Prof. David Kelso from the Biomedical Engineering department at Northwestern University in Chicago and Mr Mladen Poluta from the Healthcare Technology Management Programme in the Biomedical Engineering division at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have an ongoing collaboration. Each year several students from Northwestern University visit South Africa for several weeks and initiate projects in local communities as part of their studies. They investigate conditions and requirements in local communities and hospitals, and provide biomedical engineering solutions.
Recently, Prof. Kelso gave a talk at UCT, titled Medical Devices – then and now. One of the main points he made was that there has been a paradigm shift regarding technology for developing countries. In the past the idea was to provide less sophisticated devices so that these could be serviced in the developing country where resources and know-how might be limited. In the long run, this has not proven to be very effective.
As technology improves and as prices for the emerging products drop, it has become far more cost-effective to produce devices that can replace certain diagnostic machine with smaller, cheaper wearable devices attached to smartphones. Cellphone and smartphone technology in emerging economies and developing countries has come a long way. Most of these countries already boast a reasonable network that is constantly improving.
The idea is that smartphones are becoming ubiquitous and are network-connected, thus making telemedicine an option. At the same time, developers are creating medical applications – Apps – for the smartphones. On the other hand, the wearable sensors are becoming smaller, smarter and cheaper. Thus, it may be much more cost-effective to discard faulty sensors which cost perhaps in the order of $25, than to try and repair costly and complex machines with a limited pool of trained technicians who might not be able to source spareparts easily.
This trend begs the question: how does the Lodox scanner fit into this new paradigm? Obviously, certain medical devices cannot be miniaturised and simply plugged into a smartphone. X-ray machines, CT scanners and the Lodox full-body scanners fall into this category. The Lodox approach has been to make our scanners extremely robust to withstand the daily hard work they have to endure in busy hospitals and mortuaries. The second prong of the strategy is to allow remote access to the scanners via wireless routers or over a computer network. Thus, Lodox technicians can trouble-shoot misbehaving equipment in another part of the country or the world, and assist the client in getting the machine up and running in as short a time as possible.
As technology continues to improve, new ways to manage equipment (remotely) will become a reality. Some things we may look forward to in the near future are automatic diagnostic tests for equipment and computer-assisted fault-finding programs that may reduce the need for human intervention when a machine develops certain faults.