VIENNA — The first impression of one showroom display at the World of Health IT gathering here was like looking at the hottest, freshest necklace worn by a rapper, not the leading edge of wireless technologies for medical devices.

But a chunky processor chip dangling like a medallion from two suction cups on the chest of a manikin did suggest that comparison, and it drew curious looks at the Oracle (Redwood City, California) booth.

“This was our first generation,” Richard McPartland, product manager for Toumaz Technology (Milton Park, UK), told Medical Device Daily, demonstrating the Sensium chip, a generic wireless sensor platform designed to work with a wide-range of body-worn physical and biochemical sensors.

More scientist than showman, McPartland held up a jewel box holding the new generation chip that shrinks the rapper medallion-like thing down to a nearly invisible black wafer 6 mm square.

Toumaz’s patented AMxTM signal-processing technology works in the last three feet of connectivity between an individual patient and the hospital network, said McPartland, connecting ultra-low-power signals from the chip to smart phones, laptop computers or wall-mounted detectors.

Sensium sends a proprietary signal that uses neither Bluetooth nor radio frequency identification protocols. The second-generation Sensium is detectable up to 30 feet, and the chip can store data for short periods when the patient moves out of range. The Sensium chip draws from 10 to 100 times less power, depending on the sensor, than conventional digital processing based on software.

For the demonstration of continuous ECG readings from McPartland himself, the receiving unit was a hand-held PDA loaded with Oracle-Lite software to treat and store the data for continuous cycles of synchronization with a server.

In a real-world setting, the server would convert the patient data to Health Language Seven-compliant messaging to be shared across multiple clinical systems through the Oracle Health Transaction Database.

“There is a lot of interest for medical devices with low-power transmission and signal processing,” said McPartland, as evidence-based medicine pushes a standard for continuous readings of vital signs rather than one-shot readings.

The chip is currently available in a kit Toumaz sells to developers at medical device companies that are integrating the unit into product prototypes.

Toumaz is developing several products using the kit as well, McPartland said, peeling off the backing of a prototype disposable “plaster” rigged with an antenna. “I think you call it a Band-Aid, but legally we cannot use the word,” he said, adding that in England it is called a plaster.

“It is really a non-intrusive, low-cost manner of continually monitoring long-term conditions,” he said.

The stick-on patch developed by Toumaz can be adapted to carry different types of sensors for vitals signs, such as heart rate or temperature, and for motion.

“The motion detector is very useful to qualify other vital signs,” McPartland said. “For example, taking one parameter, such as heart rate, if we know the patient’s weight and his motion, we can estimate calorie burn. Or if the heart rate signals an alert, we can see whether the individual just ran up the steps or has been sleeping.

“We prefer to say ‘mobile individual’ rather than patient,” McPartland explained.

Adverse patient events and irregularities — determined by data-exceeding parameters set by the patient’s caregiver, can be identified for alerts using the data processing onboard the Sensium platform.

Key to product design is the battery, he said, holding up a slip of black paper, called PowerPaper, capable of powering the transmission of body temperature every 10 minutes for one year.

More power-intensive applications, such as continuous ECG monitoring requires the strength of a commercially available hearing aid battery, “smaller than a shirt button,” McPartland said.

The Sensium is bi-directional, continuously sending acknowledgements for data packets, which “creates a significant advantage for generating validated data that is very robust and reliable,” he said.

McPartland said none of the devices demonstrated have received a CE mark but that clinical trials are set for early ‘08 for fetal heart rate monitoring at the 36th week of pregnancy.

— John Brosky, European Editor