Wireless, Wearable, and Implantable Medical Technologies Saved My Life

By Wayne Shockloss | April 12, 2022

Wearable consumer-grade technology provided valuable diagnostic information, which led to a successful therapeutic treatment that saved my life.

In mid-February, one of my doctors detected an irregular heartbeat during a routine office visit and suggested I see a cardiologist. The cardiologist requested approval from my medical insurance provider for a routine resting electrocardiogram (ECG) and 24/7 ambulatory ECG Holter monitor. However, while I waited for insurance approval, my Apple 6 watch detected frequent low heartbeats of 33-39 BPM and sent me warnings. These warnings drove me to accelerate the insurance approvals. Some experts say we should not rely on medical technologies like the smartwatch heartrate warnings, as there is a possibility of false alarms. However, the ECG feature on the Apple 6 watch is approved as a medical device by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Following the ECG and Holter test, my cardiologist diagnosed complete heart block, in which the right atria (upper heart muscle) and right ventricle (lower heart muscle) were unsynchronized, otherwise known as bradycardia. This serious diagnosis required immediate admission to the ICU and implantation of a Medtronic Azure SureScan dual-chamber pacemaker the next day. I was fortunate, and I feel a little better each day.

Wireless Wearable Technology Contributed to Life-Saving Diagnosis

Apple Watch Series 4 medical technologiesThe Apple Watch Series 4 was the first consumer watch that could capture a heartrate ECG right from your wrist. Like most wearables, the Apple Watch monitors heart rate using green LED lights embedded in the device. The lights reflect on the skin to detect the pulse and changes in blood volume to calculate heart rate. In addition to checking heartrate, it also performs ECGs and sends a notification of irregular heart rhythms, which may be atrial fibrillation (AFib).

Apple obtained FDA De Novo classification approval for the ECG app and the irregular heart rhythm notification, making it available over the counter without a prescription. Apple Watch Series 4 or later versions detect if the user falls and provides an alert, which allows the user to easily call emergency services or dismiss the alert.

In 2020, the Apple Watch Series 6 was introduced with a revolutionary blood oxygen measurement feature that offers users even more insight into their overall wellness. The Apple Watch Series is now more than a fitness device, it’s also a medical device with alerts and other features.

Interconnects Used in the Apple Watch

Apple Watch charging cable with USB C connector interface

The latest Apple Watch Series uses a wireless magnetic charging coil with a USB-C connector interface.

Bel wireless charging coils for medical technologies

Bel offers wireless charging transmission coils in double and triple winding configurations. Bel’s Multiple Winding Wireless WCC series allows power to be transferred wirelessly through inductive coupling to charge wearable medical devices, cell phones, car chargers for vehicle and navigation, gaming devices, sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and other devices.

The USB Promoter Group, consisting of Apple, HP, Intel, Microsoft, Renesas, STMicroelectronics, and Texas Instruments, released the USB4 Type-C connector and cable specification standard, which increases high-speed data rates up to 40 Gb/s, up to eight times faster than USB 3.0 and more than double USB 3.2 standard, and provides 100-W USB-C charging and orientation independence. The USB4 Type C connector standard offers design engineers a small connector footprint for high-speed power and data transmission, ideal for wearable medical devices.

TE Connectivity USB Type-C USB4 Gen 3 connector

TE Connectivity’s new USB Type-C (USB4 Gen 3) receptacle connectors provide premium performance for next-generation cell phones, notebooks, and tablets. These connectors deliver data transfer speeds up to 40 Gb/s, power up to 100 W at 20 V, and provides reliable charging functionality. Available with a IPX8 waterproof and IPX4 splash proof options, enhanced board retention features, distinctive EMI shielding, and dual-row SMT options.

Stewart Connector USB connectors

Stewart Connector, a Bel Group company, offers robust USB connectors that enable high-frequency mating, can handle operating temperatures of -40º C to 105º C, data transmission rates up to 10 Gb/s, and have a current carrying capacity of 5.0 A.

Other connector suppliers that offer USB connectors used in medical technologies include Amphenol Communication Systems, HARTING, Hirose Electric, JAE, JPC Connectivity, Molex, Neutrik, NorComp, Samtec, Würth Elektronik, and many others.

USB has become one of the most widely adopted serial interfaces and more than 2 billion USB connector interfaces are sold every year. The worldwide USB connector market is expected to exceed $58.7 billion by 2027, with an 8.7% CAGR over the period.

Implantable Pacemaker Technology Saves Lives

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a pacemaker is a small battery-operated device that helps your heart beat in a regular rhythm. The device is normally implanted in the upper chest just below the collar bone of a patient whose heart beats too slowly or unevenly, commonly referred to as sinus bradycardia. The pacemaker senses these heartbeat irregularities and sends electrical pulses to stimulate the heart’s ventricles to contract and beat at a steady rhythm and at a rate that is in sync with the atrium.

Risks associated with implantable devices have held competition to a select few companies, including Abbott/St. Jude, Biotronik, Boston Scientific, Liva Nova, Medtronic, Sorin SpA, and a few others. However, the life-saving benefits and post-operative mobility these devices provide is expected to continue to drive growth for the implantable cardioverter defibrillation (ICD) and pacemaker market, which is expected to reach $12.47 billion by 2027, with a CAGR of 6%.

Medtronic Azure XT-DR MRI SureScan

The Medtronic Azure XT DR MRI SureScan pacemaker (left) is enabled with BlueSync wireless technology, enabling tablet-based programming and app-based remote monitoring. These devices include exclusive algorithms to manage patients experiencing irregular heartbeats. The Azure pacemaker uses a long-life, Lithium-hybrid CFx silver vanadium oxide battery, which lasts 8-12 years and is encapsulated in a titanium metal canister (can).

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and the U.S. National Library of Medicine, IS-1 and DF-1 are industry standards for unified implantable defibrillation leads that ensure interchangeability of generators and leads from different manufacturers.

Implantable products are the innovative wave of the future, promoting the utmost mobility for patients while saving lives. As technology improves, battery life extends, risks are minimized, and further miniaturization occurs, we can expect more adoption of implantable technology for new applications.

Like this article? Check out our other Smart Devices, USB, Innovation, and Medical Industry articles, and our 2022 Article Archives.

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Wayne Shockloss
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