Ducth BME opportunities for an aging population

Our population is aging. That will imply lots of changes for the society and the market. Many of these effects are regularly mentioned, but there is one that is about our field that is not often addressed.

In contrast to the people that are over, say,75 now, the age group that is now retiring has been using technology almost all their lives. They will expect and demand technological solutions for their every day problems. Even better for the biomedical engineers, every patient is different. What we can expect is a growing market with general high tech solutions and practical patient specific adaptations. The specific adaptations will probably be done by many small specialized companies. So the future is looking bright for our graduates of the applied universities, specifically if they have some biomedical training. But who is going to do the big, high tech innovations?

Traditionally we tend to depend on the US for our innovations, but that won't work this time. All medical devices are extensively screened before they are allowed on the market, the so called Pre Market Approval. Nothing wrong with that, from a patient safety point of view. Only, that means that every innovation has to go trough a thorough reviewing process and clinical trials that may take many years to complete. Even if it is a small modification that does not affect the working of the device. Only the big companies can afford that gap between finished product and going to market and even they don't like it, even if it makes competition from startups almost impossible. The EU has a different system, here the testing is done within notified bodies (like TNO) that themselves are controlled by legislation. If they decide that there is nothing technically wrong or dangerous the device could be used. This makes it in principle more easy and faster to go to market, a couple of years at least. Though there is still a gap to be financed, it is significantly smaller.

This system should make the EU a hot-spot for biomedical innovation in the coming decades. The Netherlands has a long tradition in BME and I expect that we will play a better than average role again in the future. One reason is our way of working and our traditionally flat organization structure. If you form in the Netherlands a group of people with different backgrounds, e.g. a medical professor, a PhD, some bachelors from an applied background, and a secretary you will most likely have a team that combine their knowledge and skills. In many other European countries you will have a hierarchy. No bachelor there will ever say to the professor that what he proposes is not optimal but that she knows a better way. This will give us a big advantage over those other countries. Provided that we can maintain our multidisciplinary groups, but that is for another column.

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