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Activities of Biomedical Engineers

Engineering Profession Guide and Reviews

Activities of Biomedical Engineers

The breadth of activity of biomedical engineers is significant. The field has moved significantly from being concerned primarily with the development of medical devices in the 1950s and 1960s to include a more wide-ranging set of activities. The field of biomedical engineering now includes many new career areas, these areas include:

• Application of engineering system analysis (physiologic modeling, simulation, and control) to biologic problems
• Detection, measurement, and monitoring of physiologic signals (i.e., biosensors and biomedical instrumentation )
• Diagnostic interpretation via signal-processing techniques of bioelectric data
• Therapeutic and rehabilitation procedures and devices (rehabilitation engineering)
• Devices for replacement or augmentation of bodily functions ( artificial organs )
• Computer analysis of patient-related data and clinical decision making (i.e., medical informatics and artificial intelligence)
• Medical imaging, i.e., the graphic display of anatomic detail or physiologic function
• The creation of new biologic products (i.e., biotechnology and tissue engineering )

Typical pursuits of biomedical engineers, therefore, include:

• Research in new materials for implanted artificial organs
• Development of new diagnostic instruments for blood analysis
• Computer modeling of the function of the human heart
• Writing software for analysis of medical research data
• Analysis of medical device hazards for safety and efficacy
• Development of new diagnostic imaging systems
• Design of telemetry systems for patient monitoring
• Design of biomedical sensors for measurement of human physiologic systems variables
• Development of expert systems for diagnosis of disease
• Design of closed-loop control systems for drug administration
• Modeling of the physiologic systems of the human body
• Design of instrumentation for sports medicine
• Development of new dental materials
• Design of communication aids for the handicapped
• Study of pulmonary fluid dynamics
• Study of the biomechanics of the human body
• Development of material to be used as replacement for human skin

Biomedical engineering, then, is an interdisciplinary branch of engineering that ranges from theoretical, nonexperimental undertakings to state-of-the-art applications. It can encompass research, development, implementation, and operation. Accordingly, like medical practice itself, it is unlikely that any single person can acquire expertise that encompasses the entire field. Yet, because of the interdisciplinary nature of this activity, there is considerable interplay and overlapping of interest and effort between them. For example, biomedical engineers engaged in the development of biosensors may interact with those interested in prosthetic devices to develop a means to detect and use the same bioelectric signal to power a prosthetic device. Those engaged in automating the clinical chemistry laboratory may collaborate with those developing expert systems to assist clinicians in making decisions based on specific laboratory data. The possibilities are endless.

Perhaps a greater potential benefit occurring from the use of biomedical engineering is identification of the problems and needs of our present health care system that can be solved using existing engineering technology and systems methodology. Consequently, the field of biomedical engineering offers hope in the continuing battle to provide high-quality health care at a reasonable cost; if properly directed toward solving problems related to preventive medical approaches, ambulatory care services, and the like, biomedical engineers can provide the tools and techniques to make our health care system more effective and efficient.

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