IBM Moves into Medical Devices

The company partners with medical device makers to create wireless pill counters, pacemaker programmers and more.

IT giant IBM has recently helped to bring a series of tech-savvy medical devices to market, including a remote pacemaker monitor and programmer approved by the FDA in April.

In a series of recent partnerships, IBM has become increasingly focused on the integration of IT into medical devices. These innovations are intended to improve patient monitoring for physicians and enhance the technology and convenience available to patients, the company said.

One IBM collaboration with the Mayo Clinic yielded a portable MRI device after just eight months, much shorter than the typical turnaround of almost two years.

This is a breakthrough device that is likely to become increasingly necessary as imaging of the brain becomes more essential in establishing neurological diagnoses and understanding the efficacy of treatments, according to the company.

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IBM also worked with Bang & Olufsen Medicom to develop a wireless pill counter that informs both patients and doctors of medicines that need to be taken and tracks medications that have been taken. Additionally, the company partnered with Medtronic to design a pacemaker monitor and programmer.

The most recent fruit of these medical device partnerships is a portable system that programs ICDs (implantable cardioverter defibrillators) and pacemakers, designed by IBM with cardiac medical device company St. Jude Medical.

The device was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in April and was recently launched on the market. Called the Merlin Patient Care System, its a computer system designed to help physicians more efficiently conduct tests, analyze therapeutic and diagnostic data, and program implanted devices.

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Its expected that the system will help to significantly reduce the time necessary for testing during follow-up visits for cardiac care patients with implanted pacemakers, and allow physicians to more easily reprogram already implanted pacemakers. Monitoring will be able to be conducted remotely and programming, once a difficult and time-consuming process, may become routine.

"The best way to create a patient follow-up system is to ask the clinicians who conduct the testing every day what they want most, and thats exactly what we did," said Michael Coyle, president of St. Jude Medicals Cardiac Rhythm Management Division, based in St. Paul, Minn.

"We invested countless hours watching how clinicians work, and then challenged some of our best people to streamline the process and make it easier to navigate," Coyle said.

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