Single-Use Medical Circuitry
Much in the future of healthcare is focused on maintaining or improving the physical and mental well-being of an individual through the prevention, diagnosis and non-surgical treatment of, and quicker recovery from, disease or injury. As a science-based field, it relies on an understanding of the condition of a patient’s body in order to achieve successful outcomes. The ability to collect, condense and synthesize useful and often real-time data from patients will provide the healthcare industry with exponential opportunities for improving the efficacy of data collection, analysis, and automated decision-making. Single-use, shortterm, wearable medical devices are proving to be key enablers for this vision of data-driven, patient-centric healthcare.
Next-Generation Technology and the Future of Healthcare
Embedding electronics into medical and health-centric devices has been advantageous for improving the quality of care across multiple medical modalities. Sensors benefit the diagnosis and monitoring of a patient’s vital signs by translating various biosignals and biomarkers into electrical signals that can be digitally sampled and recorded. Additionally, therapies can be administered to the human body via electronically controlled delivery systems such as electrodes or micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) devices. And in recent years, the increasing ubiquity of wireless access and inexpensive, embedded radiofrequency (RF) transceiver hardware has served to proliferate the concept of “connected health,” wherein remote care and telehealth are feasible on a large scale.
Recent advances in manufacturing processes, materials science, battery technology, RF communications and sensors are ushering in a new era of medical hardware that offers uncompromised performance while also being cost-effective enough to be used in single-use or single-patient devices. One of the chief constraining factors in the adoption of disposable medical devices, especially those with embedded electronics, has historically been cost. However, the consensus of the medical community is that the advantages for the patient of having near-continuous monitoring and therapy delivery are significant. This, in turn, has encouraged researchers to push the technological envelope of what is possible.
The Advantage of Single-Use Medical Devices
Single-use or single-patient devices offer a handful of unique advantages. Patients can now benefit from hospital-grade medical diagnostics outside the hospital. Medical devices that once required a trip to the hospital are either available in the doctor’s office or have been miniaturized to a point that they can be worn on the patient’s person (e.g., EKG in a smartwatch). Thus, the patient can, in effect, get medical attention anywhere, anytime. Not only does this give certain freedoms back to the patient, but it also helps ensure they better adhere to their treatment regimens. That results in better outcomes long term. Overall, the treatment cost tends to be less as medical professionals are not addressing the same issue over and over due to non-adherence by the patient when he or she is not under constant medical supervision, such as in a hospital. Additionally, single-use medical devices also can help reduce the contamination risks and significant costs associated with decontamination, sterilization and maintenance of equipment intended to be reused with other patients.
Given the volumes of potential end applications, Silver circuits printed on a flexible PET (polyethylene terephthalate) substrate offer manufacturers economic and environmentally friendly solutions perfect for such products. Since the construction of Silver flexible circuits is an additive process, it uses only the precise amount of silver ink needed for the traces. Furthermore, the manufacturing process minimizes hazardous chemicals and waste treatment, leading to environmentally sensitive production and lighter impact.
Putting the Patient First While Empowering Healthcare Providers
Chronic wounds, such as pressure ulcers, are a medical condition wherein a wound does not heal, making the patient susceptible to other infections and pain. It is a condition that disposable medical electronics has the potential to address as part of a patient’s therapy regimen. Bandages cover wounds and keep out bacteria and other potentially infectious agents from entering the wounds. Bandages must be checked and changed frequently, and yet the proximity of the bandage to the wound offers possibilities for patient monitoring. Researchers have developed techniques to utilize inkjet technology to print sensors onto normal bandages to enhance the healing process. Disposable sensors and bandages are uplinked to a control module that is reusable and contains other components such as a power source and wireless communication circuitry.
Sometimes sensors must be inserted into the patient’s body to be effective. One of the more serious and sensitive parts of the body in which to attempt to embed medical monitoring devices is the skull. Given just how much control the brain has over a patient’s body and overall quality of life, the decision to perform surgery inside the cranial cavity is not reached without careful deliberation. Still, the ability to monitor temperature and pressure inside the skull is very important when treating patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries. Current monitoring technology can be cumbersome and can greatly reduce the patient’s quality of life. According to a paper published in the January 2016 issue of Nature, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign developed sensors that are bioresorbable (meaning dissolvable inside the body). They can be inserted, used for monitoring and left to dissolve naturally over time — thus, eliminating the need for secondary surgery to remove the sensor and reducing the chance for infection or hemorrhaging.
Disposable circuitry use is not limited to applications involving the patient’s person. Compliance requirements for pharmaceutical products have become more stringent over the past few years following the enactment of the European Union’s Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) and the Drug Supply Chain Safety Act (DSCSA) in the United States. These new regulations require manufacturers to be able to track drug products throughout the entire logistics lifecycle. Many drugs are highly sensitive to temperature variations and light exposure. Furthermore, tampering and drug trafficking are critical safety and business risks to the pharmaceutical industry. Sensors and near-field communication (NFC) equipment embedded in the drug packaging itself can be incorporated into management systems to assist manufacturers in meeting their regulatory requirements.
Shifting the Focus to Proactive Healthcare
Next-generation embedded electronics make medical devices intelligent in ways that were not possible before. Disposable circuitry is not just transforming medical devices but also how healthcare is delivered. Patients can be monitored constantly without burdening the already understaffed healthcare facilities and remote monitoring can allow patients to recover in their own homes which many believe improves recovery outcomes and duration. Additionally, the disposable nature of these devices can reduce the risk of spreading infection between patients by eliminating the need for reuse. Continuous, anywhere, anytime, patient-friendly, cost-effective, safe — disposable medical circuitry promises to revolutionize how we diagnose conditions, monitor patients and deliver therapies to those suffering from a variety of health ailments, allowing healthcare providers to make data-driven decisions for optimal patient care.