The extraordinary success of “wearables” has helped forge opportunities for medical device manufacturers to better serve healthcare providers and patients. Hank Mancini of Molex subsidiary Affinity Medical explains how and why mobile health monitoring technologies go viral.
Wearable devices, including smart watches, smart glasses, smart clothing, even upscale smart jewelry, with even more products in prototype, are expected to grow into a multi-billion dollar market ushering in hands-free mobility. The extraordinary success of “wearables” has helped forge opportunities for medical device manufacturers to better serve healthcare providers and patients.
Key Design Considerations
Mainstay technologies in consumer applications are migrating into portable medical monitoring devices as a cost-effective tool for busy healthcare providers to monitor ambulatory patients. In some cases, a portable monitor can make it possible for a patient to be safely discharged from hospital care. Newer portable medical devices offer smaller size, easy-to-read LED screens, and touchpad controls that feel familiar and put today’s tech-savvy patients at ease. Designed for continuous monitoring of a patient, comfort is imperative in wearable medical devices. A densely packed footprint can make a medical device not only more comfortable, but also more discreet, while reducing risk of snagging or dislodgement from shifting clothing or bedding.
Following the lead of consumer devices, wireless wearable monitors have grown in popularity for sports and fitness applications. Due to potential loss of signal, there are few wireless medical devices for healthcare monitoring. Wired medical monitoring devices remain the industry standard. Connectors and cable assemblies used in personal electronic devices for telecommunications or infotainment are not always appropriate for medical devices. Every design decision must take into account inherent safety issues. Reductions in cable size and bulk must be cautiously undertaken to prevent loss of mechanical or electrical performance.
Cable and Assembly Challenges
ECG machines and other medical monitoring equipment in hospital settings often feature relatively heavy, thick leads attached to a patient. Cables are not designed especially for comfort or enabling patients to move freely. Safe, effective wearable medical devices require durable connectivity to meet stringent performance requirements and regulations. Whether monitoring a patient’s EKG, respiration, temperature, blood pressure, or all of the above, design choices and cable selection should be informed by the intended purpose(s). Newer technologies make it possible to design a thin, flexible lightweight cable assembly while optimizing performance and device service life.
In the event a patient requires emergency defibrillation, appropriately designed cable assemblies should prevent lifesaving current from escaping the body, while protecting the device from damaging current. Incorporating a resistor for each attached lead can isolate the defibrillation pulse. The closer the resistor is placed to the contact point, the smaller in size the resistor required. In some cases, a resistor can be overmolded directly into a snap or clip connecting the device to the patient.
Strain Relief Solution
Cables permanently attached to a device can be grommet-anchored to prevent damage or disconnection. Commonly known as bend relief, strain relief protects the electrical and mechanical integrity of a medical cable assembly. A transition from the flexible cable to a rigid connector or patient connection, properly designed strain relief prevents force applied to the exterior cable from transferring to electrical terminations, which can yield performance problems or damage the connector or device. Custom strain relief can be overmolded directly on a cable connection or come as a separate unit that slips over a cable connection.
Wearable designs present unique challenges to meet signal and power requirements, while providing compact, durable products with a pleasing aesthetic in a less bulky device that people will want to wear. Manufacturers aiming to shrink medical monitoring devices should work closely with a fully qualified partner to make design decisions that won’t compromise on safety or reliability.
During a 30-year career in the medical industry, Hank Mancini, a marketing manager for Molex subsidiary Affinity Medical, has been exposed to almost every facet of the medical business. His experience includes roles in marketing, manufacturing, new-product development, sales, and strategic management.