Delivering Healthcare at Low Cost to Vast Populations in Developing Nations Using Wireless Infrastructure - Pivotal Role of Silicon Platforms

Surendar Magar, President and CEO, HMicroHealthcare budget is becoming a major challenge for all nations as populations are aging. Scaling of conventional infrastructure to deliver healthcare is expensive due to its high cost. The infrastructure comprises healthcare givers (physicians, nurses and other staff), medical equipment, and build-up cost of institutions required to deliver healthcare (hospitals, clinics, etc.). For example, United States spends over 18 percent of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) on healthcare. The high cost of this conventional healthcare infrastructure particularly prohibits the delivery of healthcare to vast populations in developing nations such as India. Countrywide build-up of hospitals/clinics, staffing it with physicians/nurses and equipping them with medical equipment is simply not practical. A new paradigm based on modern technology must be found to make the healthcare scalable to masses at relatively low cost, and efficiently using available physician/nursing resources by supplementing them with moderately trained lower cost nursing staff. A lesson can be learnt from the deployment and gains derived from the advances in wireless telecommunication systems. India’s populations rapidly gained access to telephones and Internet with the advent of wireless infrastructure (displacing expensive and hard-to-build landlines). Various types of services became available to masses on smart phones delivered from the Cloud.Similar structure must be deployed to deliver healthcare.

Diagnosis and management of chronic diseases (e.g. cardiovascular problems and diabetes) and treatment of complications caused by it is a major part of healthcare cost. As a first step, low cost monitoring of vital signs of populations is needed for the diagnosis and disease management. It requires monitoring of signals such as heart rhythm (HR), electrocardiograph (ECG), respiration rate (RR), body temperature, blood oxidation (SpO2), blood pressure (BP), and blood glucose. Fully disposable, wearable, low cost wireless patches that can reliably monitor such signals with clinical accuracy are the key to enable such monitoring. These patches must deliver vital sign signals to infrastructure devices such as mobile phones and access points for transmission to cloud. Analytics can be performed on the infrastructure devices or on a remote server in the cloud to determine appropriate clinical actions. A variety of commonly used analytics such as Holter
analysis is already available that can be moved to the cloud for wide raccess. Over time, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) based systems will grow in analyzing vital signs collected from populations via patches,resulting in higher diagnosis reliability and bigger cost advantages.

Healthcare-centric silicon platforms will also play a transformative role in healthcare industry by making wireless disposable patches a reality in high volumes enabling new paradigm of healthcare

Disposable wireless patches for key vital signs monitoring, as described above, is a critical technology related gating item to enable this new paradigm of healthcare delivery. Billions of monitoring patches can be eventually consumed per year for health management provided that certain key criteria for the patches is met – ability to continuously sense key vital signs from the body at clinical accuracy, on-patch processing of vital sign signals, reliable wireless transmission of processed signals from the patch, and all this in a disposable low-cost device that can continuously work for several days. Such patches can only be made possible by purpose-built silicon platforms that combine all the needed functions in a single low-cost chip. The platform must include several key sensor interfaces, application microprocessors, highly reliable radio subsystem, and a power management subsystem that allows operation using low cost disposable batteries for many days. Targeted silicon platforms have caused many historic revolutions over time-from super computers, laptops, smartphones, and mobile devices to HDTV. Healthcare centric silicon platforms will also play a transformative role in healthcare industry by making wireless disposable patches a reality in high volumes enabling new paradigm of healthcare.

With clinical disposable patches, it becomes possible to treat and monitor patients in lower cost settings such as community centers and homes (such as Primary Healthcare Center or PHC/Sub Center in India). Such care can be managed largely by lower-cost nursing staff such as Anganwadi workers in India in coordination with small physician/ nursing staff. The patches will also vastly increase the use of monitoring in hospitals resulting in patient safety and better outcomes. Since current patient monitoring equipment is relatively expensive (such as bedside patient monitors), many patients go unmonitored in hospitals in developing countries (such as community or government hospitals). By using disposable patches, patient’s vital signals can be captured via standard wireless access points on servers and processed in the cloud. The signals can be displayed on low cost displays at patient bed side, central nursing stations or in physician’s offices on mobile devices or displays. These low-cost monitoring methods will greatly help to diagnose patients and manage chronic diseases at far lower cost.

Further more, as overall awareness of health issues is increasing in the general populations, individuals are taking greater responsibility for their own well-being; more and more peopleusing wearable monitoring devices such as fitness bands. The scope of such devices is limited but can be expanded by supplementing them with disposable or reusable clinical-grade patches for consumers to keep an eye on clinical aspects of their health. Over time, these preventive health measureswill result in dramatic reductions in healthcare cost as individuals would avoid or delay the onset of chronic diseases and need less expensive treatment. In summary, the advent of clinical-quality low-cost wireless disposable patches that are coupled to cloud/analytics via mobile devices and wireless access points will be a game changer – enabling high quality low-cost healthcare delivery to masses. HMicro has immensely believed in this vision for years and dedicated itself to help make a difference.