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Wireless Tech Broadens Healthcare Horizons

Mon, 09/23/2013 - 4:59pm
Melissa Barnes, Associate Editor, MDT

In the field of medical technology, wireless devices are seeing some of the most broad-reaching growth. This is due mostly in part to the wide range of applications that wireless medicine encompasses. Mobi Health News reports that the top ten areas wireless medicine has directly benefited include: Alzheimer’s, asthma, breast cancer, COPD, depression, diabetes, heart failure, hypertension, obesity, and sleep disorders. With a growing population of sufferers with these chronic conditions, it is no wonder that wireless devices are seeing such incredible demand.

Wireless sensors and monitors are easily integrated into increasingly small devices for telemonitoring, wearable technology, implantable devices, and other innovative products. Also, with smartphones becoming more dominant, patients are becoming more independently responsible for their own health through wireless applications meant to track, document, and monitor health vitals and important stats. Smart technology of other kinds are finding their way into new applications, making the lives of doctors and patients more convenient.

Wearable Wireless & Home Health Monitoring
In a recent report by ABI Research, wearable wireless devices in the medical field are projected to reach a total number of more than 100 million annually by 2016. Furthermore, according to IMS Research, wearable medical devices are expected to see some of the most novel innovations. “There is increasing clinical evidence of the value of continuous physiological data in managing chronic diseases and monitoring patients,” says Theo Ahadome, Senior Analyst at IMS.

Most of these devices monitor the wearer’s vitals, such as ECG monitors. The devices are also currently most popular in sports medicine among athletes and those beginning new health and fitness regimens. Some of the lesser known wearable wireless monitors in the health industry can even be found in certain clothing and other textiles. AiQ’s smart textiles, for example, are producing customizable apparel such as t-shirts with vital sign monitoring sensors. Their BioMan t-shirt comes with sensor-ribbed sleeves that monitor the wearer’s heart and respiration rates, as well as skin temperature.

The electroencephalography (EEG) EKG patch from IMEC also keeps track of similar vitals, including brain activity, through a wearable headset. The patient’s heart rate and 3D-accelerometer data is systematically stored and streamed to a smartphone. Though IMEC’s device is not yet wireless, the company is currently working on developing wireless prototypes.

The highly anticipated Google Glass, a wearable wireless device, has found a use in surgery recently at Ohio State University. Doctors Nabeel and Kaeding wore the device while performing routine knee ligament surgery, which enabled them to stream live video to colleagues, who consulted in real time. Medical students at Ohio State also reportedly observed the surgery live, via their laptops. Doctors say the device would even allow surgeons to order X-rays or MRI images of their patients in real-time, or consult with pertinent specialists remotely and immediately.

In efforts to make diabetic monitoring more efficient and hassle-free, Cambridge Consultants, in partnership with the Institute of Metabolic Science at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, are currently developing an artificial pancreas system. The system would be connectable to a wireless glucose meter and insulin pump, thereby providing a fully autonomous monitoring system that is capable of identifying, reporting, and correcting blood sugar levels. As with many home health systems, the data would be documented and relayed to a smartphone or computer, making real-time analytics possible.

Implantable Wireless
With the versatility of wireless components integrated within small devices, the ever-decreasing size is resulting in some of the most minimally invasive devices ever imagined. One of the most successfully established invention is the capsule endoscopy. The patient is administered the pill-sized capsule, which contains a camera that capures images of the GI tract, which are sent to a computer via Bluetooth. The PillCam SB 3 by Given Imaging, for instance, is capable of capturing two to six images per second with sensors that detect the speed of travel, thereby adjusting the amount of pictures captured.

“The development of capsule endoscopy was a large step forward in allowing gastroenterologists to see areas that, in the past, were difficult, if not impossible, to visualize without more invasive approaches,” says Jason Lau, Analyst at MRG.

Though there are other companies currently developing this type of capsule endoscopy, Given Imaging is ahead of the pack as it is the first to receive FDA approval. However, the race is on, as Given Imaging’s main competitor, Olympus, is currently developing devices with more advanced image quality. Their recent trials conducted through Siemens Healthcare have investigated magnetically-guided capsules, which can be controlled by the physician via a type of joystick.

Another category of wireless implantable devices that are currently under development and seeking approval is in the orthopedic sector. Proposed designs for orthopedic implants involve the use of embedded RFID or transcutaneous near-field communication (TNFC) chips. Such chips would provide surgeons with real-time information on the condition of the patient, as well as the device’s status. Wireless components would provide this important data through a secure transmission to handheld receivers.

“Such a system could improve the ease of access to patient information following an orthopedic implant procedure, potentially facilitating more complete and efficient recalls of defective implants, and could assist in postoperative care,” says Brady Baker, Senior Analyst at MRG.

Several companies are still in the early development stages, but Ortho-tag has recently achieved a patent for their proprietary TNFC technology. Their biosensors can provide vital information to surgeons, based on the patient’s particular status.

Conclusion
The industry outlook for the wide world of wireless medicine is expected to continue its climb in the coming year. Wireless components have the ability to transform the entire medical industry by broadening the way patients and doctors track and practice medicine. Devices already on the market have proven vastly successful, and products under development will allow incredible capabilities in environments never before thought possible.

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