Improving Healthcare with Wearables from Maxim Integrated

AZoSensors spoke to Maxim Integrated about their new health sensor platform and how it will help to improve healthcare

How is Maxim Integrated trying to improve healthcare?

Ten percent of global GDP, which amounts to 9 trillion USD, is currently spent on healthcare, and this value is rising faster than inflation. It means that healthcare is becoming increasingly more expensive, which is problematic as it causes a strain on the healthcare sector.

We want to find ways to mitigate the increase of healthcare costs, in terms of both total healthcare costs and the cost per person, whilst enabling individuals to be healthier in the process.

To enable us to do this, we are working on a number of wearable products to measure vital signs of patient. Two of these products include an analog front end for electrocardiograms (ECG), and Bio Z.

We want to use our technology to develop personalised healthcare solutions that are tailored to each individual. We envisage this technology to be used across the board as part of a wider data network.

For example, the measurements from our devices could be used in an operating room to report back on the patient’s vitals, and also in wards, i.e. for bedside monitoring, during post-operative and general care. Here, it would provide information on the different vitals for each patient, giving a full picture of the patient’s health.

This patch could also remain on the patient following discharge, allowing carers to check in on the recovery process and ensure that the patient is returning to health.

Image credit: Maxim Integrated

Can healthcare technology be translated to the consumer market?

Consumer wearables have been subject to a lot of hype. A lot of people bought into the notion of wearables such as FitBits, and other activity trackers, only to stop using them when they found the data provided was not that useful, or they didn’t like how it was presented.

However, since then, wearable devices and their inside technology have become more and more intelligent.

There are even instances now when the devices have notified someone of an unusually elevated heart rate and they have gone to the hospital as a result. There they have been diagnosed with an underlying heart problem. It is instances like these that are making people realise that wearables can provide useful data and save lives, and for this reason we expect the wearables market to grow.

How can wearables be used by the healthcare industry?

Wearables can help the healthcare industry in the prevention of diseases, and by detecting diseases at an early stage. Wearable continuous monitoring can also enable healthcare providers to save money.

For example, the early detection of a heart problem that can be fixed via medication, is less costly than treating the heart attack that would occur if the condition develops unnoticed. The difference in cost could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Of course, early treatment and prevention also has huge benefits to the patient and improves their quality of life.

Our wearable devices allow individuals to monitor and manage chronic disease. As a chip developer, we don’t produce the end products. However, in order to show the benefits of our products, we make development platforms that include multiple devices working together to save designers months of development time. We currently have four basic products and product areas within our platform:

  • Biopotential - which includes ECG measurement and the Bio Z, i.e. bioimpedance measurement.
  • Temperature - which is one of the most important biological signs there is: the measurement of body temperature.
  • Optical Sensing - which can be used to measure heart rate, SPO2 and other parameters.
  • Power Management IC8 - which is one of the areas where we are most established in.

For all of our technologies, power is very important. Low power is crucial because it means smaller batteries can be used. This means systems don’t need to be bulky and long run-times can be achieved. This isn’t an issue with conventional technologies such as bedside monitors as they are plugged into a power source.

Please tell us a bit about your health monitoring watches.

Image credit: Maxim Integrated

Our first generation health sensor platform, MAXREFDES100H, was released in 2016. Then, earlier this year (2018), we introduced a MAX-HEALTH-BAND (for the wrist), and MAX-ECG monitor (a wearable chest strap/patch) alongside our partners, which use our chip technology.

We have been aware of a lot of feedback about FitBits, Apple watches, and similar. Consumers do not like the fact that the vendors also have access to, and actually own, their data. This data is anonymous, however the vendors can do what they want with it.

Our platforms allow customers to own their own data – we can’t access it and we do not own it. Meaning there is no personal data siphoned off to a cloud network for us to use later. It is completely the customer's property.

Our health band and ECG monitor devices are robust data collection sollutions. Wearable devices are prone to a lot of damage, and will be exposed to all kinds of environments. We wanted to produce a system that won’t break during a run because its raining heavily or because the wearer is sweating.

How will wearable technologies improve healthcare?

Data analysis, particularly the analysing of complex data patterns, is allowing personalised medicine to be taken to the next level. We want our devices to tap into this new knowledge and use it to improve our users' knowledge about their health.

One example of this is the detection of atrial fibrillation (afib), a defect in the rhythm of the heart. Atrial fibrillations mostly go undetected until they suddenly appear in urgent medical events, such as a stroke. It is believed that 6 million people in the US, out of a population of 300 million, have some form of heart rhythm defect.

The consequences of undetected defects can be severe. In the US there are frequent stories of young athletes having spontaneous deadly heart attacks during extreme exercise due to a, preciously unknown, heart defect. There is also, the more positive, opposite story where people using a consumer device have found out about their defect and treated it before any adverse effects happen.

Image credit: Vlasov Volodymyr / Shutterstock

Please tell us a bit about your health sensor platform.

Our health sensor platform contains open source software (enabled by the open source integrated development environment, called Embed) for the development of health care applications.We built this platform to allow OEMs, and even students, who don’t have the knowledge or financing to develop a full platform, to be able to develop their own applications/use cases.

Initially we used to offer a bare microprocessor board to build systems on, but we can now provide different form factors, such as watches or patches. The watch is the most popular form factor currently; it facilitates optical heart rate, ECG monitoring and body temperature.

The optical monitoring is through an analog front end, allowing it to run at a low power, meaning our systems run for the long time with a higher clinical accuracy than any other wrist-based health measurement device.

What other products and solutions do you provide?

Maxim produces a lot of different systems and not just for sensors. We produce solutions for power management, and also microcontrollers. These are especially useful in the development of wearable devices, as they allow data to be collected and then secured with integrity.

Our microcontrollers use a form of hyper-encryption, which safeguards the developers' algorithms, preventing them from being fraudulently copied by reverse engineering, and also the end users' data. The encrypted data can be sent wirelessly to the end users management platform, e.g. a PC application.

Image credit: Maxim Integrated

In our newest Health Sensor Platform 2.0, H8P2.0 MAXREFDES101H brings the ability to monitor electrocardiogram (ECG) heart rate and body temperature from the wrist. With it, designers can save up to six months of development time. Inside, it has an optical oximeter and a heart-rate sensor, as well as integrated biopotential and bioimpedence, designed to provide the power and accuracy that the industry required.

The MAX32630 is our microcontroller for wearables and IoT applications. The MAX32664 is our biometric sensorhub. They include algorithms for heart rate monitoring and for sensor compensation. We can safeguard this intellectual property using our hyper encryption too, also allowing our customers to load their own algorithms in safety.

MAX30205 is our clinical temperature sensor which collects temperature at FDA accuracy of ±0.1 °C. This sensor is contact-based, meaning it can measure skin temperature, and an algorithm is then used to correlate this value to core body temperature.

We also have our renownedMaxim wearable power management solution, to tie everything together in the most efficient way possible, in terms of battery management as well as power conversion.

Our vision is to enable consumers to personalise their health and provide them with the ability to regularly check in with their health too, as easily as if you are looking at the news or the weather.

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