How Embedded Systems have Transformed the Healthcare Industry With Biomedical Applications

Think about living in the 1950s. Color television was introduced. The auto industry was experimenting with their new concept of “the sports car.” And the medical industry was making its biggest strides to date. The antibiotic erythromycin was launched commercially by Eli Lilly; Jonas Salk announced his polio vaccine, the first open-heart surgery was performed using the heart-lung machine developed by John H. Gibbon Jr. and the FDA approved BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) as a food preservative. (Coincidentally, McDonald’s was franchised that same year.)
While these all mark large strides in the medical industry, there was still a great deal that was unknown. Medical equipment was large, cumbersome and expensive. Not all practitioners had access to these devices, and as such medical diagnosis was slow coming and cumbersome. Doctors relied on the description from the patient and their observation of symptoms to make a diagnosis and prescribe medicine. Not very scientific.
Fortunately for us, advancements in medical technology have far exceeded the expectations of medical practitioners who practiced in the 1950s. Scientists, researchers, and engineers have developed large-scale medical machines like ECG, CT scanners, MRI, X-ray, electronic defibrillators - these machines take images of bones, tissue and the structure and movement of the body’s organs. Even though these medical devices range in size from a breadbox to a china cabinet, they do contain the same embedded technology powers the electronics in your car and your wearable technology - yes embedded systems. Recent advances in embedded systems technology are rapidly transforming healthcare solutions. Thanks to the progress in embedded technology and IoT (Internet of Things); we are headed to a future of smaller, smarter, wearable and connected medical devices.
You may not realize it, but embedded systems have long been part of the development of medical devices and the reason for the vast improvements in the technology. These devices are smaller and more portable than ever. Smart devices like blood pressure monitors and glucose monitors are allowing patients to proactively monitor their medical conditions from anywhere. Gone are the times when they were required to go to the hospital or even their home for daily tests. On top of that, medical devices are shrinking in size from cart-sized heavy machines to lightweight handheld devices to implanted devices that are smaller than a matchbook.

How Embedded Systems are Being Used for Biomedical Applications

There are many ways that doctors have been able to adopt embedded systems for biomedical purposes. With the IoT (Internet of Things) becoming ever more connected, doctors are now able to remotely monitor their patients. Embedded devices are also able to help patients treat themselves and can be used for preventative medicine. Prosthetic technicians have also been able to make their prosthetics more advanced. These are the most revolutionary uses of embedded systems in the healthcare industry.

Preventative Care through Biomedical Sensors

With the aid of smart embedded technology-based medical devices, casual users can now be more proactive about their personal health. Smart devices enable users to continuously monitor their heart rate, blood pressure, glucose levels, weight and various other parameters. It is also worth mentioning that embedded technology-based devices are now coming with better connectivity and it is possible to seamlessly transmit data collected by these wearable devices to doctors. These are some of the most useful devices that doctors have at their disposal.

Pacemakers

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in developing countries. Embedded systems in pacemakers are able to sense heartbeats and track heart health. In many ways, the advanced embedded systems in pacemakers have made them mobile EKGs. The sensors in the pacemakers are able to record all of this information. Doctors will be able to analyze the information from the pacemakers and adjust their plan of care for their patients.

Glucose Monitors

For people who struggle with diabetes, monitoring your blood sugar can be a pain, literally. It's painful to constantly prick your finger to test your blood sugar. However, embedded systems have taken this pain away through continuous glucose monitors. With a small sensor inserted under the skin, the sensor will regularly send the blood sugar levels to a smartphone or other device that the diabetic can regularly check. This way, they can monitor their glucose and prevent spikes in blood sugar or hypoglycemia. With these monitors, diabetics can better manage their disease.

Fitness Trackers

Fitness trackers such as Fitbits are embedded systems that are able to track weight, activity levels, and even body composition. This is extremely helpful to individuals that are working with their doctors to lose weight and live a healthier life. Doctors can analyze the information provided by the fitness tracker about individual's daily activities. From here doctors can adjust treatment and fitness plan of their patients to help them reach their fitness goals in a healthy way.

CPAP Machines

The Internet of Things can help doctors and nurses track the sleeping schedules of people who struggle with sleep apnea. These advanced CPAP machines are able to then communicate when the patient has not been sleeping well to their doctor automatically. If a doctor notices that the patient has had numerous difficult nights, they can reach out to their patient to ensure that they are doing well or if their treatment needs to be changed in any way to ensure that they are sleeping properly.

Clinical Care Through Embedded Systems

Hospitalized patients that require constant attention can be monitored using embedded technology, noninvasive monitoring. Equipped with accurate sensors and powerful processors, these devices can collect comprehensive physiological information and send it wirelessly to the doctors or caregivers for further analysis. In short, embedded technology-based monitoring equipment are replacing the need for having a doctor come by and check the patient’s vital signs. It is not only improving the quality of healthcare but also reducing the cost of care by providing an automated and continuous flow of health-related information. These are some of the systems that healthcare professionals can use to care for patients while they are in the hospital.

Smart Hospital Beds

Healthcare technology has been improving in the form of hospital beds. Developers have been creating what could be referred to as "Smart Hospital Beds" The hospital beds can let nurses know when their patients are attempting to out of bed or if they are moving around. Also, there are sensors that are embedded into the bed are able to intuitively adjust the bed to help provide the appropriate pressure and support to keep patients as comfortable as possible while they are lying in bed. These hospital beds allow nurses to know what their patients are doing without needing to be physically watching them.

Clinical Monitoring

Noninvasive embedded monitoring technology can be used to help doctors constantly monitor their patients. The sensors are then able to communicate this information to a separate device. This way, they are able to receive constant information about their patients without needing to physically be in their presence. These sensors can also inform nurses and doctors when their patient is in need of immediate help. These embedded systems have been able to save time and energy for medical professionals so that they can prioritize time in between their patients.

Remote Patient Monitoring

People are living increasingly busier lives. They don’t have time to visit the doctor or drive a loved-one to see the physician on a daily basis. But, smart, small and powerful monitoring devices powered by embedded technology and connected with the help of IoT are helping these people monitor and treat their health conditions. These devices, mostly in the form of wearables, analyze the health-related data and share it with medical professionals who can respond with the appropriate recommendations. As a result, such patients are less likely to develop complications in the future.

Prosthetics and Embedded Systems

Losing a limb is an extremely difficult experience. It can be difficult for someone who is used to having a leg or an arm now figure out how to live life with a prosthetic limb. However prosthetic developers and technicians are working to create embedded systems that will make prosthetics easier to use. Right now, prosthetic developers are working to create embedded systems that can work with your neural pathways so that your brain can automatically move prosthetic limbs, just like your brain is able to use your biological limbs (Think Luke Skywalker's prosthetic arm). This will make prosthetics so much easier to use and will make life much easier for anyone who has lost a limb.

The Future of Embedded Systems with Biomedical Applications

In addition, there is an emerging class of embedded technology-based medical device that are taking things to the next level. These devices are can automatically deliver measured doses of drugs based on the person’s health condition. Or they can be worn inside your undergarments and be used to detect breast cancer.
The future of embedded technology-based medical devices couldn’t be brighter. With the convergence of IoT, the influence of embedded systems in healthcare is all set to soar higher. It is important for the hardware and the embedded software to work together to improve the healthcare system.
Don’t be surprised that if in the next decade newborn babies get a tattoo smaller than a postage stamp that is an integrated circuit (IC) designed to monitor biometric parameters. The collected data would be accessible to the pediatricians and parents on a real-time basis through smartphone apps.
It doesn’t end there. Another report indicates that in a few decades from now, a microbot could perform an array of surgical procedures. From removing blockages to collecting cell samples, this miniature robot, inserted into a patient’s artery through a small incision, can even carry a tiny camera to give doctors a view into the patient’s body. It might sound a lot like the science fiction movie “Inner Space” but with advances in embedded technology; it is all very real.