How Medical Embedded Systems Transformed the Healthcare Industry

An embedded system is a mix of hardware and software that works as a computing system within a larger system. The embedded system dates back to aeronautics in the 1960s when astronauts used Charles Stark Draper’s integrated circuit to collect flight data in real time. Since then, and with the explosive growth of technology and cloud computing, embedded technologies have been introduced in nearly every field of work. In the healthcare industry, embedded systems have come a long way to supplement patient care.

Rather than a check-up and a diagnosis, doctors can use medical equipment to further analyze the patient’s symptoms. Scientists, researchers, and medical professionals have worked together for years to create the highest quality equipment possible. MRI machines, X-ray technology, ECG machines, and CT scanners are just a few medical devices that implement embedded technologies nowadays.

So what are medical embedded systems?

Similar to embedded systems in other industries, medical embedded systems are allowing patients to monitor their health from home, and they also make for stronger understanding between patients and healthcare professionals. Devices are getting smaller and smarter, making them easier to use and easier to understand.

Medical devices can be intimidating and daunting to use. Making them more streamlined and efficient for patients makes their overall healthcare experience more positive. The Internet of Things (IoT) has seen exponential growth in recent years, in part due to the fact that smart technology simply makes things easier. So how are healthcare professionals using it? They are keeping doctors more attuned to their patients’ health and they are keeping patients more aware of their own health.

medical embedded system Image courtesy of Pixabay Application of an embedded system in the medical field

Track your own health

Being able to monitor your own health gives you the tools you need to more fully understand what is going on in your body and how you can help it. Medical equipment such as glucose monitors can aid those with diabetes in keeping an eye on their blood sugar levels, something that is crucial for diabetic health.

Instead of the constant finger pricks to test blood sugar, a small sensor can be inserted underneath the skin that provides a consistent read on glucose levels. The information from the sensor will be sent to your smartphone or another connected device for you to check at any time.

Fitness trackers work similarly, though they aren’t inserted underneath the skin. Embedded technologies in Apple Watches and Fitbits can track your heart rate, activity levels, and body composition to keep you aware of whether or not you are meeting your fitness goals. If your doctor asks you to lose a certain amount of weight, this technology can hold you accountable and track progress to your goals. Through the use of connected apps, you can also receive tips on nutrition and different ways to modify your workouts to maximize your abilities.

Remote monitoring

Having the ability to analyze patient information is helping doctors more accurately detect when new issues or imbalances arise. In recent years, medical embedded systems such as pacemakers have changed the outlook on cardiac health. Essentially, the embedded technology in the pacemakers makes them work as a mobile EKG machine; the sensors alert doctors to inconsistent heartbeats and they also offer a full report on the health of the patient’s heart.

Similar to the health app on iPhones or the sensors in watches with embedded technologies, but more advanced, are the modern CPAP machines. Healthcare professionals can monitor the sleep schedules of patients with sleep apnea outside of the hospital. The machine goes home with the patient, but the sensors in it notify the doctor about poor sleep habits so the doctor can then reach out to his or her patient to find a solution.

In the hospital, a bed is no longer a bed — now, it’s a smart bed. Self-monitoring patients throughout the night can be time-consuming and tedious. To help nurses maximize their time with patients, smart beds can sense when a patient needs to be readjusted and the intelligent programming in it will make the adjustments automatically. If a patient is moving a lot or trying to get out of bed, this will send a notification to the nurse’s connected device to come to the right room at the right time to check on the patient.

While some medical embedded systems are within the hospital, others are taken home. Their portable nature is extremely helpful for the patient, and though doctors do get notified of fluctuations in health, the patient also has a responsibility to properly track and maintain their health. The purpose of the advanced technology and wearable devices is to allow patients the freedom to live their daily lives and not have to take time out to get checked up as frequently.

Prosthetics and embedded sensors

Intuitively connected devices are now helping researching and healthcare professionals make strides in the world of prosthetics. Losing a limb is a painful, difficult time for a patient. They must learn how to function without it, they experience phantom limb, and if they choose to wear a prosthetic, they must adjust to the new appendage.

Medical embedded technologies have been changing the way patients adapt to a fabricated limb. Usually, the frustration lies in the fact that it’s hard to tell a limb not connected to your brain how to move. With embedded systems, healthcare professionals and researchers can study neurotransmissions from an implanted neuromusculoskeletal interface to track sensory feedback. The information allows prosthetic developers to track a patient’s prosthetic control and motor intent. The bioelectric signals can then help adjust prosthetic functionality and make them more reliable for day-to-day tasks. It also makes for a more comfortable experience for the patient and puts their wellbeing at the center of the process.

Smart technology and clinical care

A big takeaway from all this is that healthcare is adapting to the shift of connected devices and the Internet of Things, but it is by no means removing the need for healthcare professionals.

Medical equipment needs to advance with technology to better detect patient symptoms and allow doctors to analyze those symptoms based on reports. The smart technology makes for more accurate readings of health and can make adjustments for patients with minimal human intervention, but this does not mean humans are not a necessary part of the applications. Doctors and nurses are using medical embedded systems to supplement their work and make for stronger, more well rounded patient care. They are more in touch with what their patient needs at more precise times. They can find abnormalities faster and detect potential trauma sooner.

Preventative care is proactive care. Smart technology can sense differences in the body much sooner than a patient might feel the symptoms. Embedded systems provide patients with a better understanding of their personal health and can thus help them pay more attention to what they need to be doing to care for their bodies.

Embedded, connected devices track medical conditions from anywhere and can allow patients to live a balanced life, free from constant doctor’s visits and trial and error medications.

Conclusion

Technicians, medical professionals, and engineers are seeking improvements to patient health daily. Monitoring devices are becoming more compact and easy to use. Sensors and pacemakers are getting smarter. The healthcare industry is making strides to improve the accessibility and proactivity of medical equipment. There is less room for error and more room for growth when doctors, nurses, and patients use embedded systems to stay attuned to their health.