Healthy Market for Components in Portable Medical Devices

Simon Harris, Senior Research Director - Medical Electronics, IMS Research, Wellingborough, UK



Spiralling healthcare costs, the rapidly ageing world population, and the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, are contributing to a greater need for portable, home-use medical devices, such as blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors and insulin pumps. Moreover, as consumers take a more active role in managing their health and fitness, there is a growing demand for affordable, reliable and easy to use devices that measure basic physiological parameters. With annual production volumes in the tens of millions, this market is a sizeable opportunity for component suppliers. IMS Research estimates that the global market for semiconductors and components used in consumer medical devices was worth more than $1bn in 2009. It is an unfortunate fact that as we age our health often deteriorates. According to the Merck Institute of Ageing and Health, the average 75 year old American suffers from 3 chronic conditions and takes 5 prescription medications. The United Nations estimates that by 2050 the proportion of the world's population over sixty will double, which will put an enormous strain on national healthcare systems. Home health technologies, particularly those with remote diagnostics capability, empower elderly people to live independently for longer. Moreover, home monitoring helps to reduce the need for costly physician and hospital visits, thus reducing the burden on healthcare providers. In Europe on average, 37% of people have at least one chronic condition affecting their health, and chronic conditions account for 77% of the total disease burden and up to 86% of all deaths. For people that have been diagnosed with a chronic disease, such as diabetes and hypertension, home-use medical devices are a useful tool to help manage their condition and monitor responses to prescribed medication. Home monitoring is also encouraged by physicians as a great way to help sufferers understand their condition and lifestyle changes that may influence or relieve it. The key design considerations for portable medical devices are low power consumption to prolong battery life, simple user interface, low cost and small form factor. Wireless connectivity is becoming more important as this enables consumers to upload their readings to computers and mobile phones. To fulfil these requirements, design engineers are increasingly using dedicated System-on-Chip (SoC) solutions, where the analogue components are embedded into the MCU, so as to minimise the product size and the cost. When it comes to the power management, there is a trade-off between low power consumption to extend battery life and the need for faster response times and higher functionality. The use of ultra low power microcontrollers and highly integrated power management units are key enablers. Portable medical devices are playing an increasingly important role in improving the effectiveness of healthcare. With shipments set to grow at a double digit rate in the coming years, this market represents a healthy opportunity for component suppliers.