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New Technology Treats Medical Needs In Developing Countries

March 10, 2011
Sidebar discusses trends towards dispersal of medial diagnostic resources in general and growing availability of diagnostic aids in developing countries in particular. Accompanies main article on analog circuits in portable diagnostic equipment.

An aging global population and a rise in chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart failures require new ways of providing personalized healthcare and patient care. In addition, escalating service and treatment costs are fueling the need for improved prevention and health management that can help rein in costs. This call for affordable medical care has never been greater than in developing countries. Early detection and monitoring of diseases or irregularities of the body can significantly improve the quality of life for millions of people.

Preventive and emergency medical care must also be easy to use and accessible to large rural populations. Healthcare providers recognize the benefit of improved disease management where critical medical parameters and vital signs are continuously monitored. Today, continuous monitoring of vital signs is mostly done during scheduled appointments or unplanned emergency stays in the hospital.

People in developing countries and rural areas typically do not have the luxury of easily accessible medical facilities or medical equipment such as CT-scanners, electrocardiograph (ECG) monitors, or x-ray machines, nor do they always have the financial means to pay for costly procedures, which could have been prevented in the first place if early indicators of an illness were detected and monitored.

This is where new IC technologies can step in and offer intelligent solutions that are easy to use and enable the development of advanced yet affordable healthcare equipment. Constant improvements in semiconductor design and analog and mixed-signal process technologies have made possible highly complex circuits and devices for the medical market. The challenge now is to continue making strides in integration, miniaturization, and power efficiency while maintaining the performance of current solutions.

Highly integrated sensor analog front ends (AFEs) such as those from National Semiconductor will make the design of more reasonably priced healthcare equipment a reality. For example, a configurable sensor AFE and easy to use WEBENCH design tool can create a signal-path solution between the sensor and microcontroller. This unique AFE technology takes what today may require several boards and up to 25 components and reduce them to just one IC.

Sensor AFEs with integrated 24-bit delta-sigma analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) provide precision measurements of pressure and temperature bridge sensor configurations. They’re useful in a variety of medical monitoring applications such as blood pressure, blood glucose, and body temperature. Single-chip sensor AFEs demonstrate how the IC industry can provide the enabling building blocks for future designs. In time, other integrated solutions for all kinds of biomedical monitoring will be available for medical equipment companies.

While older analog solutions use discrete components and have complex and bulky designs, which generally aren’t portable, new equipment designs must be small, portable, and, above all, easy to use for the doctor and patient. Medical providers in developing countries are counting on semiconductor companies and smart system designers to provide them with a new generation of inexpensive and long-lasting healthcare equipment.

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