Paul ErricoSemiconductor research and development in the late 20th century was driven by the computing and communications applications such as PCs, handsets and consumer applications. Today, it is increasingly influenced by the demand for ICs that make possible the next generation of medical devices, including those for home use.

Consumer medical products provide people with freedom and mobility to manage and treat diseases as well as support health and wellness initiatives. Who would have thought that devices like the PocketCPR from ZOLL Medical would be available? This palm-sized, portable device shows people uninitiated in the science of administering CPR how to correctly administer the technique to save a life.

PocketCPRTrends Impacting IC Development
There are a number of important trends impacting what IC engineers are developing to enable the consumer medical devices of the future. The first is the aging of the world’s population at an accelerated rate People aged 65 and over now comprise a greater share of the world’s population than ever before.

Another significant trend is the demand for consumer medical devices that can be used in the home to reduce healthcare costs. Today’s medical devices designed for home use can monitor blood pressure, glucose levels, and heart rates, and alert doctors to problems. This eliminates or reduces the need for costly office and hospital visits, and provides big benefits for patients who don’t live near a doctor or hospital.

Latest Semiconductor Technology Breakthroughs
Semiconductors are the technology building blocks that make many of today’s portable medical devices possible. Here are a few examples of recent semiconductor breakthroughs that have enabled advancements in development of consumer healthcare products:

• Sensors and Control –Today’s diagnostic measurement systems are based on integrated solutions for monitoring specific target analytes of clinical relevance. The measurement comprises a sensing layer that recognizes the target analyte and generates a physiochemical signal that is measured by a transducer. An example of this measurement process is detection of blood glucose. Glucose strips contain enzymes that selectively convert glucose to a measurable product. Mixed Signal Processing – This key signal processing block between sensors and computing will digitize and drive transducers. Products such as analog-to-digital converters enable low power, high accuracy systems. Successive approximation register and sigma-delta converters are well suited for the resolution and measurement signal bandwidths required in these diagnostic systems.

• Embedded Processing -- High-performance, low-power, low-cost, secure embedded processing will be necessary to enable compact, battery-powered medical diagnostics and monitoring for use outside clinical environments. DSPs can provide functionality including digital image processing, in addition to wireless (or wired) connectivity for communicating patient data to the physician.

When developers seek more performance while keeping system cost and power consumption to a minimum, a converged DSP and MCU, such as Blackfin is ideal.

By developing innovative ICs, semiconductor companies are improving the quality of healthcare for patients throughout the world. Medical design engineers creating the latest consumer healthcare systems aimed at disease management, health and wellness, and drug delivery are using semiconductors as the foundation to invent products that change lives.

Paul Errico is a strategic marketing manager for Analog Devices' Healthcare Segment Team. Prior to his current position, Paul was responsible for marketing Analog Devices’ thermal and system management products, interface products, and precision and high-speed converters. Paul earned his BSEE from Northeastern University.