17 Jan 2019
Cheerfully Promoted Digital Diagnostics Prove the Talk of Medica
While a new wave of wearable med-tech wooed many Medica attendees with its enhanced remote monitoring capabilities, certain exhibitors clearly seemed to fear that even mentioning illness might be enough to deter would-be purchasers.
While the medical sector is, in many ways, an assembly of niche markets – with a number of them having no or very little crossover – there are some issues that have clear implications for them all. At the most recent Medica – the Düsseldorf expo that bills itself as the "World Forum for Medicine" – several such factors were very much to the fore, most notably digital diagnostics and the ongoing battle against ever more belligerent bacterial incursions.
Data-driven medicine and computerisation are, of course, becoming increasingly important, creating fresh opportunities as well as new potential problems. Among the latter, it was the security of patient data and the hygiene challenges occasioned when using computer equipment in sterile environments (most notably, operating theatres) that proved particular focal points at the event.
Overall, there was a general belief that information technology is now making it possible for a less hands-on approach to be taken to medical care, freeing up trained personnel to allocate more time to prevention, enhanced monitoring and online care. At the same time, there was a noticeable – and somewhat counterintuitive – move by certain exhibitors to downplay the illness-related aspects of their products in the belief that this, somehow, made them more marketable.
Thankfully, a little more frank was Bavaria-based Active Key, which was keen to showcase its range of computer keyboard cleanliness solutions. Essentially fully sealed, waterproofed silicone covers, they are also designed to be easily wipeable and machine-cleanable.
Outlining their particular benefits, Sales Director Erwin Gotzl said: "Our silicone covers are absolutely waterproof. When detached, the membrane can be sterilised at temperatures of up to 134°C and, when fitted, the entire keyboard unit can be sterilised at 67°.
"As to the mouse, it has a scroll-wheel, which can be very unhygienic. With some solutions, you have three buttons instead, which you push to imitate the scroll-wheel, but this creates a lot of hand strain if used for long periods. So, instead, we have installed a small sensor that you just move by touch, like swiping on a smartphone or iPad touch screen."
The covered keyboard unit sells for about US$100, while the mouse is available for $60.
At previous editions of Medica, wearable devices were very much the centre of attention. While, at the time, this was largely down to their novelty and potential, it's their enhanced functionality that is now commanding the most interest – at least according to Hilkka Aronen, the OEM Marketing Manager of Firstbeat, a Finnish company specialising in physiological heartbeat-related analytics. This year, the company was in Düsseldorf as the European distributor for Garmin, a Kansas-based manufacturer of health-centric smartwatches.
Offering a quick update on the current state of wearable med-tech, Aronen said: "It's all much more sophisticated now. While the first wearable boom came and went, we are now seeing the second wave, with manufacturers far more aware that people are really looking for something to enhance their lifestyle rather than just another gadget. While the first wave offered nothing more complex than step-counters, what we have now is far more sophisticated.
"Now, our analytic data libraries can be pre-integrated in the watches. You can also programme in any required background information once you start using the watch – weight, height, gender, age, BMI, and so on – then your heart rate and speed data can be monitored while you are, for example, out running. Based on this data, your overall level of fitness can then be determined."
In addition to their health and fitness functions, the watches also offer the more conventional smartwatch functions, such as digital payment facilities and audio streaming. They are currently available for between $500-800.
Apart from self-diagnostics, such data-driven applications are also being embraced in more professional medical quarters. Looking to capitalise on this, Shark Dreams, a North Carolina-based digital healthcare start-up, had on offer a range of products designed to automate – at least partially – some of the more routine doctor-patient interactions.
One such item was a sensor-enabled pill-bottle that tracked usage. Via a data interface, a doctor or other medical professional can then remotely monitor whether the patient is taking the correct dose of the right medicine at the most appropriate time.
The company was also showing a connectible skin patch sensor. Explaining how this can save time for both the patient and the caregiver, Towsif Aziz, the company's Operations Co-ordinator, said: "The patch constantly measures ECG levels, skin temperature, oxygen saturation, heart rate, and stress levels. With a remote doctor constantly in receipt of this information, there is no need to attend clinics for regular check-ups."
Among the companies choosing to emphasise the positive side of their products in a bid to boost marketability was Ofa Bamberg, a German manufacturer of medical compression stockings. Explaining its bright and upbeat approach, Export Manager Alexandra Burkard said: "Our stockings are typically used to counter circulation or lymphatic problems and we also produce travel stockings for those who fly a lot and are at risk of thrombosis.
"For a long time, therapeutic stockings meant old-fashioned rubber stockings, which only old women would wear. Ours are quite different."
Ofa Bamberg's designs are brightly coloured and fashionable, with prices starting from $30 a pair. In keeping with its sunny sales strategy, the company's stand looked more like that of a fashion boutique than a medical-goods company.
Also accentuating the positive was Gociety, a Dutch health-tech company, which had on offer the Go Life, a clip-on alarm system for the elderly or infirm. Rather than focusing on the image of a lonely, old person nervously awaiting a health emergency, the company markets its product as a means of liberation, one that allows users to lead a healthier and more active lifestyle. Explaining how the system works in practice, Creative Director Katja Verbeek said: "It has both an alarm button and an automatic fall detection capability, which relies on very smart algorithms.
"While most similar devices are designed almost to keep people inside and make them feel more vulnerable, we want to send out a very different message. We want users to feel safe and want to give them enough confidence to be more active and to live their life to the max."
The Gociety sells for $170, with a $7-a-month subscription fee.
Medica 2018 took place from 12-15 November at Messe Düsseldorf. The event attracted 5,273 exhibitors from 66 countries and 120,000 visitors.
Marius Gombrich, Special Correspondent, Düsseldorf