Advanced sensor and interconnect solutions are driving innovation in the wearable, wireless, and connected healthcare device market. The implementation of 5G will further enhance the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) and make medical technologies even more powerful.
Prior to the internet, the medical industry relied on chart paper, video paper, X-ray film, and other antiquated documentation and communication mediums. Internet-based communications enabled significantly faster communications, as well as the transmission and storage of healthcare documents with enhanced voice, text, and visual quality. Today, advanced digital connectivity through the Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming healthcare through a connected ecosystem of medical devices commonly referred to as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). IoMT applications include health and wellness applications, remote patient monitoring, telemedicine interfaces, diagnostics tools, robotics, diabetes care, drug delivery, and many other emerging medical technologies.
In 2019, the IoMT market reached an estimated $24 billion, and by 2028, it is expected to exceed $240 billion with a 29% CAGR, largely due to the integration of sensors into more medical technologies and the full implementation of 5G technology.
Concerns about speed, storage, and cybersecurity present real challenges for all connected systems, but they are merely speedbumps along the IoMT transformation highway, which will accelerate the pace, quality, and efficiency of healthcare both in hospital environments and through telemedicine. Rapid advancements in the area of sensors, antennas, and high-speed interconnects will enable medical devices to take full advantage of 5G technology, and simple, less regulated medical devices will evolve into more complex, highly regulated devices that can provide mobility, convenience, and enhanced medical communication for users and healthcare providers.
Remote Patient Monitoring Expands to EKG Technologies
In the past decade, smaller, more compact and mobile systems have arrived. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices are wearable or wireless solutions that enhance patient mobility, enable the collection of vital signs and other data, and convey real-time information to healthcare providers and analytic software via the IoMT.
These can be used either inside a hospital or clinic, by a visiting nurse, or remotely, operated by the patient for optimum personal mobility. Systems that collect cardiac data, for example, can use AI to create electrocardiogram (EKG) interpretations to assist the cardiologist with patient diagnosis and treatment plans.
Remote Holter monitors are wearable EKG technologies that interface with patient or healthcare providers via a smartphone or tablet and the IoMT. Unlike traditional Holter and cardiac event recorders, these inexpensive, often disposable devices are simply applied on the patient’s chest.
IoMT Devices Empower Consumers in the Age of COVID-19
The Fitbit smartwatch is a wearable wristband that tracks and transmits wellness habits and data, including exercise, heart rate, sleep, nutrition, weight, menstrual cycles, and more. The Fitbit Sense recently received FDA 510(k) medical device regulatory clearance in the U.S. and CE mark medical regulatory approval in Europe for its ECG capabilities, which can detect and monitor atrial fibrillation and measure blood oxygen saturation levels, a functionality that has new prominence in consumer-oriented devices in the age of COVID-19.
At the fall 2020 Apple Event, the company announced that its Series 6 Apple Watch will also include SpO2 monitoring capabilities. By monitoring heart rate, ECG, and SpO2, the Apple watch may provide users with an early warning system for respiratory problems associated with COVID-19 or pneumonia. Although it’s not a substitute for COVID-19 testing — and it isn’t FDA approved as a medical device — it is another example of device design empowering consumers to monitor their own health.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, portable and wearable healthcare equipment and remote patient monitoring devices connected to the IoMT enable medical providers to monitor patients without direct contact, keeping patients with less severe cases out of hospitals and preventing the spread of the virus.
The development of wireless wearables for the IoMT market requires advanced sensor technologies to capture vital signs data and other critical diagnostic information. Numerous sensor types are used in these devices, such as piezo film sensors that measure physical activity and sudden movement, pressure sensors that measure blood pressure and inhalation, temperature sensors that measure body temperature, humidity/moisture sensors that measure relative humidity (perspiration) levels, photo-optic sensors that measure pulse oximetry (SpO2), infrared (IR) sensors, ultrasonic sensors, piezoelectric accelerometers, and capacitive, inductive, magnetic, and haptic sensors. Increasingly, connector suppliers are developing these products for the IoMT market.
TE Connectivity’s digital temperature sensors are embedded into home healthcare and personal temperature tracking devices that can transmit data via the IoMT. These sensors provide accurate measurements of temperature with a digital output signal and small circuit board package for medical devices to monitor the temperature of air in respiratory devices. TE Connectivity’s digital temperature sensors provide 0.1°C accuracy, are available in miniature packages designed specifically for tight spaces, and respond quickly to changes in temperature.
TE Connectivity Thermopile Infrared (IR) Sensors are designed for non-contact temperature measurement from a distance by detecting an object’s IR energy. The higher the temperature, the more IR energy is emitted. The thermopile sensing element, composed of small thermocouples on a silicon chip, absorbs the energy and produces an output signal. IR temperature sensors enable accurate non-contact temperature measurements from the ear, forehead, or skin. TE’s discrete, negative temperature coefficient (NTC) thermistors are miniature in size, highly accurate, precise, and offer excellent long-term stability.
Amphenol Advanced Sensors designs and manufactures an extensive line of Thermometrics brand NTC thermistors and non-contact IR temperature sensors for vital signs monitoring. Amphenol manufactures interchangeable thermistors and IR sensors for oral, rectal, tympanic, and auxiliary temperature measurements for predictive, clinical, or home use. Amphenol also produces tiny thermistors for fluid temperature during dialysis, which is increasingly being performed in patient’s homes.
5G is Expected to be a Transformative IoMT Technology Accelerator for MedTech Connectivity
5G technology will ultimately be able to offer speeds up to 100 times faster than typical hospital wireless networks, enabling more multi-user platform capacity, faster downloads, and near real-time communication on mobile devices. This will bring multiple benefits to medical environments, including remote patient monitoring, diagnostics, complete and accessible documentation, and even remote assistance with therapeutic procedures.
The lower latency of 5G is expected to make remote and robot-assisted surgery more accessible as well. Intuitive Surgical, the largest pioneer of surgical robotics, along with Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson, Siemens, and others, have doubled down on their investments in robotic-assisted surgical technologies. Intuitive Surgical contracted InTouch to create an IoMT network connection platform for its global users. InTouch, which is now part of Teladoc Health, offers its Solo Telemedicine platforms, including a COVID-19 infectious disease emergency solution. This technology brings remote, robot-assisted surgical procedures to remote locations around the world.
TransEnterix has obtained FDA 510k clearance for the Senhance Surgical Robotic System, which performs laparoscopic hernia repair, gallbladder removal, colorectal, and gynecology procedures. 5G speeds, coupled with haptic force feedback sensors, create a combination of force, vibration, resistance, and motion sensations to heighten the surgeon’s sense of touch response. The primary haptic sensors include eccentric rotating mass vibration (ERMV) motors, linear resonant actuators (LRAs), and piezo haptics sensors (PHS). Other connectivity products employed in these transformative IoMT technologies include card-edge and RF connectors and cable assemblies.
With a 0.6mm contact pitch, card-edge configurations, and robust metal housing, TE’s Sliver internal cabled interconnect system helps withstand cable pull and has an active latch that provides additional connection security. This connectivity technology simplifies designs and can reach speeds up to 56Gb/s when integrated with high-speed coaxial cable.
TE Connectivity’s ERFV RF coax connectors are highly customizable, offering a range of between-board heights and configurations. These low-cost, high-performance solutions are ideal for use in mobile applications, including remote healthcare, and wireless broadband communications equipment, including antennas, small cells, and 5G infrastructure.
TE’s ERFV RF coaxial connectors are available in board-to-board (BTB), screw-type board-to-filter, push-in board-to-filter, and test adapter configurations. They can support blind-mating BTB connectivity with active integrated antenna designs and as many as 500 vertical BTB contact points. The ERVF series also features a one-piece design that enables lower-cost antenna-to-radio, BTB, and board-to-filter connections compared to two-piece connectors and are designed to support minimum BTB distances spanning 5.2–20mm and frequencies extending from DC to 10GHz.
Telegärtner developed the 2.2-5 connector series with co-development and field-validation by Kathrein (now part of Ericsson) and SPINNER. This solution is being jointly introduced by Molex, Amphenol RF, CommScope, JMA, Gigalane, and other RF manufacturers and distributors, including TTI Inc. and Mouser. The 2.2-5 RF interconnect system is designed for high-frequency and low passive intermodulation (PIM) and features a 53% smaller form factor than the 4.3-10 and frequencies to 6GHz. Targeting the needs of wireless and 5G network infrastructures, these connectors provide optimal performance and withstand extreme environments, and their smaller form factor enables engineers to use them when facing space constraints, which is especially common in IoMT-enabled portable and wearable healthcare equipment and devices. Several suppliers also offer these connectors as custom integrated cable assembly solutions with air-enhanced dielectric cabling, which provides superior bandwidth and low insertion loss in 5G networks and other applications with critical signal capacities and space.
Wayne Shockloss is the author of the Bishop & Associates 2020 Medical Interconnect Solutions report, which provides an in-depth review of the political, economic, sociocultural, technological, environmental, and legal (PESTEL) factors that have an impact on healthcare, medical device providers, and medical interconnect solution suppliers.
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