Saturday, October 10, 2009

Medtronic International Patent Application: Remote Programming of Implantable Medical Devices

Medtronic has an international patent application that extends Remote Programming, particularly, the capability to maintain security and safety of patients.  Before I dive into the details, the authors of this patent application make some very interesting points regarding the value of remote programming.  I'd like to quote a few items from that application.  It provides a clear argument regarding the value of remote programming.

... if the medical conditions of a patient with an implantable device warrant continuous monitoring or adjustment of the device [e. g. a pacemaker], the patient would have to stay in the hospital indefinitely. 

From personal and discussions with others, people want to live at home, not in a hospital or a nursing home.  Remote programming can be one tool that makes this possible even for people with severe, irreversible heart failure.  

Yet another condition ... requires that a patient visit a clinical center for occasional retrieval of data from the implanted device ... .  Depending on the frequency of data collection, this procedure may pose a serious difficulty and inconvenience for patients who live in rural areas or have limited mobility.  ... in the event a need arises to upgrade the software of an implantable medical device, the patient will be required to come to the clinic or hospital to have the upgrade installed.

Consider a patient who lives in the middle of the Navajo Reservation.  The Navajo Reservation (that surrounds the Hopi Reservation) lies in the northeast corner of Arizona and takes in parts of Utah and New Mexico.  To say the least, it is huge, rural and a very long way from any major metropolitan area.  It would be a significant burden for someone living in the middle of the Navajo Reservation to travel to any of the likely places where a device physician would be located.  Remote programming would be a significant help to these patients.

The essence of the patent application

The following quote summarizes the purpose of the patent application.

The present invention is directed toward providing a remote programming method for use with implantable medical device systems that helps ensure safe, secure programming of a medical device in a remote location.

The quote isn't particularly well-written, but it does convey what this patent is addressing: it's addressing the security problem.  Briefly, here's the problem, as it stands, anyone in a device clinic or for that matter, a hospital with a computer log-in who has access to a patient's records or has the ability to perform remote programming is provided with the ability to do virtually anything to the patient's device remotely.  This is a not a safe situation for the  patient and it's a potentially massive legal problem for the device managers.

Medtronic has defined a multi-layered or tiered system whereby certain people are provided with a specific level or levels of authorization.  For example, a clerical person may be granted authorization to review patient records and verify that certain scheduled changes and updates to patients' devices have been performed.  On the other hand, device physicians may be granted full authorization to see and do anything and everything. 

The security system that they propose is not unlike other security systems in the field.  Agencies in the Federal Government, National Laboratories, many companies, etc. all have authorization systems similar to the one being proposed.  The difference is that this addresses remote programming of medical devices.  

The patent application is narrow enough so that I suspect that Medtronic will likely receive an International Patent.  That's assuming that there are no patent applications in the same domain that have preceded the Medtronic application.  It does make clear Medtronic's strong interest in this area of technology.  Patient care is the future of the medical device industry and clearly, Medtronic has clearly recognized this.

Next time, I'll dive into remote programming and issues related to data communication.  I'll intersperse these posts to discuss the Achilles Heel of Remote Programming: Electrical Power.  And a way that this problem might be solved.  Say tuned.  These next posts should be interesting and informative.

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