No, medical electronics itself is not new, but what is rapidly growing is the number of manufacturers, devices, and, most importantly, applications and demand drivers for medical electronic devices. While invasive devices face a long and rigorous approval path before being able to be used in or on patients, wearable and monitoring devices face an understandably faster track to market.
Six-fold increase by 2017
The demand for cost-effective, at-home or remote monitoring solutions to provide improved patient care and reduce re-hospitalization. These home health devices are especially important for those with chronic diseases that can result in (returned) hospitalizations. Based on a recent report from InMedica, part of IHS, among the rising chronic conditions is diabetes which is forecasted to surpass diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), hypertension and other leading chronic conditions today. What that means for medical electronics is an increased need for devices that will provide doctors with remote data reports pertaining to their patients' chronic conditions in order to adjust medications or request an in-office visit, thereby preventing situations that could lead to hospitalizations.
The quest to reduce hospitalizations and to simultaneously improve patient quality care is found on both government and health provider sides. From the health provider's perspective, the ability to improve the level of quality care offered and thereby improve the quality of life for their patients is front and center. From governments' perspectives, aging populations in the mature economies and growing populations globally mean increases in health care costs that require attention and new solutions. Medical electronics and telehealth solutions provide means for reducing costly (re-)hospitalizations and improving overall health care which translates into improved health and reduced costs in one fell swoop.
The design challenge
As one recent article in EETimes correctly highlights, one of the leading competitive questions for medical electronics is the degree to which innovative solutions can be found that match functionality, compact form, long battery life, data transmission security, user ease, interoperability, and competitive (low) pricing. Those who are able to design in these specifications while abiding by federal regulations for such medical devices will lead the pack.
A key engineering solution presented in the EETimes article offers that "Today’s system-on-chip (SoC) architectures provide a new way of designing portable medical electronic devices. Designing with SoC-based devices brings in numerous value additions." More specifically, the article presents the following important points regarding the success of using SoC architectures for portable medical electronic devices to meet the market needs:
SoCs integrate most of the peripheral components required by portable medical electronics applications. This not only reduces the number of external components required, it protects analog IP as well since all the analog components are integrated into the chip. Fewer components mean simpler PCBs, shorter design time, and faster time to market. The power of different peripherals inside the chip can be managed individually in different modes so system power management is made simpler and more efficient. Reconfigurability of SoCs chips also reduces the cost and time of redesigning or changing a design over time. More than anything, using SoC architectures makes FDA certification simpler by reducing the bill of materials. Portable medical electronics equipment of all types – glucose meters, pulseoximeters, portable ECG devices, etc. – can be implemented using SoCs.