Medical technology explained very simply: Medical technology is an engineering discipline. Medical technology develops and manufactures products, devices, and procedures for the prevention, diagnosis, and therapy of diseases. It is a highly regulated, but also steadily growing industry.  Medical technology provides the link between medicine and the engineering sciences. Advances in diagnostics and therapy are largely based on technical innovations. For non-invasive diagnostics and monitoring systems, for example, control technology, sensor technology, and data processing play a major role. The implementation of innovative ideas in powerful, practical, and cost-effective applications therefore increasingly requires interdisciplinary knowledge that combines engineering and scientific know-how.

Special features in medical technology

Demographic change is increasing the demand for healthcare services. On the other hand, technology is developing at a rapid pace – diseases can be detected more quickly and treated with ever better methods than was possible just a few years ago. Since innovations in the field of medical care are generated by the development and market launch of new medical technology products, medical technology represents a steadily growing market that requires skilled personnel with a technical background as well as solid medical knowledge. However, according to the German Medical Technology Association, companies lack technologically skilled professionals. The demographic change increased health awareness and medical-technical progress point to strong long-term growth rates and great employment potential in medical technology. Many new ideas are generated each year by the small companies or start-ups that emerge from university spin-offs or research projects. Compared to other industries, medical technology has been ranked number one in patent applications for years.

How are innovative medical products created?

The industry generates more than half of its sales with products that are no more than three years old. It is new, innovative medical products that promise the most sales – in contrast to imitations of existing products. To generate innovations, medical technology companies often work closely with research institutions such as the industry-oriented Fraunhofer societies. Ideally, research projects are even funded. EU-funded projects are one possibility here.

What counts as medical devices?

Medical devices include, for example, medical software, laboratory diagnostics, implants, products for injection, infusion, transfusion, and dialysis, human medical instruments, medical software, catheters, pacemakers, dental products, dressing materials, visual aids, X-ray equipment, and medical instruments. Medical devices are also products that contain or are coated with a substance or preparations of substances that, when used separately, are considered to be medicinal products or components of a medicinal product (including plasma derivatives) and can exert an effect on the human body in addition to the functions of the product. The legal definition of medical devices is contained in the Medical Devices Act.

Careers in medical technology

The broad spectrum of medical technology relies on numerous key technologies. These include microsystems technology, nanotechnology, optical technologies, and information and communication technology applications. The range of careers that engineers in medical technology can enter is correspondingly wide. Graduates in medical technology work primarily in the medical technology industry, but also hospitals and research institutes. They develop medical devices, work as computer scientists in hospitals, advise medical technology companies, or are active in science and research. The prospects for the future are good. After all, medical technology is an innovative field that will continue to develop rapidly in the coming decades due to demographic change alone.

Future and challenges of medical technology

A German medical technology company invests an average of about 10% of its sales in the research and development of new technologies. That is more than twice as much as an average industrial company invests. And it shows: The industry has a future. This is confirmed by the German Medical Technology Association. However, it also points out the problems. Regulatory requirements, in particular, pose major challenges for companies. The association calls for a faster approach to benefit assessment. The U.S. regulatory authority has already accelerated the processes – Germany should therefore not allow itself to be left behind, according to one of the association’s demands. One of the greatest challenges facing medical technology in the coming decades will be to enable people to live independently into old age. Especially against the background of the shortage of skilled nursing staff. New medical technology devices can ensure that people will be able to cope and be cared for better in old age and with chronic illnesses in the future than is still the case today.

About the author
Elif Karakurt
medical content creator
Elif is a medical student and works for Cytolytics in the branches of content creation and marketing alongside her studies. She is the head of the Cytolytics blog and could already gather experience in writing medical articles for various magazines. Her interests are recent health issues and news about medicine, health technologies, and digital health.

AI Applications in Medicine

Humans see and hear, we make plans, and we adapt to change. Artificial intelligence (AI) is when we replicate such cognitive performances on machines or computers. However, we still don’t know in detail how our brains do these things. But we can think of mathematical procedures that perform similar tasks in certain areas. With algorithms, machines can use sample data and derive models from them to improve their behavior step by step. From chess or other brainteasers on the Internet, the duel of man against machine has been one of the classics for years. On the one hand, it fascinates us to see how computers and machines learn on their own and adapt their behavior without human intervention. They are getting better and better and are already superior to us in some cases – just a few days ago, a computer beat five poker pros at once for the first time. This potential must be exploited, also in the field of medicine, where many treatment methods are becoming better and better through the use of intelligent software. Whether it’s apps for the early detection of diseases or personalized cancer therapies: Intelligent systems are expanding the possibilities of the medical profession quite considerably. On the other hand, there are still some challenges to be overcome, which AI brings with it. Is it ethical to listen to a machine in sensitive matters of life and death? What framework do we provide so that technology always serves people – and not the other way around?

What is AI capable of?

Self-learning algorithmic systems do nothing other than independently search for patterns in a huge pile of data that humans would not recognize or would recognize only with the greatest effort. Therefore, such learning systems are particularly suitable for repetitive tasks such as searching for anomalies, deviations, or commonalities and can also generate meaningful results from new data, i.e. they do not have to be reprogrammed every time. For example, in computed tomography scans, which doctors have hundreds of in hospitals every day, or blood cancer diagnostics by evaluating blood samples using flow cytometry after hours of gating. Through appropriate software development, AI technologies provide valuable services in medical diagnosis and therapy.

Where are the opportunities for AI in medicine?

AI brings enormous advantages. First, they can recognize relevant patterns that humans might never have looked for in the first place. Moreover, unlike humans, they never get tired or frustrated. They work without rest and can theoretically be fed with more data indefinitely because they learn at will. AI algorithms thus relieve humans of the very activities that dehumanize them. Numerous studies impressively prove that AI systems are very good at this and – for example – can reliably evaluate images. A study from Stanford, for example, showed that self-learning algorithms can classify skin cancer as competently or even better than dermatologists. Another field of application is personalized medicine. Here, for example, gene expression data is evaluated on an AI basis to arrive at tailored therapy recommendations. AI is also making inroads in the field of robotics. Medical robots or nursing robots can benefit from AI and become more autonomous. To improve healthcare, increasing patients’ chances of recovery, and supporting doctors in their diagnoses and therapy decisions, AI will increasingly become a part of healthcare in the future. The basic prerequisite for AI applications is data – including patient data, for example from the planned electronic patient record.

What are the prerequisites and framework conditions for AI?

The technical and organizational conditions required for the quality-assured use of AI assistance systems in medicine include the certification of AI systems and access control mechanisms to protect against attacks, as well as the integrity of data records and secure transmission paths. There are still several potential hurdles to overcome on the road to the widespread use of AI medical devices. First and foremost is a secure and powerful IT infrastructure for the storage and transmission of healthcare data and the digitization of care processes. To make this data accessible, it is necessary to establish suitable care registers for research and development purposes. There is a considerable need to catch up in this area in Germany. It is to be hoped that the laws currently on the way, above all the Hospital Future Act, the Digital Care Act, and the Patient Data Protection Act, will have the intended effect.

What are the prospects for AI?

Despite the above-mentioned challenges, it is already becoming apparent that artificial intelligence has become a key technology. It will help to overcome the current challenges facing the healthcare sector. Above all, AI ensures that diseases are detected more precisely and earlier. The quality and affordability of medical care should benefit from this.

About the author
Elif Karakurt
medical content creator
Elif is a medical student and works for Cytolytics in the branches of content creation and marketing alongside her studies. She is the head of the Cytolytics blog and could already gather experience in writing medical articles for various magazines. Her interests are recent health issues and news about medicine, health technologies, and digital health.