Hope or Hype: The Obsession with Medical Advances and the High Cost of False Promises

By Richard A. Deyo; Donald L. Patrick | Go to book overview

14

Medical Devices That Disappoint

If you have a screwdriver, everything looks like a screw. There will be a lot of peo-
ple doing the wrong thing for back pain for a long time, until we finally figure it out.
I just hope that we don't hurt too many people in the process. —Dr. Seth Waldeman1

DEVICE MANUFACTURERS offer a steady stream of innovations that's growing into a torrent. Recently introduced medical devices include coronary stents, which prop open narrowed arteries; implantable defibrillators, which shock faltering hearts back into a normal rhythm; and the "gamma knife," which uses highly focused and precisely targeted radiation to treat certain brain tumors instead of cutting with a steel blade. On the near horizon are implantable insulin pumps that continuously adjust to changes in a diabetic's blood sugar, robots that can perform precise biopsies inside an MRI scanner, and pacemakers for the heart that can alert doctors to blood pressure changes or fluid buildup in the lungs.2 Some of these sound like gadgets from Star Trek, and these are the things that many people think of as "medical technology."

Medical devices include a huge range of products, including things like artificial joints, heart pacemakers, and MRI scanners. They also include more prosaic products like tubes, catheters, and contact lenses.

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