Sunday, September 27, 2009

Medtronic Patent, Continued: Managing Multiple Devices

To my readers, you should read the posting that immediately precedes this one for background information.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the recently issued Medtronic patent is the capability to manage multiple implanted devices. Here's a list of possible implanted devices included in the patent's description ...

"cardiac stimulation devices, cardiac or other physiological monitoring devices,
neuromuscular stimulators, implantable drug pumps, or the like."

An earlier patent application from St. Jude Medical (Pacesetter) filed in 2001 (listed in this patent as
"System and method for remote programming of implantable cardiac stimulation devices" by Snell, et al) was limited to cardiac implanted devices. I find it interesting that this broader and more inclusive patent application has receive a patent, and the narrower, earlier filed patent application from the cardiac device division of St. Jude Medical has not.

Nevertheless, the broad coverage of the Medtronic patent does make things more interesting. As I discussed in an earlier post, patients who have implanted medical devices (IMDs) generally have more than one medical problem, and one or more of those additional medical problems have a significant likelihood of being addressed by an implantable device. For example, a patient may have both a heart problem and diabetes, both of which can be treated with implanted medical devices.

So, if a patient has more than one IMD, how does one manage that? Medtronic makes a wide range of devices. Would every device require it's own external patient management and communications unit? (See Figure 1 of the patent. The external unit is pictured as a laptop computer.) I've seen the solution from one large medical device provider and the answer is "yes." Each device would require it's own monitoring unit.

It may be that Medtronic is attempting to address this issue. The patent application suggests a single, intelligent external patient management and communications unit could manage any of the devices Medtronics produces. I find it interesting that in Figure 1, the monitoring unit shown is a laptop computer. A laptop should be able to provide more than enough computing power and communications capability to manage multiple implanted devices.

Let's take this mode of thinking a bit further ... the patent suggests that Medtronic might well be settling on a single platform, a single system to manage its IMDs, in any combination. This makes sense and it would be a significant cross-company breakthrough if they were able to pull it off.

To contrast with the smallest of the big-three medical device companies, St. Jude Medical is a much smaller company, but makes many of the same devices that Medtronic produces. However, St. Jude Medical is highly fragmented due in part that much of its growth has come through acquisition. Its much of its cardiac device division was originally Pacesetter that was acquired from Siemens. Other companies have been acquired and have been integrated into its cardiac device division. (This is no small achievement.) However, the cardiac division remains separate from the rest of the St. Jude Medical divisions. There is no cross division platform.

Medtronic is a more integrated company than St. Jude Medical, but it is significantly larger and more
un-wieldy. Nevertheless, Medtronic may be able to pull it off and settle on a company wide external patient management and communications unit platform and software architecture.

I want to take my speculation one step further. I shall not go into to detail here, but I want to raise the question and address it more detail in a later posting. I think it's fair to speculate that if Medtronic is considering a company-wide platform and software architecture for their external patient management and communications unit then it makes sense to consider a common platform and architecture for their implanted medical devices. This would be a revolution in medical device technology, but is Medtronic considering this? It is anyone's guess and I shall devote at least one posting to this issue.

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