As we’re nearing the end of 2020, the general public and the scientific community are holding their breath for the one healthcare solution that can bring back normality: a COVID-19 vaccine. And, without a doubt, development has been so fast and the collective effort of scientists so inspiring that, once it passes the final stage of clinical testing, the vaccine will be one of the biggest biomedical accomplishments of the century. But despite the vast media coverage of the much-anticipated vaccine, this isn’t the only progress that the medical community is making. On the contrary, dozens of other exciting innovations have been made this year that will significantly improve the lives of patients in the future.
For the 18th year in a row, the Cleveland Clinic has announced at the 2020 Medical Innovation Summit the Top 10 Medical Innovations for 2021. From groundbreaking gene therapy to life-changing pacemaker devices, these innovations can dramatically improve patients’ lives and enhance the outlook for previously debilitating conditions. Here are some of the most exciting ones:
Pacemakers that can connect to your smartphone
Wearable health devices have come a long way in the past few years, enabling patients to monitor vitals such as heartbeat and oxygen levels, and healthcare providers to track the evolution of disease. Wearable devices even have the potential to save lives because they encourage the wearers to change their lifestyle by being more active and tracking their calorie intake. And yet, one common downfall of these popular gadgets is that they lack professional accuracy and that they don’t do enough for serious, chronic cases. Now, this is about to change because scientists have developed Bluetooth-compatible pacemakers and defibrillators that can be used together with a mobile app. By the latest estimates, 3 million people have pacemakers, and 600,000 new ones are implanted every year. Still, patients usually don’t know exactly how these devices work, and healthcare providers cannot monitor them remotely. With Bluetooth-connected pacemakers, patients will get an overview of their health data, and doctors will be able to access this data remotely too, which will allow for better treatment, lower risk of complications, and higher survival rates in case of cardiovascular emergencies.
New horizons for telemedicine
Although the technical requirements for telemedicine were already met, bureaucratic and regulatory barriers have prevented doctors and patients from taking advantage of it. But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare facilities have had to adapt and embrace digital transformation, just like all the other industries. To reduce the risk of virus transmission, the CDC has recommended healthcare institutions to offer telemedicine services, which also save time and transportation costs. With barriers now lowered, telemedicine adoption rates are expected to skyrocket in 2021, which not only will bring extra convenience but also allow for better health monitoring by physicians. New programs are being developed as we speak, and the fact that 89% of patients would be willing to accept telemedicine as a form of medical care is extremely encouraging. In fact, according to a ResearchGate study, 52% of doctors said that virtual appointments yielded better results than in-clinic appointments, citing convenience and better communication as the top benefits.
Innovative migraine treatments
Not to be confused with headaches, migraines are severe medical conditions that can become debilitating when left untreated, affecting the patients’ job performance and personal lives. Although they’re the third most common disease in the world, affecting 14.7% of the global population, migraines can be difficult to manage. The efficiency of anti-inflammatory and anti-seizure medications is limited because they haven’t been developed specifically for migraines. As a result, patients have been trying alternative solutions, including CBD, which has been proved to provide pain relief, especially through inhalation. But as products such as Organic CBD Nugs’ Delta 8 Cartridges and CBD oils were flying off shelves, scientists developed the first preventive drug for migraines, which also received FDA approval. Although it will take a while until such a drug becomes widely known and universally available, it marks the beginning of a new era for migraine treatments, and the fact that patients now have more options at their disposal can only be encouraging. Although it wasn’t mentioned at the summit, we should also mention that scientists have been taking great strides in using VR for migraines, aura, and thumping headaches and reported positive results.
Minimally invasive devices that reduce postpartum complications
Postpartum hemorrhage occurs in up to 6% of all deliveries and is the main cause of mortality at childbirth. Although there are solutions for this complication, they are by no means ideal. For example, the blood transfusions and drugs administered to mothers have a long list of reported side effects. Because they’re highly invasive, they’re extremely uncomfortable, have long recovery times, and they’ve even forced mothers to undergo hysterectomies and lose their fertility. Starting with next year, a safer, non-invasive procedure could become available: a vacuum-induced uterine tamponade. This tool uses negative pressure to seal off the blood vessels responsible for the hemorrhage, and its development is particularly exciting because it’s so easy to manufacture, doesn’t require high-tech equipment, and it can become a lifesaver in developing countries.
Safer ventilation solutions for premature babies
Prematurely born babies often experience infant respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS), which requires ventilation. Until now, mechanical ventilation has been the most common treatment, but it’s not without its faults. Because it’s so invasive, mechanical ventilation can cause severe lung injuries and even increase the risk of chronic lung disease. Fortunately, scientists have perfected b-CPAP, a ventilation strategy that ensures constant pressure in the lungs of prematurely born babies and encourages lung growth in a non-invasive way. Thanks to this recent development, physical trauma is minimized, and prematurely born babies have a better chance at a normal, healthy life.