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Current Design Trends in Medical ElectronicsCurrent Design Trends in Medical Electronics

Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry MagazineMDDI Article IndexOriginally Published February 2001Cover Story

Fernando Lynch

February 1, 2001

7 Min Read
Current Design Trends in Medical                  Electronics


Electromedical manufacturers and component suppliers are taking steps to improve both performance and cost-effectiveness of increasingly miniaturized, high-precision, portable devices.

Fernando Lynch

MD0102_72ax.jpgOne of the staple concepts of futuristic and science-fiction literature and films is the notion that the boundary between humans and machines is dissolving. These scenarios depict us advancing toward an age in which people are partly or mostly robots—or controlled by computers. Though it is unlikely that this will occur during our lifetimes, it is entirely possible that many of us may find ourselves with one or more sensitive electronic devices implanted into our bodies. In fact, products derived from nanotechnology and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)—with machines fabricated at the millimeter or molecular level—have already become a reality.

For example, the idea of an electronic device stimulating the heart to beat was considered lunacy in 1930, when the first external pacemakers required ac power and penetration of the chest cavity with a probe. By 1958, battery-powered pacemakers were being implanted. Implantable pacers are now considered a mature product (approximately 150,000 annually are installed), with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD) not far behind.

To date, more than one million people on the planet have been implanted with some kind of electronic device. Implantable electronics are now competing with or complementing pharmaceutical and other treatments for such ailments as brachycardia, tachycardia, Lou Gehrig's disease, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, intractable and chronic pain, muscle spasticity, irregular breathing, urge incontinence, diabetes, and deafness. Implantable electronic products include drug pumps, monitors and delivery systems, cochlear implants, and neurostimulators. Experimentation is already under way on electronic retinal implants that could lead to at least a partial cure of blindness.

Although today the average age of a pacemaker recipient is 70, demographic statistics indicate that an enormous number of now-middle-aged baby boomers will be prime candidates for implantable products in the not-too-distant future. The pressure on manufacturers is to produce devices that are smaller and lighter, with lower total system costs. In addition to these ongoing developments in implantable devices, the trend toward portability and delivery of care at the bedside is accelerating the development of a range of next-generation monitoring, display, and testing equipment designed to be more compact, accurate, and versatile. Products that can meet these objectives while providing lower power consumption, superior functionality, or ease of manufacture will fill a profitable niche in this burgeoning industry. This article outlines several areas of electromedical product design in which the limits of conventional semiconductor technology are being extended through the use of existing circuits in new ways or through the combination of several cell or block functions into a single electronic system (see Table I).



Implantable Pacers, Defibrillators, and Neurostimulators

Input protection

TVS (transient voltage suppressor) die, 5–20 V, variety of sizes and metal contacts.

TVS, 3–12 die array, monolithic or "chip-on-strap."

TSPD (thyristor surge-protection device), 3–12 monolithic die array, provides smaller footprint than conventional TVS.


ASIC, analog or mixed signal ultra-low power.


Schottky die, 20–100 V, variety of sizes and metal contacts.

Schottky die, single and dual, 40–70 V, variety of sizes and metal contacts.

Input protection,
blanking/tip switch

MOSFET die, 0.110 sq in., 1 KV, 13.5 ohm.

MOSFET, 1 KV, 13.5 ohm.

MCM, 6-array MOSFET (MSAFA1N100D).

switching bridge

IGBT die, 0.160 sq in., 1200 V, 55-A surge.

MCM, half-bridge, capacitive-coupled, IC-driven IGBT.

Thyristor-based (SCR and Triac) up to 1200 V.

Schottky die, single and dual, 40–70 V, variety of sizes and metal contacts.

Charging circuit

Rectifier, monolithic-microwave surface-mount (MMSM) package, flip-chipable, up to 70 V, 20 mA.

Rectifier die, up to 1200 V, 55-A surge, standard and ultrafast recovery.

Schottky, 500 V, 1 A, on silicon-carbide substrate.

Rectifier, up to 600 V, ultrafast recovery.

Voltage regulation

Zener die, 1.8–300 V, variety of sizes and metal contacts.


ASIC, analog or mixed signal, ultra-low power.

Diagnostic Imaging and MRI

MR surface coils

PIN diode, axial and stud mount for receipt and transmit.

MR transmitters

PIN diode, 1–3 KV, 13 W, stud mount for high-power transmit.

MR receivers

PIN diode, 1 KV, 10 W, axial and stud mount.

Hearing Aids

Class D amplifier

Ultra-low-power, low quiescent current, true 1-V operation, thin die.

Portable Diagnostic Meters (Glucose, Oximetry, Pulse Analyzers)

Analog power management

Analog IC interfaces with the microprocessor for analog functions such as measuring current, temperature, or time. Very low quiescent/standby current (~1–2 µA) and operating current (a few hundred µA).

ESD protection

Polymer-based bidirectional transient-voltage suppressor. Reacts almost instantly to the transient voltage and effectively clamps it below 60 V, resulting in less voltage stress during the clamp period and greater IC protection.

Silicon-based bidirectional transient-voltage suppressor. Low clamping voltages at 1.7 and 3.3-V levels.

Step-up dc-dc converter

High-efficiency (>90%) boost converter IC. Low (typically 16 µA) quiescent/standby current, low (

Power regulation

Low-cost Schottky rectifiers. Applications include battery charge/discharge regulation and general-purpose/low VF rectification.

LED output detection

Visible enhanced photo detector diode. Low-cost die with 1-sq-mm active area or clear SMD package for low dark current and low noise.

CCFL backlight inverter

Direct-drive, high-efficiency IC or complete module with 100:1 wide-range dimming for extended battery life.

Table I. A sampling of electromedical design application areas and selected available components.


Devices such as implantable pacers or defibrillators are really miniature computers that employ sensitive, low-voltage, low-power, application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to monitor, regulate, and control the delivery of electrical impulses to the heart. Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) have been in common use for a number of years. When it detects a potentially life-threatening cardiac fibrillation, the ICD applies a high-voltage pulse between two electrodes connected to the heart. The pulse can be as high as 800 V, with the resulting current (during a few milliseconds) reaching several tens of amperes.

The high voltage is generated and stored on a large capacitor through the use of a charge pump. Normally, the shock is delivered to the heart via a two-phase pulse. Figure 1 shows a principal block diagram of a two-phase defibrillator system that features a typical high-voltage bridge required to generate the biphasic pulse. The application consists of two identical half bridges, each having two switches—one to ground and the other to the high voltage. Insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) are very often used as the switch element, since they offer minimum on-resistance relative to silicon area. The high-side IGBT requires a gate voltage that is approximately 10 to 15 volts higher than the voltage to be switched. Normally, a transformer is used for level shifting between the high-voltage controller and the switch. Figure 2 shows a principal block diagram of the components required for one half bridge.

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