Are Modular Medical Devices the Future?

Published on May 5, 2014

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By: Natalie Sheerer, Marketing Communications Specialist

Google recently revealed new details about a project that will completely reinvent the smart phone industry as we currently know it, Project Ara. The project is an initiative to create a completely modular and reusable smartphone. Camera lens cracked? No problem, just buy a new camera module. Need more memory space? Simply purchase a new module. The Android power device is slotted for initial release in Q1 of 2015. The key advantage of the Ara system is that unlike current smart phone models, users do not have to constantly replace their device in order to keep up with the latest technology.

What does this technology mean for other industries, for instance, the medical industry? Well, the future of medical devices might lie in this very same model, modular medical devices.

Let’s take, for example, infusion pumps. An infusion pump administers fluid, blood, medication, or nutrients into a patient’s circulatory system intravenously. An infusion pump typically consists of three major components: the fluid reservoir, a system for transferring the fluids into the body, and the electronic component with a mechanism to generate and regulate flow. Beyond these three major parts, the different parts of the electronic component include:

  • Keypad and a backlit screen interface or graphics display
  • Data storage
  • Memory card
  • Motor and gears for pump driver
  • Battery management

    • Battery, battery charger, fuel gauge, system power, and battery protection

  • Pressure sensors

    • An "up pressure" sensor can detect when the bag or syringe is empty, or even if the bag or syringe is being squeezed.
    • A "down pressure" sensor will detect when the patient's vein is blocked, or the line to the patient is kinked. This may be configurable for high (subcutaneous and epidural) or low (venous) applications.

  • A wireless module

    • To wirelessly update drug libraries, security settings, device software, and transmit patient data.

  • Audio amplifier/speaker

    • To provide audio alarms or instructions

  • Key driven locking system to protect against tampering
  • Air-in-Line detection and elimination
  • Integrated bar code reader
  • To confirm drug and concentration

Infusion pumps have been a source of multiple patient safety concerns, and problems with such pumps have been linked to more than 56,000 adverse event reports from 2005 to 2009, including at least 500 deaths1. In the occurrence of a safety recall, hospitals need only replace the particular module of the medical device that is affected. This leads to saved costs for medical device manufacturers, and faster repairs for IT personnel in hospitals or healthcare facilities, with the end goal of improving patient safety.

Given the benefits of modular technology, like rapid prototyping, it is likely to spread well beyond the smartphone industry. In particular, medical devices seem to be a likely candidate for this approach as it could potentially save time, money, and resources in addition to contributing to the overall goal of improved patient care. Though modular medical devices may just be an idea at this point, it’s an exciting idea that just might be the future of medical devices.

There are some drawbacks to the modular system in a medical setting. There are possible security concerns with regards to wireless connectivity. In addition, FDA regulations might inhibit the timely release of new modules due to their lengthy approval process for class III medical devices. See our previous blog post Classes of Medical Devices for more information about different classes of medical devices.

Embedded wireless solutions providers like Laird are on the front lines of innovation, helping to make new and exciting ideas like modular technology a reality. Visit the Connected Hospital webpage to learn more about Laird’s efforts in the medical industry.