10 best medical inventions of 2020

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS
Published December 23, 2020

Key Takeaways

From bedsore detectors and portable hand-washing stations, to virtual reality and beyond, 2020 was a boom year for medical inventions. That’s according to Time magazine, which tasked its editors and worldwide contributors with nominating the top inventions of the year. Of the 100 that made the final cut, 23 were medical inventions, with picks based on effectiveness, originality, creativity, impact, ambition, and more. 

Here are 10 that caught our eye.

1. xvision

Many have dreamed of x-ray vision, but this sci-fi concept has finally become a reality of sorts with the introduction of xvision, by Augmedics. This product is a headset that turns CT images into 3D renderings, giving spinal surgeons millimeter accuracy while performing surgery. It projects a 3D image of the patient’s spine over the body, and is already in use at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD, and Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center.

2. Virti

Launched by a trauma surgeon, Virti is an augmented/virtual-reality training platform that places professionals in high-stress situations as a means of preparation and practice. The platform has recently been used to teach frontline workers about the proper use of personal protective equipment, ventilation, and treatment in the context of COVID-19. Another medical use involves the management of arterial nicks during surgery. According to its maker, Virti boosts knowledge by 230% compared with typical training.

3. Nella NuSpec Reusable Vaginal Speculum

Metal speculums are notoriously uncomfortable. The Nella NuSpec, by Ceek Women’s Health, is crafted from high-grade polymer and is about the caliber of a tampon. Once inserted, it quietly and gently expands to leverage the walls of the vagina while providing visibility comparable to its clanky metal counterparts.

4. mRNA vaccine

Demonstrating human ingenuity in the face of a terrible health crisis, Pfizer and Moderna’s celebrated efforts against COVID-19 employed the genetic sequence of this virus to develop separate mRNA vaccines. These nimble alternatives do not require protracted manipulation of the actual virus, while still proving more than 90% effective.

5. IntubationPod

The IntubationPod, developed by Under the Weather, is a semi-enclosed plastic bubble that allows cover for the user’s face and shoulders during medical procedures, and has proven remarkably protective during the pandemic. Frontline workers and patients undergoing procedures can don the IntubationPod. Elongated versions have room for the arms and hips, providing even more extensive protection.

6. Portable handwashing station

The LIXIL SATO Tap is a portable, refillable handwashing station complete with a soap holder. Perfect for the prevention of COVID-19 in environments devoid of running water—including 40% of the world’s homes—this gadget is anticipated to hit the shelves in 2021, and the company is hammering out public and private partnerships to roll out half a million units to households around the globe in 2021. 

7. Tampons 2.0

Nobody has substantially improved on the design of the tampon ever since it was first patented more than 80 years ago. The Calally Tampliner, however, changed all that with a tampon/panty liner combo that self-wraps for cleaner disposal. Currently, the product is available in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Sweden, with a wider rollout anticipated once it garners regulatory approval elsewhere.

8. Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

Thanks to the experts at Johns Hopkins, the Coronavirus Resource Center is the gold-standard source for all things COVID, including hot-spot maps and infection stats. Its data have been downloaded billions of times. Governments have used this database to figure out where to allocate resources and when to reopen, while individuals can use the app to determine the safety of hosting socially distanced events. 

9. Bedsore detector

Bedsores are the bane of long-term healthcare facilities. In addition to causing the anguish, pain, and suffering endured by countless American patients, bedsore-induced infections end up costing the US medical system about $10 billion a year. Fortunately, there’s a new weapon in the war on bedsores. The Provizio SEM Scanner, by Bruin Biometrics, can be held up to a patient’s skin to assess changes in moisture levels, allowing detection up to 5 days earlier than visual proof. With early detection, these lesions can be prevented, and about 30 US hospitals are currently using this device, resulting in 90% fewer bedsores. 

10. At-home COVID testing

COVID testing has been a source of consternation for clinicians and patients. OraSure OMNIgene Oral collection device recently received emergency-use authorization by the FDA for at-home testing. The user spits into a tube without the need for an oropharyngeal swab at an outpatient office. Lab results are available in 1 to 2 days, and the kits can be ordered online.

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