Getting the most functionality and benefits out of medical devices is a common goal among designers. One technology that offers an array of advantages that enhance the quality of treatment a device can provide is force sensors. These components can be used in a number of applications to substantially increase effectiveness. This article looks at several real-world examples.

Tactile force sensor integrated into surgical gripperThe integration of force sensors into medical devices results in tools that produce quantifiable and actionable data. Force feedback has become an increasingly valuable feature in the medical device market. The ability of a medical device to provide proper feedback to a doctor or patient helps to eliminate guesswork, create consistency, and improve patient outcomes. When designing a new medical device, whether it is for a therapeutic, diagnostic, or surgical purpose, the design engineer must take into account the size, accuracy, and cost of materials. The thin and flexible nature of piezoresistive, tactile force sensors makes this technology the ideal force sensing solution for designing medical devices. These force sensors are not only easy to integrate due to their small size compared to load cells and strain gauges, but they also use simple electronics. The lightweight, easy to integrate features allow biomedical design engineers to produce highly accurate, non-invasive devices, suitable for medical environments.

Medical devices providing force feedback are helpful to both doctors and patients. Doctors and surgeons can use these devices during physical assessments or surgery, whereas patients use these medical tools as assistive living devices. For example, force feedback has become a key contributing factor to less invasive surgical procedures. Small devices, such as surgical grippers, allow the surgeon access into parts of the body not easily accessible. When force sensors are designed into these grippers, the device is able to relay messages of force measurement back to the surgeon. These grippers are often used to hold very small and sensitive parts of the body, such as veins and soft tissues. The integration of force sensors allows surgeons to better monitor the pressures they are applying to the operative areas and make proper adjustments throughout the operation.

Drug delivery pump designed with FlexiForce A201 Force SensorAssistive living devices are a growing market in which force feedback devices are important to the patient recovery process. After a diagnosis, patients can utilize assistive living devices to help monitor their health and progression while returning to their everyday routine. It is also important for these devices to be small and lightweight so they are nonintrusive to the patient. Thin, flexible force sensors are integrated into assistive devices, such as drug-delivery infusion pumps, which help detect potentially life-threatening blockages. These pumps deliver essential drugs to the patients on a daily basis, so blockage detection is a key feature. When a blockage occurs in the pump, the tubing within the pump expands. The custom force sensor—located where the tubing meets the housing—in turn, detects this expansion by monitoring the force applied to the sensor by a section of the tubing. The sensor then triggers an alarm to alert the user of a detected blockage and to take the necessary steps to correct the problem in order to reduce any negative effects. Assistive devices, such as the infusion pump, help patients gain control and insight into their health and progress.

Force sensing technology also improves training devices in the medical field. Field experience is a key component for trainees in order to increase their skill set and gain knowledge as well as experience in their field. Training medical devices have become increasingly important in establishing standards among medical professionals and trainees. For example, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a lifesaving technique performed by millions of people each year; however, it is often poorly executed and a significant percentage of CPR trainees lack the ability to perform it successfully in life-threatening scenarios. Performing CPR can be very risky and involves a specific technique to avoid life-threatening injuries. Force sensors have been incorporated into interactive CPR manikins used in CPR training programs. The force sensors within the manikin help locate the pressure points of the hand compressions applied, ensuring proper hand placement. The relationship of force to depth estimates the proper compression depth. This quantifiable data helps trainees make the proper adjustments and practice their technique, in turn increasing their confidence in performing CPR in real-life scenarios.

In conclusion, the integration of tactile force sensors into medical devices to obtain force measurements is increasingly becoming an industry standard. Doctors and surgeons are looking for quantifiable data to help support their diagnoses and speed up their patients’ recovery processes. The data provided by force sensors not only improves patient outcomes, but also provides a standard of consistency, which is a common goal among medical practitioners. Although each patient’s case is different, consistency among treatments and therapies is critical. When a patient is under evaluation, being able to study quantifiable data and base treatment on concrete numbers and science is the ideal.

For more information, visit