January 17, 2019 | Matthew B. Boyd

Related Articles


Explore materials, technologies, design, and manufacturing in the life sciences.



Advances in Medical Fiber-Optic Technology May Improve Quality of Care


Advances in medical fiber optics have proven useful in several areas of medical practice including urology, ophthalmology, and cardiology, to name just a few specialties. Fiber optic instrumentation is ideal for space-restricted applications, such as surgical scopes and catheters, as the fiber is flexible, miniature, and lightweight. Additionally, the development of disposable fiber-optic catheters or scopes for invasive surgery has yielded several advantages over older surgical methods. The most significant impact from the increased utilization of fiber-optic technology in surgery includes reduced hospital length of stay, decreased morbidity related to invasive surgeries, and less time spent recovering from operations.


Single-Use Flexible Medical Devices Offer Alternative Solutions

The medical device industry needs flexible, cost-effective manufacturing solutions to reduce expenses related to the maintenance and sterilization process of reusable devices, as well any associated inadvertent contamination from re-using a semi-disposable device. There are single-use fiber-optic catheters and semi-disposable flexible scopes. However, many in the industry argue that semi-disposable catheters carry the risk of accidental contamination during surgery and possible transmission of pathogens after reprocessing and that single-use fiber-optic catheters are safer for the patient, improving quality of care.


Single-Use Fiber-Optic Catheters Revolutionize Surgery  

Advancements in single-use fiber-optic catheters continue revolutionizing surgery by enabling new approaches to invasive operations, which may reduce morbidity and hospital length of stay. Single-use fiber-optic catheters may also reduce the risk of disease transmission to other patients if hospitals refrain from following the frowned upon practice of reusing single-use devices (a routine that is not supported by economic studies and may compromise the health and safety of patients), and sterilization expenses from reprocessing. Further, one-time use medical devices may also decrease maintenance expenses as a result of wear and tear.


The advantages of optical fibers are:

  1. Flexible
  2. Thin
  3. Miniature
  4. Non-toxic
  5. Chemically inert
  6. Dielectric


Watch our video series about biomedical innovation.


Future Trends in Fiber Optics

Fiber-optic technology has enabled the development of such medical devices ranging from the ophthalmoscope and otoscope to the fiber-optic illuminator and endoscope. Throughout history optics technology has helped health care providers perform examinations and treatments for those who require medical therapy. New advancements in optics are driving the next generation of optical devices that are used with smartphones, which upgrades smartphones from an accessory to a digital physician's assistant. Though these devices may improve the communication between consulting doctors and ultimately the quality-of-care patients receive through a seamless exchange of patient information, it's evident that they are not for single-use and may require sanitation between patient visits. Here are several examples of optical devices used in combination with smartphones:

  • The CellScope A microscope that attaches to a smartphone and can take magnified pictures of samples.
  • A smartphone otoscope As the name implies, it is an otoscope attached to a smartphone.
  • A smartphone ophthalmoscope Likewise, this device combines the ophthalmoscope with a smartphone.  


Fiber-Optic Technology Continues to Drive Medicine Forward

Fiber-optic technology has made powerful contributions to medicine ranging from the surgeon's headlamp to advanced robotic-assisted surgery systems and endoscopes, revolutionizing invasive surgery. Advancements in the development of fiber-optic medical instruments may provide alternative solutions to the sterilization and reuse of semi-disposable devices. One such solution they can offer is to prevent problems related to the transmission of pathogens. Contamination can occur during the sterilization process and infectious agents, like prions, can be transmitted by the reprocessing water or equipment. Many single-use fiber-optic surgical catheters have proven satisfactory in performance when compared against reusable flexible catheters.



Fiber-optic technology continues to shape healthcare through its more recent contributions of network-connected medical instruments, like an otoscope or ophthalmoscope attached to a smartphone. This is a useful innovation for researchers and doctors working in remote locations as smartphones can transmit data through mobile communication channels.


Explore materials, technologies, design, and manufacturing in the life sciences.


Articles & Resources

Our articles and resources explore materials, technologies, design, and manufacturing in the life sciences. Together we're advancing biomedical innovation through curiosity and shared knowledge. 


Video Series

Boyd Biomedical Design Stories explores what it takes to commercialize biomedical innovations in a modern susteainable way. A way that's the best way - for patients, practitioners, and all of us - as we seek to advance healthcare together. 


Documentary Film

Project Frontline is a feature length documentary film which tells the inspiring story of collaboration during crisis and is a cautionary tale about our leadership in innovation, advanced manufacturing, and supply chain resilience.