It’s 2009… Where are the Smart Implants in Orthopedics?

 It’s 2009… Where are the Smart Implants in Orthopedics? 

Over 650,000 total joints will be implanted this year in the US.  None will contain microchips.   



At this period in medical history, I would have bet that orthopedic implants would be able to “tell” physicians and health care workers what is going on with the device from inside the patient. Orthopedic implants should be able to relay diagnoses, bone growth information, Range-of-Motion (ROM) information or other performance data. They don’t. So, why is Orthopedic medicine such a laggard when it comes to microchips?   

Is this a technology problem?
The technology is available today. In 2008, it is completely feasible to design an embedded chip that can record valuable information about the device, then wirelessly communication that information from inside a bone to an outside receiver. This chip will be completely biocompatible and will be driven by either an active and passive power sources. 

Is this an economics problem?
A self diagnosing implant serves three key groups – the surgeon, the healthcare system, and the device manufacturers. The surgeon needs to know what is going on locally with the device. The healthcare system needs to detect early problems with devices to treat the patient more economically. The Orthopedic device manufacturers are desperately looking for ways to differentiate their devices and get a premium for that product differentiation. The market will bear a premium for embedded chips once they are proven to be safe and effective.  

Is this a competency problem?
The orthopedic manufacturers think mechanically.  These companies are filled with mechanical engineers, not electrical engineer or wireless communication engineers or software engineers or chip designers.  In the last few months, I have talked to many Orthopedic R&D managers and have made two determinations – these companies know that smart implants are the future and they have no idea how to start the journey.