As a surgical orthopedist and mobility expert, I am always looking for new and innovative technologies that are emerging in my industry. These technologies are not only propelling people forward (literally) but they are changing the way that we can operate on individuals, and allow people to think about ortho from a design perspective.

These innovations are truly exciting, and I am so inspired to see the way that machine learning, mechanical engineering, and creative design are being used to create innovative new technology.

So for today, I want to highlight some emerging technologies that I just can’t get enough of.

More affordable 3D printed medical devices

Personal-use 3D printers are a hobby of mine, and to even consider that anyone (who can afford it) could purchase a 3D printer for only $300, design an item in AutoCAD and have that item within a matter of minutes is mind-blowing.

With 3D printing, we rely less on manufacturers and producers of items and instead are taking the innovations in-house, allowing citizen scientists the option to find a new and innovative way to make a product.

Understandably, the market for orthopedic design and technology may already have predicted this transfer to producing simple medical devices with additive materials inside the home. With the introduction of the at-home 3D printer and the need for increased mobility technology, this innovation was obvious.

So how will this change the development of orthopedic devices?

Right now, there is a very fertile market for designs that are competitive; this includes, designs that are more affordable than what was previously produced, that take fewer materials to produce, and which can be more customizable to the unique needs of an individual’s body (we aren’t all the same!).

With more and more incubator hubs and research institutes able to afford the ability to 3D print a prototype, this is a clear recipe for an evolving development market. This allows inventors and innovators the option of brainstorming design, developing a prototype, and getting a physical product out to manufacturers or clinics.

AI and machine learning providing better insight

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, AI and machine learning provide new avenues for learning about something (like your patients) much faster than ever before. AI automation makes simple things easy to accomplish. Patient scans are uploaded automatically to the viewing system of your choice – or even synced to a clinic mobile app.

AI can provide programmed insight for typical findings when conducting patient assessments, but they can also tell practitioners more about our patients from the inside out.

The integration of AI into health technologies allow these applications to sense, comprehend, act, predict, and learn. And in the realm of health prescriptions, this type of capability from a machine is unheard of! With AI that continues to learn, doctors spend less time programming machines to remember our settings. Instead, the machines are working for them… or us.

The ability for technology to learn is crucial for the rapidly evolving healthcare industry, which is supposed to reach about $6.6 billion in 2021! And the benefit is that AI will be able to merge seamlessly into orthopedic practices without a serious need for training.

Take this 2017 study as an example. When comparing AI next to the gold standard and two orthopedic surgeons, the AI was able to successfully classify non-medical images (for skeletal radiographs) with at least 90% accuracy. The AI’s performance was also comparable to senior orthopedic surgeons!

Oh, wait! This might make my job obsolete!

But that’s okay! The good news is that AI will be offloading doctor workloads, and we know we need that! It will just be offloading more and more complex tasks, therefore, improving the ability for a surgeon to connect and empathize with their patients and to provide more supportive treatments.

Lastly, of course, the ability for AI and machine learning to be implemented into everyday practices of orthopedic treatment options is crucial. Orthopedic surgeons will be better equipped to prescribe surgeon medical devices; they might also be able to prescribe medical devices that actually make sense for the needs of the patient rather than a device that makes sense for the needs of the injury.

Increased production of medical devices

With more and more baby boomers increasing in age and experiencing that expected physical decline, the industry is currently lacking in the availability of medical devices that are equipped to support the many ways that our baby boomer generation likes to move.

In many ways, this generation is far more active than its predecessors, so we need to continually seek ways to enable them to move. Needless to say, the generations that follow will continue to follow suit and, more and more, will want to move better and longer.

New technologies in the manufacturing sector will be able to get out innovative designs faster. Robotic productivity is allowing our plants to make these specialty devices at a very high turnover rate, which is absolutely useful when you consider the rate at which our society moves.

Thankfully, automation, optimized engineering, robotics, and assistive technology is already there in our plants and improving the lives of those who produce our medical devices.

Orthopedic by design

If you think about, orthopedics and orthopedic surgeons are seeing the ways emerging technologies from other fields are impacting ours.

These emerging technologies are providing the industry with an increased amount of production in this globalized market, as well as the room for unique innovations to actually flourish! And as they continue to evolve, we need to look towards collaboration to ensure that our industry continues to provide what our patients need!

Customizability is becoming automated through AI and machine learning, and 3D printing is allowing more and more people to try their hands at an exciting new technology.

While this listing is not the full range of the ways that new technology is improving this industry, it provides a glimpse into how we can expect to see the orthopedic industry advance in the next ten years.