Smart Patches Offer Next-Level Wireless Health Monitoring
A new generation of wearable sensors are making cardiatrics, diabetes management, biometric monitoring, and medication delivery more comfortable and effective.
Wireless health monitoring has been transformed by the possibilities afforded by miniaturized electronics. The first mass market of wearable medical devices took the form of fitness trackers and smartwatches embedded with biometrics sensors that monitor blood pressure and heart rate, sleep patterns, body temperature, and oxygen saturation levels. These non-invasive devices, which include Apple’s smartwatch EKG feature, observe patterns and detect abnormal activity. Data is wirelessly transmitted through the Internet of Things to the wearer or care team to coordinate care; the technology has already saved many lives.
The latest health monitors go a step further, taking the form of smart patches that adhere to the patient’s skin to provide more precise and continuous data. These devices use smart patches embedded with biochemical sensors to monitor glucose, lactate, and other markers. Combined with injectable medicine devices such as diabetes or oncology monitors that attach to the substrates of smart patches, these devices can collect data and coordinate the delivery of medication through an automated microneedle system. In the coming years, the use of miniaturized wearable devices will further expand to include ultrasound patches, fertility monitoring patches, sports medicine patches that help detect brain injuries, and many other projects now in development. Future power sources for these devices may include energy harvesting — the collection of heat generated by the wearer’s own body — eliminating the need for battery power.
None of these devices would be possible without the miniaturization of electronic components. Microminiature interconnects with high pin densities link tiny chips to film-thin sensors, transmitters, microcontrollers, and power sources to fit inside these small devices. Hybrid printable electronics enable sensors and miniaturized interconnects to be attached to a very thin and flexible fabric-type substrate for maximum density.
Currently, the smallest connectors in the industry range from 0.3 mm to 0.5 mm pitch. The cabling used in these devices must be miniaturized as well; ribbon or flat flexible cabling, which can fold inside of low-profile device packages, is commonly used. Sensor innovations include printed sensor technology, which further reduce form factors beyond the tiniest rigid circuitry. Additional requirements such as IP sealing, biocompatible materials, and shielding may also be designed into these architectures.
One medical device manufacturer seeking a high-performance miniaturized connector for an optical heart rate sensor module selected JAE’s WP56DK Series connector to connect the sensor module with the main board in a wearable product. “They simulated transmission performance with the S-parameters provided by JAE and created a sensor module prototype. The evaluation results showed that both performance and quality were excellent, and the design department was convinced that it was a sensor solution that they could propose to customers with confidence,” said JAE’s customer. “Using a sensor module that utilized the JAE WP56DK Series connector for the connection with the main board of the smartwatch made an optimal proposal possible. Not only that, but the mounting evaluation data from JAE and the well-received adoption record in smartwatches led to adoption of the connector for the sensor module.”
Smart patches offer patients and healthcare professionals numerous benefits in terms of freedom, convenience, and care precision. Fewer care professionals will be needed to collect patient data. Patients will be able to remain at home for more stages of care. The more exact and timely delivery of medication will increase patient wellbeing. Although regulatory hurdles will need to be crossed to bring the legion of ideas in development to the market, smart patches have arrived and will continue to be a rich area of innovation for medical device designers.