GE Considers Wearable Medical Monitoring
April 11, 2012, FlexTech Workshop, San Jose, CA—Jeffery Ashe from GE talked about the nature of health care and the issue that the healthcare system is increasingly complex. Changes in the systems will require the application of many new technologies and a different way to look at all of the healthcare issues.
The domain experts and the various users in the ecosystem are often working at cross purposes, so system integration is a key factor in improving healthcare. There are large gaps in the ability to monitor and treat people, and less than half of all patients have any monitoring on an ongoing basis. Adding sensors will allow more measurements to get into the medical system, but at the cost of significant increases in data volume and false alarms.
First, the industry has to develop multi-technology, multi-sensor platforms that cost less than $10 per hospital stay. These sensors will be a mix of disposable and reusable sensors that tie into the infrastructure equipment. Real-time monitoring will provide better treatments and outcomes than timed samples. Changes in physiologies and body chemistries that indicate the onset of serious complications can come and go between samples. Costs and power consumption are the next major issues for the sensor arrays of the future.
Consumer and military sensors are already starting to address wellness and fitness, but are not able to measure the biochemical and environmental changes that affect health. New sensors will have to detect biomarkers and small, but significant changes in chemistries to be helpful in treatments.
The next generations of medical sensors will use a mix of technologies, with some as ICs on silicon and others as printed electronics on flexible substrates. One example of an R&D project is a multi-wavelength pulse oximeter on a fingertip patch to monitor blood chemistries.
Manufacturing will include semiconductors and roll-to-roll processing. One new process is magnetically directed self assembly, where small magnets are attached to some target material and the locations for the assembly are defined by magnets of the opposite polarity. The magnet force is high enough to overcome other characteristics and parameters that have plagued earlier self-assembly processes. The yields are significantly higher than the various alternatives.
One important requirement for success in this field is to collaborate with others with diverse capabilities. The application usefulness is the key, so no single company has all of the necessary capabilities and insights to find working solutions. Developments should use an iterative approach, to quickly develop prototypes and rapidly evolve, through user studies, to the final product.