Microcontrollers for Medicine – Part I

25 Apr
The building of the musium of traditional medical equipments in Japan (wikimedia)

Healthcare is becoming more demanding by the hour…. probably by the minute. Natural calamities and resultant man-made disasters contribute heavily to those diseases which were unheard of in the past. Pollution, so called global warming, receding forest density…. you may add to the list and would not stop for the next few hours…. so long is the list of contributors to diseases and deformities.

As if this is not enough, hospitalisation expenses climb the Himalayas faster than petroleum prices.

Fine…… let us stop the negativities today and now.

It is imperative that we know what has been done by our engineers’ fraternity about all this.

You are right, it is a doctor’s job.

However, can you  imagine your physician without a thermometer and a stethoscope or a blood pressure apparatus?

It is we , the engineers who devise such medical equipment from a simple thermometer to a MRI scanner. Engineers put their heart and soul in these products which result in ultimate patient care and hence makes the job of the medical community easier.

Now, coming to the point,

How are microcontrollers used in medicine?

Sensing and detection

Patient vital signs such as ECG, Blood Pressure, Oxygen Saturation, Temperature, etc, are measured by analog-rich mixed signal microcontrollers. These microcontrollers have in-built ADCs which convert these vital sign analog information into digital data. Internal processing with digital filters designed through embedded firmware, filter out unwanted noise and remove those components which may give rise to false alarms. 

This clean data, then, is processed to find various vital values such as Heart Rate, Oxygen Saturation, Blood Pressure, etc.

Each of these measured and deduced data are stored in flash and eeprom memory for data logging. 

After doing all these, microcontrollers display these values in the right display formats. For long-term patients, the clinician can monitor these data as trending graph for periods of upto past 3 to 5 days. 

Clinical decision making is made simple by monitoring and reviewing the stored data. 

To be continued…

Next in Part II : Pain Management and Physiotherapy

(DesignSpark 16/03/11)


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