Wearable Healthcare – Towards unobtrusive, long term, objective monitoring at home
The measurement of physiological signals is fully integrated in the daily medical practice. Vital signals are monitored to detect acute life threatening events, but also determine the general health status of a patient. Moore and more, also physical activity parameters and stress parameters are determined. The status of these parameters play an important role in the onset of chronic diseases and therefore, also their cure and prevention.
Vital signals are often measured at the medical practice. In addition, physical activity and stress parameters are usually determined by means of a questionnaire. This provides care professionals with only a short term, partially subjective insight in a patient’s health status while being at the medical practice.
Recent technological developments (e.g. miniaturization, wireless communication, and flexible electronics) have supported the development of wearable devices and patches for the measurement of physiological signals. These devices are worn on the body and are well suited for long term, objective ambulatory monitoring of patients in their home environment. However, for the use of wearable devices and patches to follow Moore’s law, next steps in the development of platform technology have to be made to make ambulatory monitoring more unobtrusive.
Long term objective ambulatory monitoring has an important impact on several aspects of the health system:
With an increasingly aging population, the (cost) effective treatment of chronic diseases is becoming increasingly important to curb the burden of the cost of healthcare. It is widely recognized that many chronic diseases find their roots in an unhealthy life style, for example little physical activity, sedentary behavior, restless sleep, stress, loneliness. Ambulatory monitoring provides personal insights in a patient’s health status that can support the treatment or deceleration of these diseases. It can also be used as a preventive tool to support a healthy lifestyle.
Shortening the duration of hospitalization also has great economic and social impact. It reduces the high costs of hospitalization and sick leave. More important it greatly reduces the social and physiological burden of being hospitalized. Ambulatory monitoring of physiological signals provides the opportunity for personalized preparation for hospitalization (optimal physical fitness, biopsychosocial profile) and early discharge after treatment (vital signs monitoring, rehabilitation and lifestyle support).
Finally, ambulatory monitoring can play in important role speeding up and reducing the costs of development of new drugs by replacing costly tests to prove the effect of the newly developed drugs in clinical trials.
Relevance for the Electronic Components and Systems (ECS) industry
The prospect of the deployment of ambulatory monitoring on a large scale for the treatment (ranging from prevention to cure and aftercare) of a wide variety of diseases, poses an enormous opportunity for the electronic components, systems and embedded intelligence industry. Moreover, because their input is required in three areas:
Wearable devices and patches, were the actual monitoring takes place;
Data infrastructure, required to collect and store data (e.g. gateways, data warehouses);
Feedback tools, to provide relevant feedback to patients and care professionals (e.g smartphones, smart domestic devices, electronic medical records (EMR)).
Enabling technology platforms
The ECS industry plays an important role in bringing ambulatory monitoring to the next level. Important aspects are reducing costs, improving user friendliness (e.g. easy to wear/use devices, interoperable gateways, reduction of patient follow-up systems) and data security. The following enabling technology platforms can contribute to this:
Low power technology, for sensors, microprocessors, data storage and wireless communication modules etc.;
Miniaturization technology, for sensors, microprocessors, data storage and wireless communication modules etc;
Printed electronics technology, for textile integration and patch-type housing of electronics;
Low power Edge AI computing, for data analysis and data reduction;
Data communication technology, for interoperability of (wireless) data infrastructure hardware (wearable device connections) and software (data sharing between data warehouses for analysis and with patient follow-up systems for feedback);
Data security technology, for interoperability between security hardware and software components.