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Electronics to move healthcare from hospital to home

Posted: 24 Feb 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:medical electronic devices? wireless implants? wearable patches? energy harvesting technologies?

Keynote speakers at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) all underscored the role electronics will play in moving healthcare from the hospital to the home. Speaking before a crowd of about 3,000 engineers, they however pointed out that the shift can only be made possible by new processor, radio, battery and data mining techniques.

"There is a revolution coming in healthcare based on a network of devices, but this will require the work of a huge number of companies most of whom are in this room today," said Tim Denison, a Medtronic technical fellow and director of neural engineering at Medtronic Neuromodulation.

Denison sketched out the challenges behind a vision of wireless implants the size of aspirin capsules that could monitor and analyze a wide range of diseases. The work is rooted in the kinds of cardiac pacemakers Medtronic and others have pioneered.

"We are electrical beings and the diseases we have are rooted to a certain extent in an electrical system, so we don't stop with the heart," Denison said, listing more than a dozen conditions current or future implants will treat.

In a second keynote, Jo de Boeck, senior vice president at Europe's Imec research institute, described the challenges of building a wearable patch that could monitor multiple conditions. "We will try to move healthcare from the hospital to the home, so we can reduce the cost and improve the quality of life of the patients," de Boeck said.

Both speakers said they foresee challenges analyzing the real time streams of data the future implants and patches generate. "We have to be thoughtful about how we turn raw data into meaningful clinical insights," said Denison.

Imec's de Boeck said the future sensors also could monitor diet, medication intake, sleep and activity, gait and even gases from the breath. "Looking at that from an engineering perspective, it's a lot of information but it's not all data," he said.

Engineers need to develop new battery and energy harvesting technologies to power such devices. A wireless patch which might have sucked a watt of power two years ago, will only consume about 100mW using today's best components. However, it needs to get down to as little as 50mW on 6mm2 printed battery, according to de Boeck.

Engineers also must design new lower-power techniques to analyze growing amounts of sensor data and increasingly complex algorithms. "These devices will become significant computers in their own right," de Boeck added.

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