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What Medical Technology exactly is

Medical technology can be considered as any technology used to save lives in individuals suffering from a wide range of conditions. In its many forms, medical technology is already diagnosing, monitoring and treating virtually every disease or condition that affects us. Medical technology can be familiar, everyday objects such as sticking plasters, syringes or latex gloves. Alternatively, it could also be spectacles, wheelchairs and hearing aids. Meanwhile, at the high tech end of the scale, medical technology includes total body scanners, implantable devices such as heart valves and pacemakers, and replacement joints for knees and hips. In fact, there are more than 500,000 medical technologies currently available and they all share a common purpose: improving and extending peoples’ lives(1).

The common thread through all applications of medical technology is the beneficial impact on health and quality of life. They all contribute to living longer, better and empowering citizens to contribute to society for longer. In so doing, they improve the quality of care, and the efficacy and sustainability of healthcare systems. In Europe, medical technology is also a major contributor to the EU economy, employing over 575,000 people(2) in high quality jobs. The market size is estimated at roughly €100 billion(3).

How is medical technology defined?

The best way to describe Medical technology, and more specifically medical devices, is to use the definition of the European Commission in their ‘EU Medical Devices Directive’.

This Directive states that a medical device is: "Any instrument, apparatus, appliance, software, material or other article, whether used alone or in combination, including the software intended by its manufacturer to be used specifically for diagnostic and/or therapeutic purposes and necessary for its proper application, intended by the manufacturer to be used for human beings.”

"Devices are to be used for the purpose of:

  • Diagnosis, prevention, monitoring, treatment or alleviation of disease
  • Diagnosis, monitoring, treatment, alleviation of or compensation for an injury or handicap
  • Investigation, replacement or modification of the anatomy or of a physiological process
  • Control of conception

This includes devices that do not achieve its principal intended action in or on the human body by pharmacological, immunological or metabolic means, but which may be assisted in its function by such means.”

However, this does not really provide a perspective on how wide a range medical technology encompasses. There are more than 500,000 technologies, in 20,000 generic groups. These fall within 16 categories of products, as determined by the Global Medical Devices Nomenclature (GMDN) Agency.

  • Code
  • Classification
  • Example
  • 01
  • Active implantable technology
  • Cardiac pacemakers, neurostimulators
  • 02
  • Anaesthetic and respiratory technology
  • Oxygen mask, gas delivery unit, anaesthesia breathing circuit
  • 03
  • Dental technology
  • Dentistry tools, alloys, resins, floss, brushes
  • 04
  • Electromechanical medical technology
  • X-ray machine, laser, scanner
  • 05
  • Hospital hardware
  • Hospital bed
  • 06
  • In vitro diagnostic technology
  • Pregnancy test, genetic test, glucose strip
  • 07
  • Non-active implantable technology
  • Hip or knee joint replacement, cardiac stent
  • 08
  • Ophthalmic and optical technology
  • Spectacles, contact lenses, intraocular lenses, ophthalmoscope
  • 09
  • Reusable instruments
  • Surgical instruments, rigid endoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, skin electrodes
  • 10
  • Single use technology
  • Syringes, needles, latex gloves, balloon catheters
  • 11
  • Technical aids for disabled
  • Wheelchairs, walking frames, hearing aids
  • 12
  • Diagnostic and therapeutic radiation technology
  • Radiotherapy units
  • 13
  • Complementary therapy devices
  • 14
  • Biological-derived devices
  • 15
  • Healthcare facility products and adaptations
  • 16
  • Laboratory equipment

Medical Technology – key facts and figures

Life expectancy in EU countries is improving steadily. Life expectancy at birth in EU member states has increased by over 6(4) years since 1980, reaching 79(4) years in 2010. According to the OECD data, on average across the European Union, life expectancy at birth for the three‑year period 2008‑10 was at 75.3(4) years for men and 81.7(4) years for women. In OECD countries life expectancy at birth increased by more than 11(5) years since 1960, and in 2010 reached 77.0(5) years for men and 82.5(5) years for women. At the same time, healthcare expenditure has also risen: OECD countries spent, on average, 9.5%(5) of their GDP on health in 2010, up from 4.0%(5) in 1960, albeit with variations between individual countries. EU member states devoted on average 9.0%(4) of their GDP to health spending in 2010.

According to OECD Health at a Glance: Europe 2012 report(4) growth in health spending per capita slowed or fell in real terms in 2010 in almost all European countries, reversing a trend of steady increases. Spending had already started to fall in 2009 in countries hardest hit by the economic crisis, but this was followed by deeper cuts in 2010 in response to growing budgetary pressures and rising debt‑to‑GDP ratios. On average across the EU, health spending per capita increased by 4.6% per year in real terms between 2000 and 2009, followed by a fall of 0.6% in 2010.

Medical technology is a key driver for Europe’s economic well-being, providing quality employment, and a substantial contribution to Europe’s balance of trade.

  • The industry employs more than 575,000 people(2)
  • The market size is estimated at roughly € 100 billion(3)
  • Around 8% of sales revenue is ploughed back into research and development
  • There are almost 25,000 medical technology companies in Europe(2)
  • It is estimated that almost 95% of MedTech companies are SMEs, the majority of which are small and micro-sized companies(2)
  • Europe has a positive medical device trade balance of €14 billion (2011), more than a twofold increase since 2006(6)

(1) Global Medical Devices Nomenclature (GMDN) Agency, 2010
(2) Eucomed calculations based on the data obtained from National Associations of 15 countries for the latest year available. Countries with (partially) provided data: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK, Switzerland.Medical technology including in-vitro diagnostics. Europe refers to EU + Norway, Switzerland
(3) WHO Global Health Expenditure Database, Eurostat, Eucomed calculations based on the data obtained from National Associations of 15 countries for the latest year available. Countries with (partially) provided data: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK, Switzerland.Medical technology includes in-vitro diagnostics. Europe refers to EU + Norway, Switzerland
(4) OECD Health at Glance: Europe 2012
(5) OECD Health Data 2012:
(6) Espicom, Eucomed calculations. Manufacturer prices. Medical device excluding in-vitro diagnostics. Europe refers to EU + Norway, Switzerland.