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Medical Semiconductor Applications
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Continua has outlined how various devices would connect to Telehealth services (caretakers). A variety of devices are already available to monitor the condition of a person who wants to stay healthy and live independently. They include digital thermometers, pulse oximeters, pulse/blood pressure monitors, weight scales, glucose meters, cardio exercise machines, electrocardiogram devices and insulin pumps. Additionally, there are medical devices used in clinical applications such as ultrasound and scanning devices, digital stethoscopes, MRI and digital X-ray. How have semiconductors shaped the design landscape? Over the years, the features of lower power combined with more functions, including the front-end input/output (I/O) into a single chip, have made medical devices more portable. See photos of portable ECG device (Figures 4) from Philips Healthcare and portable ultrasound scanners (Figure 5) from GE Healthcare. Homecare devices, such as blood pressure monitors and glucose meters, are frequently battery operated. Overall they are more compact and convenient to use.
Wireless technologies are becoming more and more commonplace with many new medical devices starting to integrate wireless features into the application. The Omnipod insulin pump developed by Insulet consists of two units: a pump worn by the patient with built-in wireless capability, and a handheld controller with built-in glucose meter. The user can control the delivery of insulin wirelessly. Omnipod provides great convenience to the userasitcanbeworn24hoursadayandisespecially desired by people with active life styles, including many athletes. To accomplish this, Insulet has used a microcontroller and wireless chip from Freescale, as shown in Figure 6. With the advancement of semiconductor technology, there are plenty of solutions available from many suppliers for medical device designers to choose from. What should a designer expect from a semiconductor supplier? Better support. Let us illustrate this with a thermometer design. Texas Instruments offers a single chip solution that includes a lowpower, single-chip AFE4110 microcontroller with built-in LCD driver (Figure 7). It comes with a reference design circuit schematic, printed circuit board (PCB) layout and the bill of materials (BOM). The designer only needs to follow the design and make some custom adjustments to deliver a complete digital thermometer with an accuracy of +/0.1 degree centigrade and a reading range of 31 to 43 degree centigrade.
Overall, semiconductor suppliers have done a good job in integrating the front-end analog-to-digital (A/D) functions in a single piece of silicon. (For a detailed list of product offerings from various semiconductor suppliers, go to www.medsmag.com/sbb). Leading suppliers offer different solutions. Texas Instruments, Freescale and STMicro have the broadest portfolio including digital thermometers, weight scales, ECG/EKD/EEG electrocardiograms, glucose meters, insulin pump, pulse oximeters, blood pressure monitors and ultrasound/scanning devices. Separately, ADI and STMicro offer a MEMS motion detect solution for fall-detection and prevention devices. The innovation of ECG development is moving from portable to wearable. This solution will directly reduce healthcare costs. By wearing an ECG device, a patient with a heart problem can be monitored remotely by the caretaker without being in the hospital. STMicro’s battery-powered ECG semiconductor will be a good fit. More and more devices are connected to other devices/ controllers remotely using emerging wireless standards such as ANT+, Bluetooth, ZigBee and near field communication (NFC). Companies like Renesas, TI and Freescale all offer products in these areas under the umbrella of Mobile Health (commonly known as mHealth), or Wireless Health. Another important segment in medical electronic device design is that of sensors. Most people know wide area network (WAN) or local area network (LAN). Now a new term called BAN is emerging. It is the body area network in which the body acts as a network to connect to a medical device. It works by having a sensor connected to the human body and communicating electronic signals to the receiving device much like electrodes are connected to a human body. The sensor can be a passive device (does not require power) or an active device (requires power). A new innovation from STMicro can energize an active sensor without using a battery. The M24LR16ER product is based on RFID technology, which receives power from a remote controller sending RF signals to the sensor.
While all the companies above focus on many homecare devices, Intel is taking a different approach by offering point-of-care stations and hospital bedside entertainment systems based on the Atom processor. These are embedded devices with new applications. The Intel-based Point-of-care system from Kontron is such an application.
Another vision Intel has is to enable developers to build high-end fitness machines where a PC-like display is mounted on a treadmill that would communicate with sensors or devices worn by the users. This provides feedback to the users while they are running on the machine. Additionally, the high-end graphics display can provide personal entertainment making exercising more fun.
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