Analog Angle Article

Health care is hot, and that’s very good for analog

There's lots of action in health-care related instrumentation, due to various factors: technology advances, better and cheaper transducers (MEMS and others), user demand, people wanting to take more control of the medical situation—the list goes on, and I'm in no position to assess the relative weights of the many factors; nor does it matter here.

But one thing is clear: forget about health care “IT” (digitizing of records, for example); the real design action and opportunity for component OEMs and product developers/designers is in all sorts of non-invasive and invasive instrumentation, The former category is especially interesting, since it also includes “do it yourself” at-home units. You can get a pretty good, very easy-to-use, battery-operated blood-pressure meter for around $50, for example. There are even hand-held ultrasonic scanners offered for professional use; I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon see them sold to average Joe or Jane to use at home (not sure for what or how, but that's another story).

Critical to most of these units are the transducers which measure our old “friends”–namely, temperature and pressure”– as well as other parameters. As analog engineers know, the transducers don’t connect directly to ADCs and processors in most cases; they instead need signal-conditioning and interface circuitry tailored to their unique characteristics. Talk about opportunity! The analog vendors know this, and some of them have established formal marketing/design groups focused on this market segment, as they have done for other markets (auto, communications, and so on).

They have also started producing lots of good, application-focused design guides, spanning general block diagram which show where their parts can be used, to specific circuits and reference designs. For example, we have these from Maxim, Texas Instruments, and Analog Devices, to name just three (this is NOT a comprehensive list).

Once again, analog is turning to its roots of real-world signal interfacing. What's old is still quite viable, and, in fact, increasingly so. I say, “thank you, laws of physics.” ♦

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