Circuit of Life: The IoT in Medicine and Healthcare

Altium Designer
|  Created: March 9, 2018  |  Updated: November 9, 2020

A hand over a dashboard of health information

I once took a friend from work to the hospital when she was having sudden chest pains. We got moved through several sections of the emergency room where tests were done multiple times, and other areas where I wasn’t sure why we were there at all. It turns out her husband had also been searching for us for nearly an hour and didn’t find us until she was being discharged home for bed rest.

Working the ER must be an incredibly challenging job but as an engineer, I couldn’t help seeing opportunities to improve efficiency for staff and patients. Fortunately, as the internet of things is starting to move into medical applications, I think we’ll see some amazing improvements and avoid security breaches along the way.

What would you do with IoT in a hospital?

Like most IoT applications, monitoring and alerts are the biggest use-cases for medical IoT. A huge number of medical sensors already exist and are being integrated into IoT platforms to track patients’ vitals.

While we were waiting at the hospital, my friend had an ECG monitor hooked up to her, it gave a constant readout on her heart rate and saturated oxygen but apparently had no internal memory. Each doctor or nurse we saw, put down notes in a hard copy file that went with us throughout the ER. Anything that happened while we weren’t actively being watched was effectively lost.

Now, new solutions like smaller boards with adaptive board shapes are being developed that would have tracked her stats as long as she was connected, while constantly uploading them to her digital file. Once the data is already being processed, it’s easy for any values that are outside of a “normal” or healthy range to be flagged and reviewed by the next nurse instead of manually taking a pulse.

Those events that are outside of a medically healthy range can also trigger alerts. I would have appreciated that, instead of asking frantically in the hallway for help when my friend had her heart rate suddenly spike. The monitor beeped alarmingly at us but no one else in the hospital had any idea that something scary was happening in our little-curtained partition.

A woman flipping through a shelf of medical files
IoT can help reduce physical files and make tracking patient care easier.

Whether it’s through rigid-flex technology allowing for circuit boards to interact and be placed in more adaptive and unique monitoring technologies, or stronger transmission capabilities enabling machine-to-machine communication, the IoT is here. There are many opportunities to help patients before and after they are actually in the hospital, and possibly keep them from needing a hospital visit altogether.

  • Continuous monitoring: Many different medical sensors exist for things like blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, heart rate and pulse, glucose levels, body temperature, and even hydration. Depending on what conditions a patient might have, a different combination of sensors is called for, and with IoT, they can all be monitored remotely.
  • Early alerts: Whether a patient is being monitored in-home, or at a hospital, a doctor wants to know as soon as possible if warning signs are starting to present themselves. You might even be a parent who wants to monitor your kid while they sleep, and use something like Fever Smart that connects a patch to your a smart phone to track a fever in real time so you know if you need to take them to the hospital.
  • Proactive treatments: Not everything requires a hospital visit and you might be better off with proactive treatment when warning signs show up. Increasingly advanced IoT applications not only monitor and alert you, they can even provide some treatments, like insulin patches for diabetes.
  • Personalized care: Because IoT applications are usually required to be small, and inexpensive, it becomes possible for each patient to be tracked individually. Personalized data tracking and care enables earlier diagnosis of conditions, and improved health management. Managing chronic conditions alone is estimated to create $1.1 trillion per year in value by helping patients

A doctor standing in a hallway.
The lives of doctors and nurses can also be made easier with IoT, giving care providers more time to spend with patients

IoT for Patient Engagement

Patients can use IoT for more than monitoring their conditions, but to help them manage their health more effectively. While apps already exist that can help patients remember or schedule appointments, the day to day elements of their healthcare can also be improved with IoT products. There are pillboxes that can remind you to take your medication, and alert someone if you forget. At home physical therapy can be monitored, and users can get real-time feedback.

For everyone who goes to the ER or any medical experience, having more control and information can make a terrifying situation a little bit more manageable. Medical IoT products are one way you as an engineer can help patients get better, and make the lives of nurses and doctors easier, too.

Medical devices do have a lot of restrictions to ensure that they are extremely reliable, so you’ll want a design software that can help you get everything right. With increasing and unique design challenges, tools like an auto-interactive router, smart design rule checking and real-time part cross-checking, all found within Altium Designer®, can be invaluable for your work.

If you have a serious medical condition, I’d recommend going to a hospital or at least your doctor. But if you want to learn how to use your designs to improve the lives of others with serious medical conditions, contact the experts at Altium today.

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PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.

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