What Is Medical Technology?


Medical technology is the use of a device or invention to extend the life of patients, relieve pain and reduce risk of disease. Examples of medical technology include medical and surgical procedures, medications, medical devices and diagnostic tests. It is difficult to think of modern medicine without medical technology.


The use of medical technologies in diagnosis and treatment started in the nineteenth century. The sphygmomanometer was invented by Samuel Siegfried Karl Ritter von Basch and was used to measure blood pressure. The spirometer was invented by John Hutchinson in 1846 and was used to measure the vital capacity of the lungs. The last half of the twentieth century witnessed a tremendous growth in the use of technology in medicine. It is estimated that the growth of medical technology in the past five decades exceeded all advances made during the previous two millenia. One major factor responsible for the growth of medical technology is the integration of science and engineering with medicine. For instance, imaging devices such as X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are based on advanced physics principles and specifically engineered for medical applications.


Examples of advanced technologies used in medicine include: medications such as targeted therapies for cancer, antidepressants, medical and surgical procedures, medical devices such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans, screening tests such as fecal occult blood test for colorectal cancer, electronic support systems such as telemedicine, and electronic medical records.


The applications of medical technologies include diagnosis of diseases (e.g. X-ray), treatment of diseases (e.g. chemotherapy for cancer), prevention of diseases (e.g. immunization), screening for diseases (e.g. mammography), rehabilitation (e.g. physical therapy), automation and reducing errors (e.g. computerized order physician entry ) and improving quality of life of patients (e.g. artificial legs and arms).


The United States invests $130 billion annually on research of new medical technologies. One-third of this investment is paid by the government. The pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device industries contributed about half of the cost of research and development for new medical technologies. The cost of research and development for new drugs has skyrocketed in the past decade, reaching more than $1 billion.

Expert Insight

It is believed that medical technology is partly responsible for the rising cost of health care. In the United States, the total cost of health care increases with an annual rate of roughly 10 percent and currently accounts for 18 20 percent of GDP. It is estimated that medical technology is responsible for at least half of the increase in medical costs. It is therefore important to evaluate the cost effectiveness of a new medical technology. Such analysis will allow health care providers to make an informed decision about which medications or procedures should be paid for.

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