What Is the Next Hot Market for Medical Devices?

There is a growing number of patients who don't have chronic diseases but who need high-tech monitoring devices and other medical technology.

There is a growing number of patients who don’t have chronic diseases but who need high-tech monitoring devices and other medical technology.

Years ago (many, many years ago) when I worked in the medical device industry, infusion pumps were relatively simple with regard to mechanics and software, and they were built with tough exteriors that were intended to survive liquid spills, almost continuous use, and even a good drop-kick every now and again. Large volume and syringe pumps were used by trained personnel in clinics and hospitals, but the industry was devoting attention to a new market: ambulatory pumps that people could use at home, school, or work.

Fast forward 20 years and now we have a much more gadget and information technology-driven society, filled with people who expect to have more control over the delivery of their medical treatment. As the number of people with diabetes has grown, glucose monitors have become smaller, sleeker, and more comfortable to use. As the number of people who are concerned with staying healthy has grown, pedometers and other personal fitness devices are flying off the shelves. Blood pressure monitors, sleep monitors, and other recording and monitoring devices for patients with chronic health issues have also flooded the market, but as IBM analysts pointed out in a recently published report, there is a huge segment of the population sandwiched between the health conscious and chronically ill that is waiting to be served.

Take, for example, ambulatory infusion pumps today. Has technology made these devices better than earlier models? Sure. Would I want to haul one around? No way. I would if I had to, of course, but improvements in these devices have not kept pace with those seen in other devices such as glucose monitors. Infusion pumps are still clunky, which must really chafe those users who were born into the technology age. And it’s this middle ground of consumers -- pediatric consumers included -- for which IBM says device manufacturers are missing the proverbial boat.

About a month ago, a report from Cambridge Consultants sounded a similar theme: patients want to use devices that support their lifestyle, and doctors are happy to provide these options when available because these technologies encourage treatment compliance. And of course, there’s always a potential for lowering cost when the number of patient visits to the office, clinic, or hospital is reduced.

Will this “middle ground” be the next market segment of medical devices to take off? We’ll see…