Medical Equipment Manufacturing

The medical equipment and device manufacturing industry (often referred to as the medtech industry or medical devices industry) designs and manufactures a wide range of medical products that diagnose, monitor, and treat diseases and conditions that affect humans. These products range from inexpensive tools, such as tongue depressors, to complex, multimillion-dollar systems, such as magnetic resonance imaging systems. Other examples include pacemakers, stethoscopes, replacement joints, hip implants, miniature robots that perform complex surgeries, synthetic skin, artificial hearts, scalpels, medical laboratory diagnostic instruments and test kits, patient management software, and software that is used as a component in a medical device.

Medical technology (also known as medtech) is used in hospitals, clinics, the offices of doctors and dentists, medical laboratories, outpatient treatment centers, and any other facility where patients are diagnosed and treated. Medical technology, along with pharmaceuticals and advances in public health (sanitation, safety, etc.), has improved the quality and length of human life. As a result of these developments, average life expectancy in the United States increased from 47 years in 1900 to 78 years in 2011.

Although medical instruments have been used since the beginning of human history, the modern medical equipment manufacturing industry traces its origins to the mid 19th century. At that time the medical profession became more regulated and physicians and other medical professionals sought more consistency and reliability in medical instruments and equipment. Today there are more than 1,000 medtech companies in the United States, according to Ernst & Young, with a few large companies, and many small and medium-sized firms. Most companies have fewer than 100 employees. In 2012, more than 732,000 people worked in the industry at U.S. and European public companies. Ernst & Young also reports that all publicly traded medtech companies are classified as belonging to one of five product groups: imaging technology, non-imaging diagnostics, research and other equipment, therapeutic devices, and other (products that do not fit in any of the other categories). The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health regulates all medical technology ranging from bandages and splints to high-tech devices.

In 2012, medical technology companies in the U.S. comprised 38 percent of the total medical technology industry and were valued at more than $110 billion, with more than $44 billion in exports.

In 2009, medical device spending in the United States totaled $147 billion, according to a 2012 report “Estimates of Medical Device Spending in the United States,” by Gerald Donahoe and Guy King. This represented 5.9 percent of total national health expenditures. The medical device industry and the market for its products are expected to change in the coming years. In 2012, it remained unclear how health reform in the United States would affect regulation and cost of medical equipment. Also, according to analysis issued by PricewaterhouseCoopers 2013, innovation in the industry will be increasingly essential to success, but many industry CEOs don't see their companies as leading innovation, indicating a need for change. Seen as especially important was the need to keep pace with evolving technology.

Opportunities are available in this industry for people with all educational backgrounds. Nearly 40 percent of workers surveyed by Medical Product Outsourcing magazine in 2013 reported “bachelor’s degree” as the highest educational level they had achieved. Slightly more than 33 percent had a master’s degree. Nearly 9 percent had a doctorate, 7 percent had an associate’s degree, and 7 percent were high school graduates.

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