Medical sensors have helped improve healthcare for years. New sensor solutions are helping patients manage their own care will help the industry and providers advance precision medicine.

Scott Larson, Pete Smith and Justin Gaynor, TE Connectivity

Microcatheters less than 1mm in diameter are being used to navigate the neurovascular system and treat brain diseases. (Image from TE Connectivity)

From their humble origins measuring patients’ blood pressure and temperature, sensors have increased in sophistication, enabling their use across a wide array of applications.

Sensors measure pressure, air bubbles, airflow, respiration, glucose levels, force, heart rate, humidity and position, among other variables, and can be combined in multi-sensor modules. They’re being miniaturized, are increasingly digital, and are available in low- or even no-power options, with the ability to self-generate power.

They’re also available in a variety of forms that adapt to specific applications, such as respiratory equipment, interventional tools, wearables and implanted devices. All of these innovations, with the increased flexibility and capabilities they provide, have enabled their use in a growing number of consumer and commercial-grade applications. It’s no wonder that the medical sensors market is slated to reach $1.7B by 2025, according to a recent report by Markets and Markets.

At home

On the consumer side, sensors are transforming home health care. Wearables and sensor-tagged medications enable providers to remotely monitor patient health conditions and adherence, receive automated alerts and provide targeted support via telemedicine. Patients are more empowered and motivated to increase their fitness, make better health choices and manage chronic conditions using real-time information that reinforces their adherence to drug regimens and other healthcare protocols.

As an example, someone with diabetes can now wear their insulin pump on their belt like a cell phone, receiving continuous micro-injections to stabilize their medical condition. With sensor-driven home health care, providers can drive better outcomes, reduce costs and avoid expensive hospital readmissions due to lack of patient adherence.

In care settings

On the commercial side, sensors are used in imaging, diagnostics, interventional radiology and surgeries. Image sensors help provide ultra-high-resolution X-rays, CT scans and more for diagnostics. Diagnostic temperature and pressure sensors can provide real-time updates on vital conditions, helping to focus care delivery and avoid hospital-associated infections. When combined with other data sources — equipment status, population demographics, disease prevalence and others to power big data analytics — sensor data can help inform treatment plans for patients with similar disease conditions or the population at large.

On the interventional front, sensors are transforming medical devices into smart devices. Companies are developing long-term technology roadmaps to increase sensor capabilities and build a broader portfolio of products. Sensor expertise gained in other industries and applications — including engineering know-how, best practices and new materials — are accelerating innovation in healthcare industries and putting powerful new tools in the hands of surgeons to make surgery more precise and accurate. To borrow an example from the automotive market, it’s like moving from conventional vehicles to fully autonomous cars guided by highly intelligent systems that can ingest and process torrents of data and make adjustments in micro-seconds.

A look ahead

That future is already within reach. With the ability to put sensors into catheters less than a millimeter in diameter, doctors can reach new areas of the anatomy and collect real-time data during a procedure. Consider these recent innovations:

  • Catheter connection platforms that are compatible with different medical devices for minimally invasive surgeries. These low-profile, sensor-driven catheters capture real-time, vital patient data as they navigate throughout the human body.
  • Lightweight, twisted-pair cables that reduce wrist strain for sonographers performing multiple ultrasounds each day.
  • Twisted-pair fine wires that pack more connectivity into small, light devices without compromising functionality. This enables healthcare providers to obtain high-quality, real-time images of patient organs during minimally invasive surgeries, such as placing rhythm management devices or performing structural heart valve therapies.

Sensors are helping drive results in a new era of outcome-based medicine, thanks to their powerful microprocessors and ever smaller form factors. With complex medical conditions and surgeries, earlier interventions typically drive the most successful results.

Manufacturers need to work closely with healthcare providers to understand market needs and the regulatory landscape so that they can address critical health and safety requirements before products can be taken to market. However, in an era when healthcare talent, time, and financial resources are increasingly stretched, sensors have a powerful role to play in helping patients manage their own health and empowering providers to deliver better, more scalable care.

Scott Larson is chief technology officer for Medical at TE Connectivity. With 30 years in medtech, he previously worked for Olympus and Boston Scientific. Pete Smith is senior manager of sensor product knowledge and training for TE Connectivity Sensor Solutions. He has worked with sensors since the 1970s and holds four patents. Justin Gaynor is business development manager for Intrasense in TE Connectivity’s Sensors Solutions Group. He has been in new product development and i semiconductors, previously worked at Texas Instruments and Novellus Systems and holds 17 patents.

The opinions expressed in this blog post are the author’s only and do not necessarily reflect those of Medical Design and Outsourcing or its employees.