Sensors Are Helping to Put Medical Devices in the Hands of Consumers

During Virtual Engineering Week, Sandhiprakash Bhide, president of Anwaya Consulting, spoke about the increasingly important role that he sees sensors playing in the healthcare industry as well as how they might revolutionize a SARS-CoV-2 detection system.

Susan Shepard

December 7, 2020

4 Min Read
Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

“By 2025, we are looking at about 600 billion dollars in the overall global device market,” shared Sandhiprakash Bhide, president of Anwaya Consulting, in “The Growing Role of Sensors & AI in Healthcare.” “And that growth has been fueled by consumer need and supplemented by tremendous advances in sensors, communication, and miniaturization,” he continued, also emphasizing the growing involvement of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning, and digitization.

He said the next step for the healthcare industry is putting medical devices directly in the hands of the consumer. “You will see those devices, in a very distributed fashion, connected with your hospitals or with your physician so that they can make the appropriate [healthcare] decisions,” Bhide predicted.

This is already starting to happen, he said, thanks to innovations such as healthcare IT; electronic medical records; telemedicine, pharmacy, lab, and supply chain systems; artificial intelligence and machine and deep learning; and finally, the mobile phone, which Bhide said is the new stethoscope.

“There is a specific inflection point [in medical device innovations] that's occurring because of advances in electronics first,” Bhide said. “There is a lot of advancement that's happening in flexible hybrid printed circuit technology, where these circuits can wrap around your body. There is a tremendous amount of increase in processing at a much lower level of power consumption. We have now 5G. We have Bluetooth,” he continued. “We have a number of networking connectivity, so that devices and sensors could connect to the internet. We can 3-D print parts that are specific to our face or our fingers or our body. The battery technology advancements are also happening where smaller and smaller batteries work across a large temperature range and also hold a charge for a very long time. Then there are other advances in in terms of security and identity protection,” he said.

Bhide spoke about some of the advancements in consumer devices that use sensors, such as a throat scope. “It's nothing but a simple stick, like a pen, and if you are coughing you put it inside [your throat]. It has an LED in front that lights up your inside of your throat and it has a camera that takes a picture and it has Wi-Fi Bluetooth,” Bhide explained, saying that information can then be sent to a physician for diagnosis.

He mentioned other consumer products that incorporate advanced sensors such as a Google contact lens that measures glucose levels through tears, a shake-stabilized spoon for Parkinson’s patients, and tattooed sensors that can measure temperature and other parameters.

Bhide focused the latter part of his presentation mainly on what he called a desperate need for a sensing device for COVID-19. “The Holy Grail of coronavirus is a sensing mechanism,” he said. “A device that can sample ambient air around you, or take a swab or use a breathalyzer [with] rapid results in eight or ten seconds.” The ideal device, he said, would be able to work across several pathogens and mutations, have out-of-sight, out-of-mind technology, and would not violate privacy, unless required by law.

Start-up companies are looking at a variety of SARS-CoV-2 sensing mechanisms, Bhide said. For example, he said electronic biosensors that are based on field effect transistors seem promising.

“Then there are physical biosensors that fall into [categories of] magnetic sensors or piezoelectric sensors,” he said, noting that others include electrochemical (amperometric and voltametric). Completing his list are optical biosensors such as evanescent-wave absorption-based fiber-optic sensors, localized-surface Plasmon-coupled fluorescence fiber-optic biosensors, surface Plasmon resonance using quantum dots, plasmonic fiber-optic absorbance biosensor platform, and localized surface Plasmon resonance sensing.

He also mentioned some nontraditional methods for sensing SARS-CoV-2 that are showing promise, such as electrophoresis, Raman spectroscopy, and dipole movement and phase shift under electric field.

Bhide rounded out his presentation by discussing AI and what it means for medical devices. “These devices could be collectively learning within our society, within our community, the end nodes themselves,” he said. “These consumer devices creating and transmitting data for common good is what is driving the healthcare digital transformation,” he explained. “With AI, you can use statistical techniques to give computer systems the ability to learn. Doctors can then assess the risk and make a correct diagnosis. So, it's not replacing the doctors—it is really working in complement with the doctors to make better judgments.”

Bhide concluded by saying, “Having newer and newer sensors, having advances in electronics and variables in communication, and processing in artificial intelligence—all these planets are now aligned to be able to create the level of experience that we expect that our consumers should have.”

About the Author(s)

Susan Shepard

Susan Shepard is a freelance contributor to Design News and MD+DI.

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