entertainment industries.

With this much patient data, upgrading to a 5G chipset is critical for medical manufacturing. Through edge computing, 5G can support up to 100 times as many devices within a health system, accommodating almost all providers, and it can handle up to 100 times the traffic and network capacity.

There are specific ways a 5G chipset can benefit medical manufacturing. A few examples include:

  • Support Internet of Things (IoT) devices, enabling providers to wirelessly monitor and transmit patient data between mobile devices
  • Allow patients to collect and share health data, such as blood sugar measurements, through wearable biosensors and cloud storage, potentially allowing for automated treatments such as insulin delivery
  • Enable wireless connectivity between medical devices, such as CPAP machines and smartphones
  • Support robotic telesurgery with reduced latency so that surgeons can control the robot in real-time and by transmitting pertinent patient data before and during surgery for better decision-making

What chipset market trends exist?

Between 2022 and 2026, the 5G chipset market is expected to grow from $400 million to $2.88 billion. There are two main trends pushing this level of growth.

First, the growth of telemedicine, increased use of AR and remote patient monitoring are driving the need for higher-speed internet. Once in place, 5G can accommodate this rapid data transport and processing.

Second, the low latency, increased bandwidth and performance-based requirements that come with 5G contribute to its increasing popularity. One example where each of these factors converge is successful implementation of video consultations between patients and providers. For instance, 5G is a vital component of telestroke care. When a patient presents to a community emergency room with stroke symptoms, a 5G-enabled consultation with a neurological specialist located elsewhere can help ensure the patient receives the right medications, interventions or transfer recommendations in a timely manner.

5G-enabled medical device manufacturing

Developing medical devices that are compatible with 5G not only improves a provider's ability to deliver diagnoses and treatments, but it also enhances a patient's ability to actively participate in their own care. Advanced, 5G-enabled medical manufacturing is the foundation of meeting this goal, and a reliable 5G network is critical to optimizing the use of these medical devices for effective patient care.

Learn more about how Verizon is providing the connectivity to power the medical devices that will be used in the future of healthcare.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.