The future of healthcare looks bright with the rise of technology, but what good is that technology if all hospitals and doctors don’t have access to it? Reflecting on the impacts of Covid-19, we connected with a nurse to understand the medical devices that we must start thinking about now in order to ensure they’re available when we need them later.
Author: Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, CNM
Health technology is constantly evolving, and with it, so are critical medical devices. When it comes to your health, any piece of medical equipment that keeps you safe seems vital.
The sudden oncoming of COVID-19 has brought to light the importance of hospitals having the supplies they need to provide safe medical care and save lives in dire situations. The public learned about critical devices such as ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) and how important they are to be well-stocked in areas that needed them most.
But what other crucial medical equipment should healthcare systems be thinking about now in order to prepare for the near future? From anticipated trends around known diseases and conditions to preparing for a retiring workforce, there’s a lot to think about. Plus, technology is constantly changing the way we engage with medicine. The healthcare system of ten years from now could look very different from what we’re experiencing today.
This article discusses the crucial medical equipment and devices that health systems may be at risk of experiencing short supply of in the near future.
The Impact of Medical Supply Chains
Healthcare supply chain management requires coordinating resources, supplies, and ensuring goods and services reach providers and patients. Medical supply chains experience unique challenges to meet the needs of patients, clinicians, and healthcare workers.
Supply chains typically run like a well-oiled machine, but as we saw with COVID-19, those supply chains crumbled under immense pressure and demand for hyper-specific resources from practically everywhere all at once.
Disruptions in Chinese manufacturing and an increase in the use of medical supplies created a significant shortage in the face of global demand. Once trade and flight restrictions occurred, the challenges grew to a new height.
There are a lot of opportunities for the supply chain to break down along the way, and it’s crucial that we identify the vital medical equipment we need for the foreseeable future, and how those supply chains could face interruptions.
Determining The Devices We Need Based on Changes In The Population
There is an increasing prevalence of autism and developmental disability in the population. Recent estimates show that one in six children from three to 17 years old have developmental disabilities. Developmental disabilities occur across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that impacts communication and social interaction and is diagnosed worldwide. An estimated 2.2% of adults and one in 54 children have ASD. Just like the name suggests, autism is a spectrum, and the symptoms can vary.
Those diagnosed with Level II or III ASD may be nonverbal or have substantial verbalization difficulties, creating a need for communication devices. There are a vast number of adaptive communication devices that people may need, ranging from simple photo cards to speech-generating devices to tablets loaded with communication apps.
Younger Generations & Access to Contraceptives
Generation Z and Millennials make up the youngest people alive. Millennials, born from 1981 to 1996, and Generation Z, born from 1996 to 2010, have unique population considerations. Due to immigration, the economic boom of the 1990s caused a slight bump in the population size and the younger generations’ growth. Aside from immigration, the birth rate increased from 3.4 million per year during Generation X to an average of 3.9 million during the Millennial generation.
With the legalization of contraception for younger, unmarried women, those who have access to contraception have the option to delay marriage and childbearing. Contraception is critically important to these two generations. However, birth control deserts impact access to clinics and pharmacies for contraception throughout the United States. People also fight with insurance for pills or injectables. Interestingly, in 2019, the size of the millennial population (72.1 million) finally outpaced baby boomers.
However, the baby boomers have long held a considerable segment of the population (71.6 million in 2019). With the notorious size of the baby boomers reaching their elderly years, there is expected to be an overall increase in the average age of the population. With the advance in average life expectancy, a large population will need health care for more time than ever before.
The aging population is more likely to need medical devices because of these factors. Most patients who receive a hip replacement are between 50 and 80 years old. The cardiovascular risks are increased with age; people aged 65 or over are more likely to suffer from a cardiac event than younger people. As the average life expectancy grows, a large population will need health care for more time than ever before.
Adults gain an average of 0.6 to 1.7 pounds annually. This means that the average weight of people is increasing. Approximately 30% of people worldwide are obese, which increases the risk for chronic health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease. Morbid obesity may require weight loss surgery, also known as bariatric surgery. There are several types of bariatric surgeries that can be done, and each one has its own list of medical devices that are needed.
With advances in technology, many people can monitor their health and take charge of their health with mobile apps and fitness trackers. These factors, combined with the above population changes, will create specific needs for a variety of critical medical equipment.
What are the Top Critical Medical Devices of the Foreseeable Future?
In 2018 in the United Kingdom, a shortage of CT scanners cost the community thousands of lives. Patients with stable chest pain were denied access to a CT scan, and experts estimated that this cost the lives of nearly 4% of those patients.
CT scanners are critical to the community because they quickly identify the differences between the types of stroke a patient has suffered. The emergency treatment for stroke depends entirely on whether it is an ischemic stroke or a hemorrhagic stroke that involves bleeding into the brain. If it is an ischemic stroke, clinicians must rapidly restore blood flow to your brain. As the population ages, more and more people will be in need of these services.
CT scanners are also expensive. When you combine the expense, the routine use, and the potential increase for use during a health crisis, CT scanners are at critical risk for a shortage in the future.
CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) Machines
When a person gains weight, there becomes an increased risk for complications like sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition where breathing while sleeping is severely interrupted, to the point that a CPAP machine is critical to support and improve breathing.
However, they are expensive and specialized. During COVID-19, some countries repurposed CPAP machines into ventilators. Between obesity rising in the U.S. and an increase in the use of CPAP machines for other conditions or causes, those with sleep apnea may suffer.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication
With an increase in the general population of people having developmental disabilities comes an increase in assistive technology. Nearly four million Americans have significant speech issues that require assistance while communicating.
A person with developmental disabilities faces barriers to quality health care, but the unique concerns of school and therapy offices closing make it even more difficult to access. One such example is augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices that range from a simple picture card to a complicated voice output device (VOD).
Stand-alone devices are costly and often require an extensive approval process by health insurance and often speech-language pathologists. Even using an AAC app on a smart tablet requires personalization and education to be used appropriately. Meeting the needs of those who need AAC is challenging in the face of a public health crisis.
With baby boomers aging, their risk of diabetes and obesity also increases. All of these factors can cause a decrease in kidney function, which results in dialysis. Patients receiving dialysis are an at-risk population at a higher risk for complications related to illness.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more patients needed continuous renal replacement therapy- a 24-hour-a-day method of dialysis in the ICU to avoid placing stress on medically fragile patients. Emergency nurses and ICU clinicians were overwhelmed by the increase in kidney disease. The typical renal patients, combined with the additional COVID-19 patients, resulted in a significant shortage of both the machines and the supplies needed to perform dialysis.
A pacemaker is a tiny, battery-operated computer placed into the soft tissue under the skin to regulate abnormal rhythms and prevent heart attacks. Technology has come a long way and some are leadless and can be introduced through a vein.
Pacemakers are made of several components: a battery, leads, and a motherboard. All are made with specialized equipment and specific polymers and metals. The device is assembled by strict quality control standards and then packaged.
During a global pandemic, pacemakers are even more critical. Patients who acquire a respiratory infection are at an increased risk of cardiovascular side effects. However, when there is a shortage of medical staff, arranging for pacemaker insertion can be challenging.
During COVID-19, concerns arose over the factory closures in China which created a great deal of essential medical supplies. A shortage in the workforce or any of the necessary materials will block access to this life-saving device.
Long-Acting Reproductive Contraception
Contraception has come a long way. There are implantable birth control methods such as placement in one’s arm and then there is the intrauterine device. These two examples are long-acting reproductive contraception (LARC) methods that can protect against pregnancy from three to ten years, depending on the device.
Using a LARC requires a visit to a gynecological care provider for the procedure. The long term nature of the application combats the concern of younger generations facing birth control deserts, but getting access to one in the first place can be more challenging for some.
Where concern could arise is in the access to a skilled provider during a period of “shelter in place” or similar directive, should another pandemic ever arise. During COVID-19, worries around a condom shortage arose due to increases in intimate activities by people stuck indoors.
At the same time, people were unable to see their healthcare providers in-person for nonessential services, therefore the ability to have these devices implemented by a skilled provider became impossible.
Advocating for Change Now Is How We Can All Do Our Part For The Future
Breaks along the supply chain at any point can cause a critical shortage in medical devices and supplies. That’s why it’s more important than ever to get a head start on advocating for public health policies that make sense and will support the anticipated needs of our future.
The following three organizations provide resources for anyone to partake in advocacy:
- American Medical Association Advocacy: The AMA fights for physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting their needs and removing obstacles from providing medical care.
- American Nurses Association Advocacy: The ANA advocates for nurses at both the federal and state level. They monitor regulatory agencies to ensure that nurses’ best interests are protected.
- American Academy of Family Physicians Grassroots Advocacy Tools: The AAFP is working with Congress to ensure that Family Physicians receive clear communication, updated clinical guidelines, and the proper resources against COVID-19.
The medical supply chain has a significant impact on our population. Health systems need adequate supplies to protect staff and care for patients.
By advocating for emergency preparedness, we support the healthcare organizations and providers who protect the public. We must remain vigilant to secure a future that ensures the critical medical devices are available when needed.
Caitlin Goodwin is a Certified Nurse-Midwife with twelve years of experience in the nursing field. She is an instructor, medical writer, and nurse who is passionate about advocating for her colleagues and patients. Caitlin graduated from Frontier Nursing University in 2015 with her graduate degree. She is currently pursuing her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. When not working, she loves to travel and spend time with her husband and four children.