Medical Wearables: Connecting Patients to Unprecedented Healthcare Benefits

The sheer availability of handheld technology – otherwise known as the smart phone – has inspired unprecedented levels of familiarity and acceptance. The intuitive format of the touchscreen display has provided intuitive, easy-to-use controls, putting consumers completely at ease with highly sophisticated functionality.

The familiarity of touchscreen controls has been embraced by many other markets. Even the most ordinary domestic equipment now boasts advanced controls, from washing machines to coffee makers. These innovations have been further enhanced by the other aspect of mobile phone technology that has become commonplace – the Internet of Things (IoT). For most of us, our smartphones provide a gateway to the IoT, allowing us to connect to our house when we are away, control our air conditioning or even start our car remotely.

The IoT has been made possible by the introduction of fast internet connections. The introduction of the 5G wireless communication network allows the sharing of an enormous volume of data without the need for physical connections. Devices can now use the internet wherever they are to exchange information with each other, responding quickly to changing needs and conditions. However, the true potential of the IoT lies outside the consumer market. Some of the most interesting innovations, with the potential to dramatically improve lives, can be found in the medical sector.

Innovations in Healthcare

The healthcare industry has embraced several of the innovations that originated in the smartphone market and has used them to create the next generation of medical equipment. Their small size and portability mean that these sophisticated devices are no longer limited to the confines of the hospital. Instead, these latest medical devices can be carried or worn by the patient.

These devices have little in common with the large and cumbersome machines found in hospitals. Miniaturized electronic design and simple touch screen controls have enabled the new generation of wearable technology to give patients freedom to carry on their daily lives, even while being monitored and even treated as a function of the data.

The smartwatch of recent years is a perfect example of reduced size and high functionality.

Connected via Bluetooth to a smartphone and fitted with a user-friendly touchscreen interface, the smart watch can gather information about the wearer and share this with their healthcare team remotely. In fact, the combination of smartwatch and phone boasts more connectivity and computing power than many hospital-based instruments.

Medical wearable devices will revolutionise patient care.

Another, more capable example can be found in the latest wearable monitors designed for diabetic patients. These offer the perfect blend of reduced size and high functionality. They use sensors to measure blood sugar levels in real time, creating huge benefits for the health and wellbeing of patients and improving their quality of life. When combined with insulin delivery systems, both monitoring and treatment can be provided while the patient continues with their everyday life. At the same time, the data collected and shared via the 5G network will allow doctors to monitor the long-term health of the patient.

This rise in the demand for wearable technology and data communications will mean that reliable, safe connectors provided by trusted partners are key to the future of the medical industry. The development of field-based devices and self-treatment will see connectors placed into the hands of patients in a way not seen before.

Connectors for Wearable Devices

One of the greatest challenges for designers is to pack the huge sophistication required into small, easy-to-wear devices. These will require batteries, controls, sensors and displays that are all integrated into the smallest possible package size. Connectors for these wearable devices should be compact and lightweight, providing the highest possible performance in the smallest package size.

In the past, ribbon cables have been a popular choice for connecting components together when space is at a premium. However, modern designers demand solutions that are more compact and deliver higher performance. The modern alternatives to traditional ribbon cables are known as flat flexible cables (FFCs). Whereas ribbon cables are constructed using several stranded wires encased in an insulator, the FFC uses flat conductors that are bonded to a plastic film, creating a flexible cable that is far thinner than stranded ribbon cables.

For this reason, FFCs are ideal for wearable medical devices where size is important. For example, the Easy-On family of connectors from Molex provides fine-pitch, low-profile solutions that allow quick and secure connection of FFCs to a range of other components.

RF and Wireless Solutions

Integrating the latest medical devices into the 5G network requires high performance RF connectors and cables. Micro-coaxial RF connectors from the MCRF range offer high frequency board-to-wire solutions that allow designers to enable wireless LAN, GPS and Bluetooth connectivity. The ultra-low profile PCB mounting jack mates with pre-assembled cables.

For wireless communications, devices will need an antenna(s) to transmit and receive data. Molex is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of antenna technology. The combination of technical expertise, connectivity experience and global footprint has allowed Molex to develop a comprehensive range of solutions for wireless connectivity. The range includes small surface mount (SMT) antennas, or cabled antennas using Molex’ micro-coaxial cable assemblies.

Molex Surface Mount Chip Antenna, specifically designed for IoT Connectivity.

Improving Lives

The latest generation of remote healthcare technology is improving the lives of patients around the world. Wearable devices are allowing patients to live more fulfilled lives away from hospitals or health centers. They can also be monitored far more effectively on a minute-by-minute basis, allowing quicker diagnosis of developing conditions and providing improved outcomes.

For these reasons and many more, device connectivity is vital. Designers need partners who can deliver high performance solutions in small package sizes. Working in partnership with Molex, Arrow is committed to delivering innovative and reliable solutions to its customers and providing choice and innovation opportunities for the designer of tomorrow's medical technology.


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