Medical Technology that Used to be Science-Fiction


A few weeks before Star Trek: Into Darkness hit theatres, we looked at “23rd Century health technologies that already exist.”

At the time, it was amazing to see how many futuristic devices we see in the movies (and not just that saga, but in the Marvel universe, Star Wars, and others) that are quickly becoming reality.

For medical professionals and aspiring super-heroes, here’s a look at some more medical sci-fi that’s here today

3D printing of prosthetics and bone/joint replacements (The Fifth Element)

Ever see that beautifully-crafted sci-fi action movie in which Bruce Willis has to find-and-assemble people/stuff from different planets to save the Earth?

…Let’s try this again: Ever see that pre-Resident-Evil movie where Milla Jovovich jumps off a futuristic 900-floor building wearing nothing but a bandage designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier? (OK, awesome.)

Before that scene in The Fifth Element, said actress’ character is “resurrected” from a tiny bit of ancient DNA that gets re-built in seconds in a robotic chamber that can build anything, including people. Sound far-fetched?

Not only can 3D printing technology already create objects that stand-in for missing body parts (like prosthetics) but it can even “print” objects that could be used inside humans, such as replacement bones, joints, and other pieces of us, and perhaps soon, even living replacements using human stem cells as the “ink.”

Robots that squirm into your body (Total Recall)

Remember that scene in Total Recall where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character has a device (larger than his nostril) implanted in him through his nose?

CardioARM (nicknamed the “Snakebot”) is a tiny, 102-segment worm-like device designed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University for performing minimally-invasive heart surgery.

To do so, the robot enters the body (and then heart) through a 1 cm incision, packing tools to cut and/or cauterize – depending on what sort of repairs need to be carried out – without the trauma of creating a huge “zipper-scar” cut and cracking open a person’s rib cage,.

While researchers are still perfecting this recovery-time-reducing tech for human trials, it’s been used on animal hearts for the last five years.

Super suits (Iron Man, Iron Man 2/3, The Avengers)

They may not be able to fly, or be auto-piloted by a curmudgeonly British A.I…

…But robotic suits that give humans extra strength are already being tested for patients who need a little extra strength to get around during muscle and/or joint rehabilitation.

By combining the technology and complex walking algorithms, an “exoskeleton suit” being tested by NASA and Florida hospitals can produce enough torque to let patients with limb degeneration or damage get help walking over (and up) a variety of terrain, ramps, and stairs.

Portable hospitals (Thor)

In Thor: The Dark World, Asgardian “healers” check-out Natalie Portman’s otherworldly ailment in a sci-fi/fantasy diagnostic bed of undisclosed abilities.

In real-life, the testing and diagnostic abilities of a clinic and even elements of a hospital are being miniaturized into devices the size of toasters. In some cases, these devices are even as small as a Blu-ray disc.

In Canada, for example, microfluidic-based systems are allowing researchers to do clinic-level biodiagnostics with a 20 lb tabletop device, with results delivered in mere minutes.

Speaking of medicine out in the cosmos, there’s even a $10 million prize for the inventor of the first functional Star-Trek-style “tricorder” device.

Handheld, networked medical computers (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Speaking of Star Trek, did it invent the iPad? Even if the definitive answer is no, the late-1980s/early 90s series Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first place characters in a medical environment were frequently-depicted walking around with clipboard-style computers to look-up and interpret medical records and even look at live data from patients.

Here’s a look at some of the best 21st Century iPhone/iPad apps for medical professionals here and here. Here’s another look we took, this time at iPhone/iPad apps specifically for pharmacists.

Lastly, here’s a look at organizations (and countries) that already have full-scale electronic medical record systems that can be tied-in to portable displays.

Pretty cool for a bunch of science-fiction…

Applying for jobs has also undergone a sci-fi overhaul, with online job boards driving printed job ads getting farther out of reach. When was the last time you walked into an establishment to physically apply for a job?  Job opportunities are in the palms of our hands and our computers. Start your job search by visiting today.


Tera Rowland
Contributor Tera Rowland

Tera Rowland is the vice president of Soliant and has worked in the healthcare staffing industry for almost 20 years in public relations, social media, marketing and operations. In addition to Soliant, Tera worked at the Mayo Clinic as an internal communication manager and for the Children’s Miracle Network. She is a member of the American Marketing Association and the American Staffing Association. Also, Tera has served on the board of directors for the Jacksonville Women’s Leadership Forum as part of the communication committee. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations as well as a Master of Business Administration in Marketing from the University of North Florida and has been published in the Huffington Post, Healthcare Finance News, Healthcare Traveler Magazine, and Scrubs Magazine. Make sure to read the rest of Tera's blogs!