Rapid progress in identifying disease biomarkers has increased the importance of creating high-performance detection technologies. Over the last decade, the design of many detection platforms has focused on either the nano or micro length scale. Here, we review recent strategies that combine nano- and microscale materials and devices to produce large improvements in detection sensitivity, speed and accuracy, allowing previously undetectable biomarkers to be identified in clinical samples. Microsensors that incorporate nanoscale features can now rapidly detect disease-related nucleic acids expressed in patient samples. New microdevices that separate large clinical samples into nanocompartments allow precise quantitation of analytes, and microfluidic systems that utilize nanoscale binding events can detect rare cancer cells in the bloodstream more accurately than before. These advances will lead to faster and more reliable clinical diagnostic devices.