Integrated healthcare is revolutionizing the way we approach patient care, and at the heart of this innovation lies an apparently benign but game-changing material: semiconductors.
By harnessing the power of sand – the natural source of silicon, the most common of the semiconductors – and the tiny but mighty “chips” it goes into, we’re unlocking a world of holistic healthcare and diagnostic capabilities like never before.
FitBits and smartwatches with built-in heart rate sensors represented some of the earliest renditions of medical wearables, and they’ve come a long way. The latest Apple Watch can track blood oxygen and glucose levels, ECG-based heart rate, etc., alongside overall activity and medications – and it’s no gimmick. A newbie smart wearable already measures clinical grade, bio-impedance-based body composition like muscle and fat mass, hydration level, skin hydration, and a few other parameters with direct bearing on the heart and kidney functioning. Hitherto all these were only possible with large, immobile, and costly machines available in high-end gyms and hospitals. Wearables are increasing patient health engagement so much that they’re expected to cut hospital costs by 16% over the next five years, an astounding number that becomes even more eye-opening when you recognize that the medical sensors contained in these devices barely scratch the surface of what semiconductors are capable of doing.
The connected healthcare ecosystem is predictive, preventative, personalized, and participatory. It’s a combination of technologies, including 5G, cloud-based “Internet of Things” (IoT), robotics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI), all built on a foundation of semiconductors. The “lab-on–a-chip” concept is the culmination of many of these technologies, set to give individuals access to an entire high-end medical laboratory through a wearable device, but the future of care goes beyond at-home monitoring. The advancements of these technologies, both holistically and individually, have set the stage for some extraordinary opportunities in integrated health.
Revolutionary devices like a “Smart Pill” are already in their early stages, using sensors and tiny cameras to wirelessly track vitals, detect diseases, and monitor health concerns from inside the body. Caltech researchers recently introduced a new prototype whose location can be precisely identified within the body, marking a major milestone in its development. As tech continues advancing, the components necessary to produce such a pill are expected to continue being miniaturized and gaining new capabilities, making the notion even more promising. And, even for those who feel uneasy about biomedical engineering, integrated healthcare poses completely non-invasive possibilities.
With remote diagnostics and virtual emergency support, many important services are set to be more accessible and affordable for underserved and hard-to-reach populations than ever. Plus, the geographical reach of this technology will continue widening further with the help of satellite communications from providers like Starlink, which can achieve near-5G latencies essential for real-time operations.
Combine that with robotics, real-time data analysis, and AI, and doctors can perform surgery from another room or across the ocean, bringing emergency and critical care to every nook and corner of the globe. Not only can these services save lives, but integrated healthcare can improve life expectancy by hastening the diagnostic and triage process for conditions like strokes, which require immediate specialty care to minimize permanent complications like brain damage — and the list goes on.
The continued expansion of telehealth alongside the development of 5G networks will guide the rollout of integrated healthcare technology, but it’s the yet-to-be-realized power of AI, big data, and supercomputing that’s set to totally reshape the healthcare ecosystem. For instance, high-fidelity haptics will help restore the “sense of touch” currently lacking to a great extent from telesurgery, but it will take far more powerful semiconductor chips and more reliable 5G networks to carry and process that humongous amount of data across the distance.
In the grand scheme of things, medical devices will become more and more like supercomputers, widening the possibilities beyond anything previously imagined. As these innovations are underway, companies like Quest Global, which have been already providing various engineering services to the healthcare industry for decades and are quick enough to enter the healthcare semiconductor space, find themselves on the cutting edge. With the capacity to continue expanding its lead over the late-to-the-game competitors, they’re in the best position to tap into integrated healthcare’s potential.