Living Systems

Medical Devices and Equipment

Technical Applications


A broad array of electronic monitoring devices are essential for life support and patient monitoring. Providing real-time information on patient status, they are a hallmark of modern medical care in circumstances ranging from hospital operating room to roadside heart attack patient, trauma victims, or battlefield casualties.


Another example of a group of medical devices are the devices for functional electrical stimulation (FES) which offer great promise for moving the disabled and elderly toward greater independence. Cardiac pacemakers are one example of functional electrical stimulation which have enhanced the lives of millions while providing the basis for a substantial industry with domestic and export markets. Cochlear implants to help with hearing impairments and selective stimulation of nerve and muscle groups to restore paralyzed limbs have made limited progress over the past two decades. FES has also been explored for respiratory support in spinal cord patients with diaphragm activation problems, as well as for bladder and rectum control. Passive monitoring instrument for electrophysiology (EKG) and blood pressure are used by the medical staff of the operating room or critical care unit to assess patient status and stability and the progress of various interventions. Blood gas instrumentation (oximeters and CO2 monitors) may be used to control respirators or cardio-pulmonary bypass pumps. While these technologies are relatively mature, reduced size, reduced response time and increased stability, accuracy, and precision remain challenges for competitive advantage. Critical parameters such as the adequacy of tissue perfusion and actual real-time cardiac output are being approached by a variety of ultrasound and optically coupled techniques. Signal processing of the raw data and the computer assisted display of the array of multiple parameters so as not to overwhelm the medical staff remain as challenges.


Medical devices and equipment make a major contribution to the health of the U.S. population and to the improvement of quality of life for individuals. These technologies provide greater independence and functionality for the elderly and the injured, allowing them to remain productive members of society longer and contribute to the effectiveness of the U.S. health care system. They also reduce the human costs of U.S. military actions by providing injured soldiers with care on and off the battlefield and with more normal lives following battle injuries.


The U.S. biomedical industry is estimated to supply 49 percent of the global market. While there are competent competitors in most device markets, the technology base, supporting R&D, and ready availability of quality components all contribute to U.S. technical leadership. There has been a strong academic interest in Biomedical Engineering departments since the late 1960s. Technology transfers and development funded by the aerospace sector contributed to early development. Component sub-systems for imaging such as x-ray tubes and ultrasonic transducers drew on a technology base developed to support microwave transmitter tube and ultrasonic sonar transducers. Laser based instruments have drawn on a technology base developed by national labs for physics research and military applications. While significant innovations such as the lithotriptor and color coded ultrasonic cardiac flow visualization systems have been developed overseas and introduced to the U.S. market, they are an exception.