Time to take wearables more seriously, says Maxim
December 11, 2018
Consumer wearable devices are moving from being little more than toys to clinically approved serious medical devices, believes Andrew Baker (pictured), managing director for business management at Maxim Integrated, speaking at last month’s Electronica trade show in Munich.
“Rather than the Fitbit and step trackers, we are talking about really useful clinical information for doctors and clinicians,” he said.
The annual worldwide spend, he said, on healthcare was about $9tn, or around ten per cent of GDP. And this was growing at a faster rate than inflation.
“Healthcare providers and insurance companies are looking at ways to slow down this growth,” said Baker. “One is to use technology to address some of the issues.”
Among the ways to achieve this is concentrating on prevention and early detection rather than waiting for something to happen.
“If you already have a clinical disease such as diabetes, there are concrete ways to manage the disease to give a better outcome,” he said. “An example is a continuous glucose monitor. These exist and are making people’s lives easier.”
He said the trend was moving from going to somewhere, such as a hospital or doctor’s surgery, to get care when you were ill to having wearables continuously monitoring people so they could get care earlier.
“Consumer devices are getting more clinically focused,” he said. “Some of these are regulatory approved; they are not toys. They give real clinical value. The information is really useful rather than just the number of steps you do.”
Maxim is a California-based chip company that is developing four main technology platforms to help companies create clinically accurate wearables.
The first is its Bio-Z technology for measuring the impedance of the body. This can be used for measuring fat content, for example. Secondly are monitors for temperature, the most measured bio sign on the body.
The third technology is optical.
“People want technology to be convenient and pain free,” said Baker. “If you have to stick something into your body, compliance will fall, so you want to do the measurements an unobtrusively as you can.”
One way to do that is by optically looking at tissue and blood using methods such as photoplethysmogram (PPG). This illuminates the skin and measure changes in light absorption.
“It can measure heart rate and heart rate variability,” said Baker. “The more variable your heart rate, the more healthy you are. There is still innovation to be done before glucose can be measured optically, but there are things you can do.”
The fourth Maxim technology is PMIC, a power management circuit to help reduce quiescent current and increase efficiency. This can improve battery life significantly.
Maxim’s latest health platform is in a wrist-worn form factor. This is a full reference design that is modular and can be used to develop medical wearables.
• Designers of small, battery-powered electronics can enhance the user experience by extending battery life and shrinking device size with six low-power power-management integrated circuits (PMICs) from Maxim. The Max 17270, 77278, 77640, 77641, 77680 and 77681 help reduce the power-management footprint by up to half for space-constrained products such as wearables, hearables, sensors, smart-home automation hubs and IoT devices. They are said to increase overall system efficiency while also reducing heat dissipation, an important consideration for wearable products that make skin contact.