December 1, 2020

The best health care inventions of 2020, according to TIME

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    TIME last month released its list of the 100 Best Inventions of 2020. Here are the 23 of those inventions that have implications for health care.

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    How TIME made the list

    To create the list, TIME collected nominations from its editors and correspondents and through an online application process. TIME evaluated each nomination based on factors such as ambition, creativity, effectiveness, impact, and originality.

    The 23 best health care inventions of 2020

    For the final list, TIME arranged the 100 Best Inventions of 2020 into several categories, including accessibility, fitness, home health, medical care, wellness, and more. Here are the 23 inventions that made the list that could have implications for health care, presented in alphabetical order.

    1. Augmedics' xvision: Augmedics' xvision device utilizes augmented reality to transform a patient's CT scan into a 3D visualization that can guide spinal surgeons through surgery, TIME's Jamie Ducharme writes. The headset places a 3D image of a patient's spine over their body, which allows surgeons to essentially see what's under the patient's skin while staying focused on the operating table. The xvision headset was approved by FDA in December 2019 and is in use at some U.S. hospitals, including Johns Hopkins Hospital and Rush University Medical Center.


    2. Callaly Tampliner: The Tampliner, developed by Callaly, is a hybrid tampon and panty liner, giving women two options for managing menstrual flow with just one product. The Tampliner also has a self-wrapping feature that folds the used tampon into its liner for easier removal, TIME's Nadia Suleman writes. According to Suleman, the Tampliner currently is available in Ireland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, and Callaly expects to receive regulatory approval for the Tampliner in other countries.


    3. Carrier OptiClean: So-called "clean" rooms, where air remains and is filtered in a closed system instead of mixing with air in the rest of the facility, are highly needed at hospitals, TIME's Alice Park writes—and that's where Carrier's OptiClean comes in. The mobile OptiClean air purifier is able to turn a room into a negative air-pressure space that prevents any contaminated air from getting out. The device then cleans contaminated air using a high-efficiency HEPA filter before releasing the air back into the space. The OptiClean device also can filter pathogens out of the air in a room without turning it into a negative air-pressure space. According to Park, Carrier as of November had "15,000 orders for the units from hospitals as well as schools, universities, offices, and other buildings looking to provide safe indoor environments."


    4. Earlens Contact Hearing Solution: A majority of hearing aids are able to amplify mid tones, but they have problems with amplifying high and low tones, making it difficult for users to listen to a conversation in a crowd, TIME's Marjorie Korn writes. To address that issue, Earlens doesn't use an amplifier. Instead, the device uses a microphone that picks up sounds and a small lens that sits next to a user's eardrum. The device's microphone and processor pick up sound, and an algorithm converts the sound into vibrations that are transmitted to the eardrum through the lens. Korn explains, "Put another way: rather than turning up the sound, Earlens actually re-creates the effect of the sound waves."


    5. FEND: For over 10 years, David Edwards, an expert in aerosols at Harvard University, has been working on what he refers to as the nasal "equivalent to washing your hands" to reduce the risk of inhaling infectious particles through your nose, Ducharme writes. Now, he's developed FEND, which is a drug-free nasal mist that's based in salt and calcium. FEND, which is manufactured by Sensory Cloud, strengthens the mucus lining in the nose, which helps the lining to trap and eliminate small pathogens. In addition, preliminary data has shown that FEND users exhaled around 75% fewer aerosol particles than study participants who didn't use the product, "suggesting it could be a worthy addition to the disease-prevention arsenal, along with handwashing, masking, and social distancing," Ducharme writes.


    6. Hatch Restore: A study published by CDC in 2016 found that more than a third of Americans don't weren't getting the amount of sleep they needed, and TIMES' Alex Fitzpatrick writes that number likely has increased, as America's coronavirus epidemic "increases our stress levels." The Hatch Restore device aims to help people get the sleep they need by providing white noise and guided meditations intended to help people fall asleep easier. Further, when you need to wake up, Hatch Restore "glows with a simulated sunrise to gently nudge you awake," Fitzpatrick writes. The device has alarm sounds available, as well.


    7. Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center: Experts at Johns Hopkins University and data from its Coronavirus Resource Center have served as the source for many resources tracking the novel coronavirus, including online hot spot maps and cable news counts, Korn writes. Users have downloaded data from the center billions of times, and governments have used the data to figure out where to send needed resources and when to start easing coronavirus-related restrictions, according to Korn.


    8. LIXIL SATO Tap: One of the most efficient ways to prevent the novel coronavirus's spread is handwashing, TIME's Ciara Nugent writes, but data shows around 40% of the world's population doesn't have running water and soap at home. That's why Japanese company LIXIL has developed the SATO Tap, a portable and refillable handwashing station with a soap holder. LIXIL is working through public and private partnerships to distribute 500,000 SATO Taps to households in need worldwide in 2021.


    9. LUCI: Developed by Barry Dean, a songwriter in Nashville, and his engineer brother, LUCI is an accessory for power-wheelchairs that's intended to make the chairs safer. The device features a joystick for users to steer their chairs and sensors that evaluate a chair's surroundings. The sensors collect data to determine safe paths for the chair, and the device can change how the chair responds according to that data. For example, according to TIME's Paulina Cachero, the device may slow down a chair that's approaching a surprise drop-off or stop a chair to prevent a possible collision. Chachero writes that LUCI last month became available at mobility clinics in the United States.


    10. Masks that do more: Face masks are a vital tool in spreading the novel coronavirus's spread, and "while any number of variations could be considered a 'best invention,' three impressed [TIME] most," Korn writes. Those three masks are: the B2 Mask by Breathe99, which has a rubber-like face section and holds two replaceable filters that eliminate nearly 100% of particles; the [MSK] by Petit Pli, which features fabric made from recycled plastic bottles that's been woven into an origami-like pattern that ensures a comfortable fit for all faces; and RunMask by IAMRUNBOX, which uses materials often associated with athletic clothing, according to Korn.


    11. Martin Bionics Socket-Less Socket: While artificial limbs have made great strides when it comes to innovation, the plastic sockets that attach artificial limbs to patients haven't changed all that much over the years, Korn writes. But Martin Bionics' Socket-Less Socket replaces those standard plastic sockets, instead using a custom and adjustable set of straps and bindings. Martin Bionics founder Jay Martin described the Socket-Less Socket as "the difference between wooden clogs and carbon-fiber shoes."


    12. MIT Media Lab AlterEgo: MIT Media Lab's AlterEgo allows people to communicate with a computer without having to type or speak. TIMES' Jason Cipriani explains that the AlterEgo headset features sensors that read signals in a user's brain regarding tasks he or she thinks about completing. The device then uses a web connection to send those signals to a computer, which completes those tasks. Further, the headset features a bone conduction speaker that only the user can hear to communicate back to them. According to Cipriani, AlterEgo "is currently being tested in limited hospital settings, where it helps patients with multiple sclerosis and [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS] to communicate."


    13. mRNA Vaccines: Two of the first coronavirus vaccine candidates that could be authorized by FDA rely on new technology using genetic material called mRNA, Park writes. The technology makes it easier and faster to create vaccines, because drugmakers don't need to grow or alter the novel coronavirus to develop the inoculation. According to Park, the technology enabled two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, to create experimental vaccines that appear to be "more than 90% effective in protecting against Covid-19" and "were developed and tested in record time."


    14. Nella NuSpec Reusable Vaginal Speculum: Developed by a team of designers at Ceek Women's Health, the Nella NuSpec is a speculum made from medical-grade polymer that's around the thickness of a typical tampon when closed, Ducharme writes. Once the Nella NuSpec is inserted, it expands to less-sensitive vaginal side walls and provides doctors with the visibility they need to conduct pelvic exams "without compromising patient comfort," according to Ducharme.


    15. OraSure OMNIgene Oral: OraSure developed one the first FDA-authorized at-home sample-collection kit for the novel coronavirus, making testing quicker and more easily accessible, Park writes. Patients simply spit into the collection tube of the OMNIgene Oral kit and send it to a lab, which can then process the sample and provide results within a day or two.


    16. Oura Ring: To finish out its season amid America's coronavirus epidemic, the National Basketball Association (NBA) placed its players and staff in a "bubble" in Orlando, Florida, and used various tools, including the Oura Ring, to keep those in the bubble healthy, TIME's Mandy Oaklander writes. Users wear the Oura Ring on their finger, and the device tracks a user's heart rate, activity level, sleep, and body temperature. Using this data, the ring generates a "readiness" score in its app, which represents "a holistic picture of your health," according to Harpreet Singh Rai, Oura's CEO.


    17. Provizio SEM Scanner: Lying in bed for prolonged periods of time often can result in bedsores, an injury that costs the U.S. health care system about $10 billion and contributes to infections that kill around 60,000 Americans each year, Ducharme writes. But the Provizio SEM Scanner aims to prevent bedsores before they can develop by reading a patient's skin. To use the device, providers hold the scanner to a patient's skin. The device then provides feedback on the moisture levels below the surface of the skin, which can allow providers to detect bedsores up to five days sooner than through visual detection, Ducharme writes. According to Ducharme, "[t]he roughly 30 U.S. hospitals already using the device report treating up to 90% fewer bedsores than before."


    18. Tombot Jennie: Dementia and pre-dementia patients often experience loneliness, which is why Tom Stevens, a veteran of the tech industry, developed Tombot Jennie, an emotional-support robot that looks and acts like a real puppy, TIME's J.R. Sullivan writes. Tombot Jennie looks like a 15-pound lab and has a number of internal sensors that tell the robot to wag its tail when petted, respond to vocal commands, and bark when asked if it wants a treat. Tombot intends to add medical-alert features to the robot before shipping it out to its 5,000-person preorder list in 2022, Sullivan writes.


    19. TrialJectory: TrialJectory is a service that uses artificial intelligence to comb through thousands of clinical trials and pull out information about the types of patients researchers are looking for, TIME's Alejandro de la Garza writes. The algorithm matches patients with clinical trials based on their responses to a series of questions about themselves and their disease. According to de la Garza, "[s]ince launching in 2018, TrialJectory’s researchers have expanded the system to cover more types of cancer, adding lung cancers this summer."


    20. Under The Weather Intubation Pod: Since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Under The Weather's intubation pod has served an important use: protecting health care workers from the virus, Park writes. The plastic pod covers a patient's head and shoulders, protecting both the patient and the health care provider during medical procedures. Under The Weather also has longer versions of the pod that can extend all the way to the hips or further.


    21. Virti: Developed by Alex Young, a trauma surgeon, Virti places workers into high-stress scenarios utilizing augmented and virtual reality, Ducharme writes. There, the workers are able to practice responding to the situation and receive feedback on their performance. This year, Virti has been helping frontline health care workers practice responding to the coronavirus pandemic, including practicing how to properly wear personal protective equipment, administer Covid-19 treatments, and ventilate a patient.


    22. Vocera Smartbadge: Oaklander writes that, often in "critical moments while caring for patients, doctors and nurses must drop what they're doing if they need to call a colleague." The Vocera Smartbadge aims to make those calls easier by allowing health care workers to connect with others on their team using voice commands. Providers can wear the device like a necklace or fasten it to their scrubs. Vocera CEO Brent Lang explained, "You never have to stop what you're doing, reach in your pocket and pull out your phone, or take off your gloves to interact with another device." According to Oaklander, more than 100 health care facilities use the Smartbadge, and the device has proven particularly useful amid the coronavirus pandemic "because it allows clinicians to make calls without removing personal protective equipment."


    23. Willo: Willo is a hands-free toothbrushing device that features a silicon tray with nylon bristles that is placed into a user's mouth, Korn writes. Once the user's lips are sealed, Willo pumps in water and a special toothpaste, and the device begins brushing the user's teeth. The device then pulls the water and toothpaste from the tray and into a tube that gets dumped it into a sink (TIME 100 Best Inventions of 2020 list; TIME, 11/19).

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