Electronic Design

Three Stages Await Medical Electronics Development

During the next few years, medical electronics will trend upward with worldwide growth in design and development. According to White House budget director and chief economist Peter Orszag, medical electronic devices and instruments provide the best potential to “encourage more efficient ways to deliver health care.”

Both the current outlook for U.S. health care and recent global economic challenges will remain the main driving forces in medical electronics. These factors will drive design and development activities for medical electronics into three stages of product growth, trending from the current focus on specialized devices to next-generation low-risk innovation and finally to highly advanced interactive real-time devices and instruments (see the table).

WHAT’S NEXT

For 2010, design and development will apply existing technologies to improve medical diagnosis and patient monitoring. These new devices will benefit from recent low-power technologies, flexible displays, and small but robust microprocessors used to gather and process mixed analog and digital signals. Combined with new bio-sensors, single-purpose medical electronics will enable innovative devices that significantly improve patient care.

The development of specialized portable medical electronic devices will accelerate as companies address patient needs with innovation. According to Microchip, recent applications include implantable devices (cardiac rhythm management, neural stimulation, drug delivery, bariatric therapy); portable devices (diagnostic imaging, oxygen therapy, patient monitoring); home-use devices (vital-sign monitoring, disease management, rehabilitation, compliance monitoring, and medical information terminals); and security (authentication of consumables and data confidentiality).

Health care reform and lingering economic uncertainty will affect next-generation design and development. The critical issues of lower-risk electronics coupled with higher expectancy of regulatory approval also will temper medical innovation. To achieve these business goals, companies are looking to optimize the reliability and robust nature of components, while bringing together new functionality and features to address the expanding needs of patient care.

Optical imaging, which is one example of next-generation technology, uses low-power light in the near-infrared band (NIRS) to measure changes in blood hemoglobin during activation in muscle and brain tissue. Innovative, non-invasive imaging applications are being developed to advance the understanding for such critical areas as cochlear implants, language, breast cancer, working memory, and developmental learning. Optical imaging is also beginning to be used in research studies by pharmaceutical companies.

In the longer term, the exciting trend for improved real-time, interactive, wireless medical electronic devices will enable significant advancements for home diagnostics and wearable patient monitoring. Devices will collect and send patient data in real time to the primary-care physician, and patients will then receive feedback and analysis. The analysis will be based on their personal data records and a database library of reliable health informatics.

These real-time capabilities combined with management of patient data will be used to more effectively enable patient home care, with improved outcomes at lower costs. Through two-way interactive wireless data communications, faster, lower-cost, and more effective treatments will become a reality.

In the future, for instance, portable glucose monitors for diabetes may provide continuous monitoring as well as transdermal drug delivery and diagnosis feedback. As user data is collected in real time, the delivery of medication could occur as directed by patient-user parameters or as set by the physician.

Finally, the uncertainties in health care and the economy are driving a new trend for reassessing design and development processes for innovative medical electronics. Companies are forming partnership teams of regional specialists who can focus on specific technologies. These experienced teams proceed on parallel efforts and collectively advance products to clinical trials.

With the high cost of investment in development and regulatory approval, management demands fast and more certain time to clinical approval. This approach can provide the lowest total cost, best-reliable engineering, control of intellectual property (IP), ease of development for user interface, and faster regulatory approvals. This trend is very positive for medical electronics companies based in the U.S.

A BRIGHT OUTLOOK

Medical electronics will continue to play a significant role as a vital link in the future of health care. With the increased market demands for worldwide health care solutions, trends in medical electronics continue for portable, low-power, specialized devices and for new innovative bio-sensors. Successful next-generation medical devices will emerge that are based on reliable, high-value electronics and lower risk for ease of regulatory approval.

Success will be achieved by leveraging and optimizing existing technologies and reliable components through a collaborative team approach. Longer-term, real-time, interactive medical electronic devices and medical informatics will coalesce and become driving forces for even smarter devices with enhanced capabilities. Medical electronics have exciting and favorable growth trends as well as the opportunity to provide more effective delivery of lower-cost, portable, and reliable solutions for improved care.

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