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

A new approach to using portable or wearable monitoring devices and point-of-care medical devices promises to improve patient outcomes and help reduce pressure on public healthcare facilities.

Before the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, there was already a massive shift in how healthcare is delivered, injecting new impetus into medical innovation. Before the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, aging populations in developed countries, nearly ubiquitous mobile broadband connections, and the development of sophisticated sensing technologies were all driving the adoption of more customized digital or remote methods of monitoring and diagnostics. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put pressure on limited hospital facilities, healthcare providers are accelerating the deployment of new technologies for testing and monitoring outside the hospital. Innovative sensors are now enabling not only clinical-grade accurate monitoring of people’s key physiological signs at home, but also point-of-care sample testing that eliminates the need to send samples to remote laboratories for faster diagnostic results.

This marks a break with standard medical procedures that have been in place for decades. In the traditional medical model, patients only visit the hospital when symptoms become apparent, or attend regular annual check-ups. And a one-off full set of test results is sent to a laboratory for analysis before a diagnosis or health assessment can be given. In many cases, the diagnosis was made long after the patient’s first consultation and was based only on the patient’s examination this time.

This treatment makes sense 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 facilities.

The development of new medical sensing technologies has created conditions for completely different medical concepts. Rather than using the large, stationary medical monitoring equipment used in hospitals, this new approach to patient monitoring uses the following:

Small, even wearable devices

Extremely low power consumption, allowing the use of battery powered devices

Provides accurate clinical-grade measurements

This allows us to implement medical monitoring and testing outside the hospital, either at local medical facilities (eg GP practices) or at the patient’s home. For greater patient convenience, wearable devices such as patches can operate continuously in an inconspicuous location for 24/7 monitoring anytime, anywhere.

 Monitor in real life for more accurate diagnostic results

Part of the reason for the adoption of new remote monitoring technologies is a shortage of medical resources. The peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 put a lot of pressure on hospitals, suggesting that healthcare systems may soon be unable to keep up with the growing demand for acute care services. Therefore, moving patients who require monitoring of vital signs from the hospital to the clinic or their own home is a sensible long-term strategy.

But just as importantly, monitoring with portable or wearable devices can provide more useful data that can lead to better treatment outcomes for patients. New medical monitoring technologies enable longer-term monitoring of vital signs such as heart rate, heart rate variability, blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) and body temperature. Through continuous monitoring, trends and patterns of outbreaks can be uncovered that are not known to practitioners when they provide a single diagnosis to a patient. Parallel developments in artificial intelligence (AI) diagnostic techniques mean that data flow monitoring can be automated.

Rather than flooding doctors with massive amounts of data, this AI-based approach uses technology to monitor patterns of vital signs in the background, signaling only when personal intervention from the doctor is required. By detecting precursor signals that predict future morbidity, patients and physicians can work together to make changes to medications, lifestyles or diets to prevent conditions that previously required hospital emergency room visits.

In addition, monitoring at home or at the point of care can reveal a patient’s true state of health, rather than traveling to an artificial, often stressful, hospital ward for an exam. The latest multi-parameter wearable sensors can combine vital signs with other indicators such as exercise, sleep, etc. to analyze medical data in conjunction with a patient’s lifestyle.

  New breakthroughs in semiconductor technology applications

In the 21st century, a series of semiconductor technologies and computer science have been developed, driving this new mode of patient detection.

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

In hospitals, many of the devices used to monitor vital signs are bulky and power-hungry. By enabling this measurement capability at the chip level, semiconductor manufacturers such as Analog Devices can produce products such as medical patches that stick to the skin, are battery-powered and can run for days or weeks while measuring Data is sent wirelessly to a host device such as a smartphone. Through the host computer, measurement data can be securely uploaded to a cloud diagnostic service, which converts raw electrical signals into actionable medical data.

  Technical expertise combined with applied knowledge

It’s one thing to be able to describe the functional requirements of semiconductors and computing systems that allow patients to wear smartwatches or patches to monitor their vital signs, and quite another to use solutions that employ these technologies in actual products.

At ADI, we recognize that our service to healthcare technology innovators may begin but not end with semiconductor technology. To this end, we bring together technical experts and domain experts from the medical market to support our customers.

The job of the medical domain expert is to gain a deep understanding of application requirements, as well as key attributes of the market, such as regulatory compliance and data privacy. Customers developing complex medical products can innovate faster, more freely, and with greater confidence in achieving successful outcomes when they are supported by experts who understand both their technology and their applications.

In the field of vital signs monitoring, this application expertise is powered by a 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 suite of sensors to provide a continuous set of vital sign measurements that can be used to develop biomedical algorithms.

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

Figure 1. The VSM research watch development platform created by Analog Devices.

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 inform algorithms sensitive to motion artifacts. Sensors on the watch measure temperature and impedance, and these values ​​are used in algorithms to monitor stress and body composition. These capabilities support 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 clear. Utilizing precise, low-power, miniature components such as sensors, analog-to-digital converters, and digital signal processors, the VSM watch and other such development platforms from ADI lay the foundation for innovative medical device manufacturers to build upon Build the monitoring equipment of the future.

About the Author

Giuseppe Olivadoti joined Analog Devices in 2000. During his time at ADI, he held various engineering, sales and business leadership positions. Giuseppe currently serves as Director of Marketing and Applications for Analog Devices’ Digital Health Division. Before that, he held sales leadership positions in Europe and the Americas.

Giuseppe holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Northeastern University and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. He currently lives in the Boston area.

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