Getting a continuous report on your vital signs—along with alerts if something seems "off"—can be a powerful way to help you be more proactive in maintaining good health habits. Fitness trackers and apps are fairly common now. There are patch-like devices that monitor parameters such as sleep, stress, and activity level. Before long, we may regularly see people consulting pieces of jewelry or clothing for their heart rate.
Digital health technologies are giving us more tools to uncover useful patterns and insights about our well-being. The data collected by sensors via wearables and analyzed by algorithms and via machine learning enables preventive measures and provides the basis for more personalized, proactive healthcare. Insights could direct you to your doctor’s office, warn you of potential health risks, or help you monitor and manage an existing condition. Imagine the potential for people with limited access to medical professionals. And for the healthcare industry, digital health solutions could contribute to savings in health-related expenditures, particularly in the area of chronic disease management.
Considering the underlying technologies for these solutions, we can see that semiconductor suppliers are playing an integral role. Analog front-ends are used to deliver electrocardiogram waveforms. Ultrasound imaging transceivers and receivers are inside imaging systems. Power management ICs (PMICs) ensure that voltage levels in the wearable device are regulated, while battery chargers and battery fuel gauges help ensure reliable device uptime. Microcontrollers provide the processing power.
Sensors continue to get smarter and smaller, and are becoming essential for collecting biometric data. Industry analysts are projecting that the overall sensor market will grow to $2.5 billion by 2021. Sensor technologies are used to measure parameters such as body temperature, heart rate and pulse, glucose levels, and blood-oxygen levels.
Measuring health parameters is particularly challenging because a high level of accuracy must be obtained within the confines of the human body. What are the challenges involved? As an example, let’s take a look at optical heart-rate monitors, which typically use photo plethysmography (PPG), an optical measurement of the volumetric change of blood in tissue from the cardiac cycle. Measuring PPG signals from a wearable device involves overcoming challenges related to signal-to-noise ratio, power consumption, ambient light cancellation, and motion compensation.
Figure 1: Wearable devices are giving users more control over their healthcare.
So if you're designing digital health solutions, how do you determine which components on the market will provide the accuracy and performance your device will need? Prototyping platforms offer an easy way to evaluate IC components and also to accelerate your development cycle. For example, Maxim's hSensor Platform integrates a variety of sensors for measuring heart and pulse rate, blood-oxygen levels, the heart’s electrical activity, and body temperature. The platform includes algorithms for various applications, including smart weigh scales, chest straps, ECG patches, bio authentication, and disposable temperature patches.
For more details on digital health technologies, read my article on Electronic Design, "The Next Wave for Digital Health: Better Preventive Care." The combination of semiconductor technology and your ingenuity are resulting in solutions that are enabling a healthier world."