The desire to stay active longer is driving innovation in joint replacement, which increasingly involves robotics and other advanced medical technology.
One of the primary functions of robots in joint replacement is to ensure the implant fits properly. They enable more precise positioning, for example, using 3-D computerized modeling of the patient’s joint prior to surgery. “This information is imported directly into the robot in the O.R.,” says Robert Cohen, President of Digital, Robotics and Enabling Technology at medical device firm Stryker. The robot then “executes the procedure with a level of accuracy and precision that we have never seen.” As implants become more individualized, the role of robotics and other technologies is likely to expand.
Underlying the technological advances in joint replacement surgery is the changing mindset of aging patients. Roughly half the patients getting the most common joint replacements, knee and hip, are baby boomers. While millennials overtook them as the largest demographic in 2019, based on population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, baby boomers still represent a very large contingent. They are also living longer, and choosing to stay active longer, causing more wear on the joints. This is driving demand for joint replacements, and for medical technology that can improve outcomes.
The New York Times cites a 2018 study published in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, which projects the annual number of hip replacements will grow to 635,000 by 2030, a 71% increase, and of knee replacements to 1.2 million, an 85% increase. The Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, which performs more replacements than any in the country, according to the Department of Health’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, tracked a marked increase in hip and knee replacements, from about 3,500 in 2000 to 11,000 in 2019. Of course, this number is expected to drop this year as people postpone these and other surgeries due to the pandemic.
Advances in the materials used to make implants, and the way they are made, have in many cases eliminated the need for revision surgery following joint replacement. New implants have reduced recovery times, since the surgeries are less invasive. Other factors such as improved rehabilitation protocols and pain management as well as the use of regional rather than general anesthesia also contribute. Such improvements increase the likelihood that demand for the procedure will continue to proliferate, and with it, the medical devices, technologies and techniques that are transforming it.