Feature | May 21, 2006

Sowing the Seeds of Technological Convergence in Healthcare

Ideas must work through the brains and the arms of good and brave men, or they are no better than dreams.

Rick Dana Barlow, Editor

We live and work in a fast-paced world struggling in overdrive to stay organized as we accumulate more intelligence and quite simply, more stuff. It’s a world where attention spans are short, immediate gratification is demanded, patience lasts for only 15 seconds, bullet points, sound bites and video feeds suffice as in-depth content and plug-and-play functions as second fiddle only to the on/off switch. And only barely.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that convergence – strategically and tactically – is becoming the order of the day for technology. Just check out the latest COMDEX or Consumer Electronics Show for fodder.
Cellular telephones are the prime example. What used to be the size of Agent 86 Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone and hoisted around in a suitcase now can be as small as a standard business card. And while Smart could call the Chief at CONTROL headquarters, we can shoot photos, send e-mail, surf the Internet, download music files and streaming video – including film trailers and television programs and play games. Let’s face it: Today’s mobile telephones are just this side of the famous Star Trek Communicators and Tricorders. Unfortunately, our cell phones can’t ascertain the molecular structure of your lunch or DNA samples of your colleagues. Yet. But just imagine the possibilities offered by a hand-held computed tomography scanner.
That said, the healthcare industry has been exploring the idea of convergence for some time now – and if recent trade shows are any indication the efforts are accelerating. If one theme dominated many of the product and equipment offerings at RSNA 2005, for example, it was this: Convergence, customization and flexibility to impact workflow. From fusion or hybrid imaging modalities to monitor and photograph anatomical and physiological properties simultaneously to combination digital and radiographic/fluoroscopic rooms, exhibitors stressed more multi-functionality for your purchasing dollar to improve productivity and patient throughput. Another popular phrase touted by manufacturers was adaptive technology – imaging and radiation oncology equipment that accurately tracked the motion over time of a beating heart or a moving tumor.
How might convergence efforts further affect medical technology? We’ve explored (and will continue to explore) that in our regular “Advances In...” features. Imagine breast biopsy devices outfitted with tiny cameras near the distal tip or automatic anesthetic delivery mechanisms. Imagine lights and tables that automatically adjust to patients, monitor/record their vital signs and incorporate smaller, but powerful imaging modalities, such as radiography and ultrasound. Imagine motorized carts with robotic arms that hand instruments to surgeons or properly selected and dosed meds to nurses. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination and the willingness to take financial risks in order to continually improve patient care delivery.
Who says the computers and consumer electronics shows should have all the fun? As we head into the 2006 healthcare trade show season, be on the lookout for examples of convergence applied in products and convergence in development. Certainly, we will. And we’ll report them in these pages.
See you in 60.

Don’t forget to submit nominations for the 2006 Outpatient Excellence Award for Surgery Centers coming up in the next issue. Details were outlined right here in last issue’s Editor’s Note. Check your copy of the December 2005/January 2006 edition of Outpatient Care Technology or send me an e-mail at [email protected].

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