Applications; Information Systems
The field of medical technology encompasses a wide range of computerized devices and systems that collect information about a patient's health, process it, and produce reports that can be interpreted by doctors to help them decide what treatment to recommend. Medical technology focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions and is considered part of the broader field of health technology.
For doctors, everything the body does creates information. They must find ways to collect this information, analyze it, and use it to make educated guesses about the patient's condition. Part of medical technology involves clinical engineering, in which devices are designed to collect information about the patient's health. Some of these devices allow doctors to measure the signals created by the body, a process known as biosignal processing. For example, electroencephalograms (EEG) measure the electrical activity of the brain. Detecting abnormalities in these signals helps doctors to diagnose epilepsy, sleep disorders, and brain tumors, among other problems. Doctors also use other types of medical imaging, such as X-rays. A person with a painful hand injury might receive an X-ray to determine whether or not any bones have been broken. Today, these X-ray images may be taken and stored digitally, rather than on film.
Medical technology can also be used to help treat a condition that has been diagnosed. Some types of medical technology are simple to understand and use. Think of bandages, crutches, and wheelchairs. Other types of medical treatment devices rely on more advanced technology. For example, tiny monitors can be implanted in the body to monitor heart rhythm.
The Internet has opened up new avenues of treatment for medical technology. The field of telemedicine, in which patients consult with doctors long distance, has grown greatly. It is particularly useful in bringing more treatment options to rural areas that may not have well-equipped hospitals or many medical specialists. In the past, telemedicine was restricted to telephone consultations. Diagnostic data can now be collected from a patient and transmitted over the Internet to a specialist. The specialist then uses it to recommend a treatment for the patient.
Advances in nonmedical technology have also raised the possibility of devices “printing” new organs or tissue structures that are designed for a particular patient. Today, computer models tell 3-D printers how to build a 3-D object using layers of materials such as plastic or ceramic. Devices could one day use 3-D printing to grow cellular structures according to dimensions defined by medical imaging scans. If a patient needed a healthy kidney, it would be possible to scan them to find out exactly what size and shape of kidney was needed and then 3-D print the kidney using tissue from the patient. This would minimize the risk of tissue rejection that comes along with traditional organ transplant.
—Scott Zimmer, JD
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