From medical wearables to detection devices, high-tech tools are enhancing preventive care while also helping to make more personalized care possible. These tools can measure a variety of vital signs today, and R&D efforts are underway to bring additional health parameters into the fold.
Globally, the market for preventive healthcare technologies and services is projected to reach US$432.4 billion by 2024. This growth is due in part to adoption of advanced technologies and preventive measures, including vaccines, screening and monitoring devices, and smart devices that reduce medical errors, according to research by ReportLinker. For design engineers and medical professionals, this represents an opportunity to create solutions that provide insights for a healthier world. Let’s take a look at how a few young companies are embracing this opportunity while tapping into analog ICs for the underlying technology to their virtual healthcare solutions.
HD Medical has developed an electronic stethoscope that augments sound with real-time visual displays of heart waveforms. For company CEO Arvind Thiagarajan, the company's ViScope stethoscopes were inspired by his own personal journey with a heart murmur as a youth. Anxiety around his health sparked an interest in medicine, though he ended up attending a prestigious engineering school, where a mentor advised him that being a "doctor's doctor" would enable him to reach millions of patients. Using the company's stethoscopes, doctors have access to data that can help them conduct more accurate initial patient screenings. The devices can also support a telemedicine healthcare model, since heart data can be captured by a clinician and viewed remotely by a specialist at another location.
Designing the ViScope stethoscopes called for ICs with high performance, very low power, and small footprint. Thiagarajan and his team found what they needed in Maxim's MAX32620 microcontroller, MAX14690 battery-charge management IC, MAX1703 DC-DC converter, and battery monitors. "The name of the game is miniaturization and low power, and Maxim has the best solution for both," Thiagarajan noted.
For MedWand CEO Dr. Samir Qamar, technology is providing a pathway to virtual care. His company is behind the MedWand device, a handheld device that can measure a variety of vital signs. Healthcare professionals can use it to examine patients remotely. "My vision is to have patients one day be seen, be examined, be tested, and have treatment be delivered to them where they are," he says.
From a design standpoint, MedWand's engineers had to integrate multiple medical sensors into a device that is a little larger than a computer mouse. So, the ICs inside had to be small and low in power and cost. MedWand used various Maxim processors, sensors, and power management and audio processing ICs in its device design.
Enabling remote medical care is also the goal of Healcerion, creator of handheld ultrasound devices for medical professionals in low-resource settings. The company's battery-operated SONON device connects to a smartphone and features a cloud-based image exchange system for telemonitoring. From a mobile app, a user can access a high-quality ultrasound image, using it as a diagnostic guide. When developing the SONON device, the engineering team sought technology that could address signal processing of the ultrasound. It was also important for the ICs to be small, low power, and be able to perform multiple functions. Healcerion is using Maxim’s MAX2082 octal ultrasound transceiver and the MAX4968B 16-channel, linear, high-voltage analog switches. "With Maxim's chips, we were able to develop a compact ultrasound device that met handheld-type requirements," said Anakin Choung, the company's COO.
According to a report by Accenture Consulting, "Virtual Health: The Untapped Opportunity to Get the Most Out of Healthcare," the U.S. is facing a projected shortage of roughly 31,000 primary care physicians by 2025. At the same time, healthcare costs continue to rise. The consulting firm points to virtual health as one solution to the problems. "Virtual health can enable more clinical care work to get done without expanding the workforce, by streamlining work and redirecting clinician time to high-value tasks. Virtual health care models can expand clinician capacity in three critical ways: shift tasks and work to patients, replace labor with technology, and automate tasks," notes the report.
Innovations such as those developed by the likes of HD Medical, MedWand, and Healcerion are just a few examples of virtual health technologies that can help extend care while streamlining associated costs and effort.