Doctor know

System-on-chip technology is enabling the development of body-worn wireless devices to monitor patients’ health, says Keith Errey

Technology convergence has transformed the way people live, work, communicate and interact. Now it is set to unleash a monumental change in medicine and healthcare.

This ‘digital medicine’ paradigm provides a new way of monitoring the human body wirelessly, intelligently, continuously, and at low cost. Breakthrough system-on-chip technology is enabling the development of body-worn wireless devices, with application across a vast array of health and lifestyle management scenarios.

The impetus for the emergence of the global digital medicine market is convergence. Digital information standards are now enabling X-rays and scanned images to be stored, retrieved, communicated and analysed using picture archiving and communication systems.

The development of interoperability standards for electronic medical records (EMRs) is also leading to more efficient access to data and patient choice, and ushering in clinical applications such as telemedicine. Interoperable EMRs mean physicians, pharmacies, hospitals, and patients can share information and deliver timely, personalised and portable care.

In parallel, the ubiquity of cellular networks and wireless connectivity is driving the increasing demand for mobile-based applications and converging with the trend for ‘unwired’ solutions in healthcare. Now disruptive semiconductor technology is enabling these trends to come together and create the conditions for innovations in diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.

The introduction of this silicon chip technology into medical devices and systems is allowing the economies of scale of the semiconductor industry to be brought to healthcare markets.

As populations age and the incidence of chronic conditions increases, the healthcare industry is facing global challenges: how to simultaneously reduce costs, improve quality of life, and enable better treatment outcomes.

From monitoring at the hospital bedside to telecare and outpatient management, the ability to continuously and remotely acquire robust physiological data is the key to gaining insight into an individual’s overall health status. Such data, merged in the EMR with past history, current care and drug regime details, will enable physicians to define personalised treatments and deliver improved outcomes at lower cost.

Sensium, an ultra-low power system-on-chip technology platform, is an example of the innovation at the heart of the digital medicine revolution. It enables the development of non-intrusive body-worn wireless devices that can continuously and intelligently monitor multiple vital signs in real time, and provide high-quality information.

By converging the IT system on to the individual and bringing the network into the ‘first metre’, this technology is creating an opportunity for the development of end-to-end telemedicine and health information systems for analysis and decision-making based on real-time data.

A platform technology that delivers the robustness and medical compliance usually associated with more expensive capital equipment, Sensium provides a viable, low-cost model for long-term, preventative care compatible with individuals’ lifestyles.

As technology progresses, particularly in the areas of sensors and micro-drug delivery systems, Body Area Networks will become intelligent zones around the body in which networked devices, personal medical instruments, diagnostic and drug delivery patches, and tiny autonomously powered monitors work together to provide smart, 24/7, individualised care packages.

Convergence creates unimagined technological and commercial opportunities. Social networking sites are already changing the human fabric of the internet. This evolving social networking model may even open the way to new healthcare dimensions. Aggregating data from these sites or search engines such as Google, and making this available or accessible from, or within, EMRs could lead to the emergence of online communities that enable people to select medical therapies, personal training or recuperation programmes, and access lifestyle or rehabilitation mentoring partners.

Developments in wireless body monitoring are already changing attitudes and assumptions about health and healthcare delivery. In the future ill health will become largely predictable and capable of being managed, with the focus on prevention rather than therapeutics. Healthcare professionals will work in an embedded matrix of information, and patients will become partners in managing their own health.

Just as mass availability of digital cameras universalised the use of digital images, so new capture systems such as Sensium will set the foundation for universal digital healthcare by enabling direct digitisation of physiological information at source.

This represents a massive opportunity for the electronics industry. A growing focus on low-cost preventative care models, together with the current enablement of new healthcare information system frameworks, already represents one prospective avenue for integrated service providers developing specialist monitoring, clinical data and alarm services.

As greater emphasis on personalised lifestyle management becomes the paradigm, previously unforeseen high-volume markets look certain to open up.

With the move towards this digital medical future, the trends are clear and the market opportunity created by a merging of the consumer electronics and healthcare industries is vast.

Keith Errey is chief executive and co-founder of Toumaz Technology