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How advancements in sensors and digital technology can help improve patient care

A new method using portable or wearable monitoring equipment and point-of-care medical equipment is expected to improve patient treatment outcomes and help reduce the pressure on public medical institutions.

Author: Giuseppe Olivadoti, Director of Marketing and Applications (Digital Healthcare), ADI

A new method using portable or wearable monitoring equipment and point-of-care medical equipment is expected to improve patient treatment outcomes and help reduce the pressure on public medical institutions.

Before the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the new coronary pneumonia, the delivery of medical care had undergone a large-scale transformation, which injected new impetus into medical innovation. Before the outbreak of the new crown epidemic in 2020, the aging of the population in developed countries, the almost ubiquitous mobile broadband connection, and the development of complex sensing technologies are pushing people to adopt more customized digital or remote monitoring and diagnosis methods. As the new crown pneumonia epidemic continues to put pressure on limited hospital facilities, medical service providers continue to accelerate the deployment of new technologies for testing and monitoring outside the hospital. Now, innovative sensors not only enable people’s key physiological signs to be accurately monitored at clinical level at home, but also to perform sample testing at the point of care, eliminating the need to send samples to remote laboratories for processing, so that diagnosis results can be obtained faster.

This marks the breaking of standard medical procedures that have been in use for decades. In the traditional medical model, patients only go to the hospital when their symptoms become obvious, or take regular annual physical examinations. Moreover, a one-time full set of inspection results will be sent to the laboratory for analysis before the diagnosis or health assessment results can be given. In many cases, when the diagnosis result is reached, a long time has passed since the patient’s first consultation, and the result is only based on the patient’s examination this time.

This type of treatment is meaningful when the cutting-edge equipment needed to monitor vital signs and symptoms is scarce and can only be obtained from hospitals or other specialized medical institutions.

The development of new medical sensor technology has created conditions for completely different medical concepts. This new type of patient monitoring method does not use large, fixed medical monitoring equipment used in hospitals, but uses the following equipment:

• Small, even wearable devices
• Very low power consumption, battery-powered equipment can be used
• Provide accurate clinical-level measurement results

This allows us to implement medical monitoring and testing outside the hospital, which can be performed at local medical institutions (such as GP practices) or at the patient’s home. In order to bring greater convenience to patients, wearable devices (such as patches) can continue to operate in an inconspicuous position and perform all-weather monitoring anytime, anywhere.

Monitor in real life to obtain more accurate diagnosis results

Part of the reason for adopting new remote monitoring technology is the shortage of medical resources. The peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 put a lot of pressure on hospitals, indicating that the medical system may soon be unable to meet the growing demand for acute care services. Therefore, it is a wise long-term strategy to transfer patients who need to monitor their vital signs from the hospital to the clinic or their own home.

But equally important is that the use of portable or wearable devices for monitoring can provide more useful data and allow patients to get better treatment results. New medical monitoring technology supports longer-term vital signs monitoring, such as heart rate, heart rate variability, blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) And body temperature. Through continuous monitoring, the trend and pattern of the epidemic can be discovered, which is not known to the practitioner when providing a single diagnosis to the patient. The parallel development of artificial intelligence (AI) diagnostic technology means that data flow monitoring can be automated.

This artificial intelligence-based method does not allow doctors to be overwhelmed by massive amounts of data. Instead, it uses technology to monitor vital signs in the background, and only sends out signals when the doctor’s personal intervention is needed. By detecting precursor signs that indicate future morbidity, patients and doctors can work together to change medications, lifestyles, or diets in order to prevent the emergence of conditions that previously required hospital emergency treatment.

In addition, compared to going to a man-made and usually stressful check-up in a hospital ward, monitoring at home or at a point of care can show the true health of the patient. The latest multi-parameter wearable sensors can combine vital signs with other indicators such as exercise and sleep, and analyze medical data in combination with the patient’s lifestyle.

New breakthroughs in the application of semiconductor technology

In the 21st century, people have developed a series of semiconductor technology and computer science achievements. Under this impetus, this new patient detection mode has emerged.

In the field of optoelectronics, optical sensor solutions have been developed to perform photoplethysmography (PPG), using non-invasive optical methods to calculate heart rate, respiration rate and SpO2. Miniature MEMS motion sensors can measure the patient’s activities, such as exercise time and sleep quality, and combine vital signs with the patient’s condition.

In hospitals, many of the equipment used to monitor vital signs is bulky and consumes a lot of power. By achieving this measurement capability at the chip level, semiconductor manufacturers such as ADI can produce products such as medical patches that can be attached to the skin. This patch is battery-powered and can last for days or weeks while measuring Data is sent wirelessly to host devices such as smart phones. Through the host, the measurement data can be safely uploaded to the cloud diagnostic service, which converts the original electrical signals into operable medical data.

Combining technical expertise with application knowledge

It is one thing to be able to describe the functional requirements of semiconductors and computing systems, so that patients can wear smart watches or patches to monitor their vital signs. It is another thing to use solutions that use these technologies in actual products.

At ADI, we recognize that our services for healthcare technology innovators may start with semiconductor technology, but cannot end with this. To this end, we bring together technical experts and field experts in the medical market to provide support to customers.

The job of experts in the medical field is to gain an in-depth understanding of application requirements and key attributes of the market, such as regulatory norms and data privacy. For customers who develop complex medical products, if they can get the support of experts who understand both the technology and their applications, they will be able to innovate faster and more freely, and be more confident that they can achieve successful results.

In the field of vital signs monitoring, this application expertise is supported by the development platform. For example, the vital signs monitoring (VSM) research watch is a multi-parameter open development platform. This is a convenient wearable device that uses a set of sensors to provide a set of continuous vital signs measurement results, which can be used to develop biomedical algorithms.

How advancements in sensors and digital technology can help improve patient care
Figure 1. The VSM research watch development platform created by ADI.

The VSM research watch uses PPG and ECG to measure heart rate and heart rate variability. MEMS accelerometers can count steps, and can improve and provide information to algorithms that are sensitive to motion artifacts. Sensors on the watch can measure temperature and impedance. These values ​​are used in algorithms to monitor pressure and body composition. These functions provide support for research conducted by medical and academic institutions to evaluate new use cases for remote patient monitoring.

The benefits of monitoring patients outside the hospital are obvious. Using precise, low-power, micro-components such as sensors, analog-to-digital converters, and digital signal processors, VSM watches from ADI and other such development platforms lay the foundation for innovative medical device manufacturers to build on Build the monitoring equipment of the future.

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