The Future of Orthopedics is Smart Implants

If an implant could talk…  what would a health care provider want to know to better treat the patient?

On a dark cold morning in February 2021 the Orthopedic staff at Cleveland Clinic receives a worrisome Instant Message from one of their total hip patients, Samantha Ingram. However, this IM was not written by Samantha but rather by Samantha’s hip replacement.  The message from her hip implant explains that a local Staph infection has just started and provides details on the location and bacteria level present. The office nurse contacts Samantha to bring her into the office even though she insists that she is fine. She arrives that afternoon.  She receives oral medication and a minor procedure that locally treats the infection and then she is sent home.  Samantha has avoided pain, implant loosening and a possible revision operation. The smart implant has done its job.

In the future, I believe most joint replacements will contain embedded sensors that allow the health care system to detect early problems, proactively treat them, and provide better care for the patient. These implant sensors will measure loads, temperature, motion, enzymes, bacteria levels, pH, particulates, etc. Surprizingly as we sit here in 2012, the technology actually exists for implantable sensors such as this. However the big five Ortho companies are not on board yet. They have not yet invested in the development and regulatory processes for smart implants. This will change. The question that the Ortho companies must address is “If an implant could talk…  what would a health care provider want to know to better treat the patient?”
Looking forward, I believe that the more meaningful orthopedic uses for smart implants will be among these eight applications.

8 Applications for Smart Implants

  1. Infection detection – See OrthoSensor

  2. Early Dislocation detection – hips

  3. Bone Ingrowth measurement or Spine Fusion Detection – See Smart Hip , OrthoData

  4. Fracture Healing measurement – trauma

  5. Particulate counting for early detection of osteolysis – hips

  6. Performance, load bearing and ROM data collection – See OrthoSensor, e-knee , TracPatch

  7. Controlled and local drug delivery (antibiotics, analgesics, growth factors) long after surgery

  8. Implant and Patient ID data with an RFID tag – See Ortho-Tag

Your thoughts?