Major challenges and opportunities will arise in the health sector in the future. Research in technology that can be applied to this sector is being carried out by several UPC teams.
Although sophisticated medical technology is already available in health systems in developed countries, further advances are constantly being made. As a result of the addition of medical nanotechnology to existing knowledge of molecular and cellular biology, it seems likely that new, more personalised, more accurate and more rapid diagnostic techniques will be devised in the future, as well as new treatments that are also more personalised and promote regeneration of the organism.
Clearly, as areas of research such as biomaterials or tissue engineering are developed for use in regenerative medicine, the range of opportunities will increase dramatically. Josep Anton Planell, the director of the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), which was formed by the UB, the UPC and the Generalitat (Government of Catalonia) and has its headquarters in Barcelona Science Park, considers that “in the future, it will be possible to design intelligent biomaterials that, when placed where damaged tissue needs to be regenerated, will be able to stimulate the stem cells to do what we want them to do”. However, more knowledge is needed to perfect the process. He states, “We are beginning to understand which biochemical, biophysical or mechanical signals activate cells to regenerate tissue. To be able to intervene, therefore, we first need to be able to quantify and assess the signals that generate the cell response and form a language.”
These processes occur at the molecular level or involve very low intensity stimuli. However, nanotechnology is contributing to the emergence of the tools needed to study them. Such technology includes lasers to identify the proteins expressed in the cell membrane, nanosensors that determine whether the cell is uptaking or excreting an ion such as potassium or calcium, biosensors to detect cancer markers, and atomic force microscopes that enable material to be handled on nanometre and nanonewton scales. In short, a wide range of diagnostic systems have been designed that can more accurately detect the physiology and localization of a specific disease.
The Technical Research Centre for Dependency Care and Autonomous Living (CETpD), which is attached to the UPC and located in Vilanova i la Geltrú, has been working in the health sector for almost nine years. Its research is focused mainly on the field of dependency and care for the chronically ill. Andreu Català, the director of the Knowledge Engineering Research Group (GREC), stated that: “We do not aim to replace carers, but we do believe that technology can be a very useful complement, as it can help dependent people to feel more comfortable and more secure. Our aim is to develop innovative technology to improve their quality of life.”
From the beginning, one of the main lines of work has involved analysing and monitoring human movement. Inertial sensors have been developed that can detect falls and characterise different types of movement. This research has applications in monitoring and preventing the risk of falls in elderly people or people recovering from a fracture.
Currently, the CETpD is participating in two research projects on Parkinson’s disease: one Ministry of Health study and one European project. Parkinson’s disease is the second most significant neurodegenerative disease in the world, after Alzheimer’s. It affects over four million people. The first project is titled Monitoring the Mobility of Parkinson’s Patients for Therapeutic Purposes (MOMOPA), and is focused on detecting and monitoring various stages in the activity of people with this disease. The other project is titled Home-Based Empowered Living for Parkinson’s Disease Patients (HELP). Its objective is to design a system for administrating the exact drug dose that a patient needs for his or her daily activities by means of an infusion pump, which is controlled by a movement sensor.
Medical check-ups at home
There is growing demand for monitoring or periodically supervising people’s state of health in any environment. In this field, the Instrumentation, Sensors and Interfaces Group of the UPC’s Department of Electronic Engineering in Castelldefels is working on the design of systems that enable patients’ vital signs to be monitored in domestic environments.
The researcher Oscar Casas reminded us that “not so long ago, houses were only equipped with a thermometer, and, with a bit of luck, a set of scales. Now it is not unusual for people to have portable equipment for measuring blood pressure or devices for testing blood sugar levels at home. Our aim is for this growing range of health systems for individual, rather than hospital, use to be available to everyone”.
The Group has designed a system for simultaneously detecting heart and respiratory rates that functions with force sensors, which are used to measure weight, even in conventional electronic scales. This domestic application can measure the aforementioned parameters faster than current systems, which tend to be uncomfortable for the patient due to the direct contact between the sensor and the skin and whose measurements can be affected by the movement of the sensor. Work is currently being undertaken on a chair that enables the measurement of these and other physiological parameters.
The future of these systems, which are useful for monitoring and supervising elderly or disabled people, involves making sensors that do not require contact, so that they can be concealed from the person who is being supervised and have the least possible impact on their daily activities. This enables action to be taken only when strictly necessary.
Support for hospital management
The development of information and communication technology that is adapted to the hospital environment and remote healthcare has great potential for the future. One application of this technology that is already being introduced in Mataró Hospital is a project in which the Wireless Networks Group (WNG) of the UPC’s Department of Telematics Engineering has participated. One of the aims of this project is to reduce the probability of drug administration errors, through a secure patient identification system that uses radiofrequency technology and also enables patients to be located in the health centre.
The researcher Josep Paradells explained that “the most interesting feature of these sensors, which are being placed in the hospital rooms and connected to each other by a mesh network (a wireless network with no infrastructure), is the fact that they configure themselves and collaborate with other sensors. In fact, this communications system can easily be installed in a hospital environment and does not require any extra cables”. This same idea of a network has been applied to developing a remote healthcare system for deaf people, which is connected to the telephone line.
Medical robots are used with increasing frequency in the medical field. Surgeons no longer operate on the basis of their skill and experience alone.
An example of research that is focused on resolving scientific and technological problems in this field is the study carried out by the Biomedical Engineering Research Centre (CREB) to measure forces on the humeral joint, according to the type of suture used after implanting prostheses. “During the rehabilitation process, exercises are undertaken to prevent ankylosis of the bone. However, the force on the stitches is sometimes enough to break them.
The design of a robotic test, of an anatomic model that behaves in the same way as a person’s arm, enables repetitive, systematic methodology to be applied to quantify the independent measurements of external factors. With tests like these, surgeons can learn how to improve surgical procedures. In this case, the aim is to identify the most suitable stitching method”, explained the researcher Alícia Casals, who is the leader of the IBEC’s robotics research group.
This line of research is complemented by the development of tools to help and support surgery, and to ensure that surgery is more precise, as well as tools that enable operations to be carried out at a distance using a robot.
Materials provided by Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Cite This Page:
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. "Advances In Medical Technology: What Does The Future Hold?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 June 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090616080133.htm>.
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. (2009, June 16). Advances In Medical Technology: What Does The Future Hold?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 10, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090616080133.htm
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. "Advances In Medical Technology: What Does The Future Hold?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090616080133.htm (accessed March 10, 2018).
The Impact of Technology on Healthcare
March 28, 2013 Bianca Banova
Technology today affects every single aspect of modern society. In fact, there isn’t an industry out there that hasn’t been affected by the hi-tech revolution.
Whether we are talking about transportation, communication, security, banking or healthcare, they all rely on technology in one way or another.
But nowhere is this immense impact more apparent than in the field of medicine and healthcare.
Technological breakthroughs are revolutionizing the way healthcare is being delivered.Modern technology has changed the structure and organization of the entire medical field.
From widespread adoption of electronic medical records, to advances in bio-medical engineering and technology, modern healthcare and its delivery methods are changing at an ever increasing rate. But what impact will these changes have on medicine and overall care delivery?
The Advantages of Technological Innovation
Without doubt, medical technology is indispensable to people’s health and improved quality of life. It also contributes billions of dollars to the economy. There are many benefits that innovative technology brings to the table when it comes to healthcare.
For example, the widespread adoption of electronic health records has resulted in significant savings in health care costs as well as improved patient health and safety. In more and more healthcare facilities, patient files are being kept in databases that can be accessed from anywhere in the facility.
This is not only a time saver but it also results in better data coordination and management.It is also technological innovation that has opened the door to more non-invasive procedures.
Diagnostics have never been easier and more accurate, especially due to advancements in areas like nuclear medicine. Nowadays, numerous methods of imaging allow for technicians and physicians to examine a patient’s anatomy without needing invasive procedures to form a diagnosis. The demand for MRI technologists and radiologists has also increased as a result of rapid advances in imaging technology.
Minimally invasive surgeries, especially within the disciplines of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, have also become more common in recent years. The development of better instruments and more advanced technology have allowed surgeons to perform procedures in minimally invasive ways that just wasn’t possible a few years ago.
The Dark Side of Technology
Technology can also bring hidden dangers if you aren’t careful. The internet in particular is known for this. Though some would disagree, the infinite stream of medical knowledge available online is not necessarily a good thing.
Websites like WebMD can be a great resource for living a healthy lifestyle, but they should never be used to replace your physician. Far too often a simple ache can be misconstrued as something far more serious.
Self diagnosis is a dangerous road to go down. At best you’ll scare yourself into thinking something is seriously wrong when it isn’t.
At worst you’ll misdiagnose yourself and cause serious damage to your health and well being. There’s a reason it takes nearly a decade to become a doctor.
Unfortunately the internet provides a cheap and “easy” way to avoid going to the doctor. In the long term, however, it may wind up costing you much more than you ever expected.
If you live in the New Jersey area and you’re interested in working in the healthcare field, check some of the top allied healthcare career options.