As a ‘smart knee’ that transmits data rolls out, medical specialists and engineers predict sensors will be added to artificial hips, shoulders and spinal implants
In coming years, your new artificial joints will tell the doctor how they’re doing. Already, a “smart knee” from medical-device maker Zimmer Biomet Holdings Inc., introduced in 2021, comes with built-in sensors developed by Canary Medical Inc. that can wirelessly transmit a slew of data about how the replacement knee is working.
The details about your gait are sent daily to your orthopedic doctor, who can track your step counts, range of motion and other metrics in the months and years after surgery. Doctors tracking the information can reassure patients who are hitting recovery milestones. Or, if the performance measures fall short, a doctor may intervene to avoid having a patient stuck with an underperforming artificial knee, such as ordering a change in the patient’s physical-therapy regimen.
That’s just the beginning, say doctors and medical-device engineers. They predict sensors will be added to artificial hips, shoulders, and spinal implants. And they envision uses beyond orthopedics, such as tracking whether a brain aneurysm is about to burst, and whether implanted hearing aids or vision devices need to be fine-tuned.
“Using sensors to get data from a patient, you can have thousands of data points to analyze and figure out exatly what’s going on with a patient,” says Edward Harvey, a trauma surgeon and professor of medicine at McGill University in Montreal. Dr. Harvey runs a lab that develops implanted sensors, including one to temporarily assess muscle damage in trauma patients.
Zimmer’s orthopedics rivals are also getting into the market. Johnson & Johnson is developing a sensor-equipped version of its surgical trauma plates, which are implanted devices used to stabilize bone fractures while they’re healing.
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