5 Ways The Spectrum Is Revolutionizing Medical Care
By Paul Kruczkowski, Editor
The medical electronics industry is transforming the way health providers administer care, both through the development of new technology and by finding new applications for existing technology. As a preview to the MD&M (Medical Design & Manufacturing) West event (Feb. 11–14; Anaheim, CA), here are five innovative ways the electronic design community is using the frequency spectrum, RF to near-IR (NIR), to advance medicine:
1. RF and microwave ablation. Ablation therapy is one of the most promising minimally invasive alternatives to traditional surgical treatment for liver, lung, and kidney tumors. In the case of RF and microwave ablation, a needlelike probe — the antenna — is inserted into the tumor, and the heat generated by the RF or microwave signal destroys the tumor in a very targeted and controlled manner. According to Millennium Research Group (MRG), ablation devices will be the fast growing segment in U.S. nonvascular interventional radiology device market, growing to $295 million by 2017.
2. NIR-based portable brain trauma scanners. Avoiding unnecessary and expensive diagnostic testing is ongoing part of reducing health care costs. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), a well-established technology in other industries, is now being used to screen patients with head trauma for intracranial bleeding. Extravascular blood has a greater concentration of hemoglobin than intravascular blood, and thus will absorb more NIR light, indicating that a hematoma exists. This optical method for detecting brain hematomas is a quick and cost-effective way to determine if a more expensive CT scan should be performed to get a detailed image of the hematoma.
3. Wearable and implantable monitors. Healthcare is undergoing a wireless transformation that can be witnessed on several fronts. One trend I see is the expansion of medical telemetry, providing exciting design opportunities for wearable and implantable devices. Advances in sensor, miniaturization, packaging, and charging technology have set the stage for growth in this sector. New spectrum allocated by the FCC for medical body area networks (MBANs) also supports this trend by providing 40 MHz from 2360 to 2400 MHz to connect devices that monitor blood pressure, glucose levels, and heart and brain activity, to name a few. These networks could potentially notify doctors of a patient’s problem before it becomes life threatening.
4. Cellular glucose meters. Innovative wireless consumer medical products that leverage cellular connectivity to report healthcare data have arrived. America’s 30 million people with diabetes now have an FDA-cleared wireless glucose meter that is certified on Verizon’s network. In addition to providing charts and reports on the patient’s glucose measurements to its user, Telcare’s wireless glucose meter enables diabetics to connect automatically to their physicians and other caregivers to share their glucose readings to improve their medical care.
5. Mobile medication distribution systems. Wireless RF links are even transforming how nurses are dispensing prescription medication in medical facilities. Modern mobile medication distribution systems allow nurses to take secure, preloaded medicine cabinets to their patients throughout the facility in an efficient manner. RFID tags and patient bracelet readers ensure the proper medicine is dispensed and manage drug inventories through an RF link to the central system. One thing that caught my attention is that some of these systems use active antenna technology with tunable capacitors to optimize the mobile antenna link to the system hub.
These are just a few examples of how innovations in the frequency spectrum are driving the development of next-generation medical electronics and changing the face of modern healthcare — which are sure to provide ample design opportunities moving forward. And based on recently published research and conversations I have had with industry leaders in the medical electronics space, I believe we still have a lot to look forward to.