The medical sensor market is on a tear, and its growth is being driven by an aging population that’s hungry for devices that can help them monitor and manage everything from chronic diseases to cardiovascular issues to diabetes. Used to detect and measure physical functions, convert those functions into electronic signals, and then allow those signals to be measured and recorded, medical sensors are being incorporated into a broad range of wearable devices, diagnostic tools, ingestibles, and implants.
With the number of people above the age of 65 currently at 617 million—a number that’s on track to hit 1.6 billion by 2050, according to The National Institute on Aging—manufacturers are working to develop sensor-based tools to meet the needs of that aging population. In its latest market report on medical sensors, Coherent Market Insights says the market is “majorly directed by the increased demand for medical sensors in diagnostic and therapeutic segments.”
“The medical sensor monitor adds value to the healthcare professional to alert critical deviations, which are recorded in vital signs,” the report continues, noting that medical sensors have become a universal segment of the technologically advanced and digital medical devices. “There is a significant increase in the development of implantable and wearable medical devices, which facilitate the awareness about medical devices this leads to the increased use of sensors.”
Key Market Players
Currently, the key manufacturers in the medical sensor space include Analog Devices Inc., Broadcom Limited, Danaher, LORD Corporation, Honeywell International Inc., OmniVision Technologies Inc., and GE Measurement & Control, according to Coherent Market Insights. Many of these firms are focused on portability, or how to make their sensor-based technology as portable and usable as possible without the need for a hospital stay or repeated visits to the doctor.
“Beyond diagnostics, the need for equipment that can monitor conditions and administer care is also increasing with an aging population,” TT Electronics’ Walter Garcia Brooks writes in Integration Drives the Future of Portable Healthcare Devices. “Often this requires a patient to visit a hospital for treatment but it is becoming more viable to provide this care in the patient's own home.
Brooks notes that connectivity is another important factor in this “new era” of home healthcare. The ability for devices of all types to connect to the Internet (IoT), means that home healthcare equipment can be in constant contact with a professional healthcare provider. “All of the patient's statistics can be accessed remotely,” Brooks writes, adding that portable equipment requires optical sensors that consume minimal power while being highly integrated and as small as possible, “while the equipment itself can raise an alarm if it detects anything that might cause concern.”
Medical Sensors Come of Age
In Demand for smaller, more portable medical devices is driving innovation in sensor technologies, Honeywell’s Tomoko Fujiwara highlights how embedded devices such as pressure sensors, are “advancing in many ways to better meet the needs and challenges of designing smaller medical devices.” For example, he says that advanced low-cost basic pressure sensors have become a valuable commodity, “specifically with engineers who need to design and create low-cost, high-volume assemblies in the healthcare sector.”
Fujiwara points out that even as devices become smaller for increased portability, users expect these systems will maintain functionality and accuracy. “And to design small, yet accurate, medical devices, component parts such as sensors must also offer robust features at a low cost,” he writes. “However, higher degrees of accuracy usually mean higher price tags, which isn’t ideal for low-cost, high-volume applications.”
As sensor and equipment manufacturers continue to work through these and other challenges, Brooks remains bullish on the sector’s potential. “There is growing demand for smaller and more portable medical equipment designed for use in the home. This, in turn, is creating demand for smaller and more highly integrated sensing solutions,” Brooks writes. “With a focus on reliability, simplicity, and flexibility, the optical sensors are helping to drive the development of devices specifically for the home healthcare market.”