Over the past decade, researchers have made several undeniable breakthroughs in curing diseases that were once thought to be deadly and incurable. And this feat can be attributed to significant improvements in diseases diagnosis and testing.
In recent years, newer as well as safer methods of disease testing have been developed to avoid incorrect diagnosis among patients and to ensure they do not have to undergo any additional harm. Development of the latest diagnostic tests and procedures – such as electrocardiogram (ECG), electroencephalography (EEG), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – enables physicians to make accurate decisions about their patients.
Thanks to constant innovation and dedication of healthcare companies and research organizations, diagnostic testing has helped achieve tangible improvements in not just the survival of patients but also in their overall health and quality of life.
Portable and Wearable ECG/EKG Monitors a Prominent Innovation in Cardiovascular Health
The electrocardiogram (ECG) has played a crucial role in understanding cardiovascular diseases. Its wide scope of application encompasses clinical diagnosis and prognosis of cardiovascular diseases, biomedical recognition, health assessment, fatigue study, and others. Ongoing research in the technology is mainly focused on accuracy of ECG diagnosis and application, big data mining for ECG, and improved ECG instrumentation.
Remote ECG monitoring systems are fast becoming commonplace medical devices for remote as well as long-term physiological monitoring. These devices are not just targeted for elderly and frail patients but also for healthy individuals merely looking to monitor overall wellbeing.
Wearable technology is one of the most prominent innovations in the field and continues to be used in everyday clinical practice.
Qardio, Inc., a global digital health company, launched a revolutionary wearable ECG monitor in January 2017. The QardioCore is reportedly the first wearable medical ECG/EKG monitor that lets users monitor heart health without any patches or wires. This innovation is a far cry from conventional ECG monitors used in hospitals, which are known to be bulky and burdensome. By contrast, this wearable device is designed for monitoring anywhere and anytime.
Looking to capitalize on the growing trend of remote patient monitoring, especially to maintain heart health, medical device companies are working on devising new and innovative methods of tracking patient health. One such example is startup AliveCor’s Heart Monitor. The monitor comprises a case that can be simply attached to the back an Android device or an iPhone, while the test is administered and results are revealed through the company’s mobile app AliveECG. This gives new meaning to the concept of having health at your fingertips.
Increased Focus on making EEG Technology Minimally Invasive
Generation after generation, scientists and researchers have tried to understand the human brain. The 18th century pseudoscience of “bumpology”, which believed that the shape of a person’s skull lent insights into their mental state and personality, was discredited as a science 50 years after its introduction. It was nearly a century later that studying the electrical activity inside a living brain came to be the go-to technique to understand various neurological conditions.
Although the technique, called electroencephalography (EEG), was rather invasive initially, contemporary research and modern technology have enabled the development of non-invasive methods to study brain function, pathology, and behavior.
In recent years, the many intrinsic advantages of EEG have allowed the technique to expand its application scope to include diagnosis of conditions such as epilepsy, seizures, dizziness, head injuries, brain tumors, headaches, and sleep disorders. After a groundbreaking move away from analog to digital recordings, automated and integrated computer-EEG systems have opened doors to adaptable and accessible research methodologies. These systems have also become relatively portable and cheap.
Capitalizing on recent technological innovations, Maryland-based BrainScope raised U$16 million in August 2017 to be dedicated toward research and development of mobile, non-invasive devices to assess traumatic brain injury. In September 2016, the company launched “Ahead 300”, the third version of its commercial product BrainScope One. It comprises an EEG headset and a handheld display equipment to help clinicians conduct 4 tests to determine the existence of a traumatic brain injury. These tests – two cognitive performance and two sensor-based tests – have the potential to allow the device to eliminate one third of unnecessary CT scans.
For several developing regions and countries, access to costly diagnostic technologies such as EEG means overcoming a number of geographic and economic constraints. However, penetration of the Internet and proliferation of smartphone usage has brought these countries closer to gaining access to advanced technologies. The Bhutan Epilepsy Project, for instance, has been tackling the aforementioned challenges by using a smartphone-based EEG. Developed by the Technical University of Denmark, the device and overall setup amounts to less than US$500, is highly portable, and is easy to use.
Constant Innovation in MRI Hardware and Software
Perhaps one of the most common and widely-used diagnostic/medical imaging technique, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been highly valued for its versatility. MRI has a wide range of applications in the field of medical diagnosis, ranging from neuroimaging, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal to angiography, liver, and gastrointestinal. And even though the effect of this imaging technique on the improved health outcome of a patient is uncertain, its role in the diagnosis and treatment of various disorders is irrefutable. Based on recent developments, GE Healthcare has been among the front-runners in MRI technology.
Innovation in design is crucial in MR technology and this can add immense value to patient-friendly medical imaging. Take the 2011 Optima MR430s, for instance. This GE Healthcare innovation marked a major leap in MR imaging as it was designed for specific targeted anatomy, be it an arm or a leg, rather than traditional whole-body systems. Overcoming the challenges of immobilization and patient confinement, this innovative scanner has helped improve patient experience. For physicians, this has meant fewer demands on a full-body scanner, smarter investment options, relieving patient backlogs, and low total cost of ownership.
In the last couple of years, however, major advances in MRI technology have been on the software side. This has resulted in more simplified cardiac imaging workflows, faster contrast scans, and allowing MR scans of the lungs.
In September 2016, the US FDA granted approval to the MAGnetic resonance image Compilation, or MAGiC, software by GE Healthcare. This is reportedly a first-of-its-kind multi-contrast MRI technique that delivers eight contrast media in a one acquisition. This is done in a fraction of the time taken by traditional imaging, primarily by allowing users to flexibly manipulate MR images retrospectively. This has led to fewer rescans and therefore considerable time and cost savings.
Cardiac MRI has been a rather limited field owing to lengthy exam times, complexity, and high cost. RSNA 2015 saw GE Healthcare introduce a new MRI technology, one with the potential to simplify cardiac MR to a great extent. The ViosWorks cardiac MRI software helps create what the company calls a 7-D cardiac MRI exam.
Advances in diagnostic/medical imaging over the last five years alone have revolutionized practically every aspect of medicine. Access to detailed imaging has enabled physicians to see things from a new perspective. With doctors realizing just how accurate and valuable these tests can be and manufacturers investing in research and development, the day isn’t far when exploratory surgery will become obsolete.