Gavin Mintern, Sales Director at Intelliconnect (Europe) explores the evolution of RF wireless and interconnection technology in the medical industry

Along with many everyday pieces of equipment from mobile phones to GPS, electronics in medical equipment is becoming more and more commonplace. With applications such as monitoring and control through to dosiometry and RF ablation the list of RF (radio frequency) driven equipment is ever growing.

Wireless RF technology now greatly benefits from the reduced size of power supplies advanced microprocessor control and the ever-increasing speed of devices.

These continuing developments are reducing the cost and increasing the portability of monitoring equipment, which can be applied to benefit an ever growing and ever ageing population.

All this technology can be embedded into lightweight, portable equipment to enable diagnostics monitoring, remote access (from non-health related centres) and points to the considerable ‘expansion and growth’ for wireless and RF technologies.

There are many applications already  being addressed by RF and wireless technologies which offer ­several advantages now that power consumption, size and weight all lead to extremely portable and reliable equipment.

Radio Frequency also offers other advantages in surgical use as it can be harnessed to produce a highly focused power source that does not burn or damage cell structures around the area of focus. As the increase in the use of RF technologies grows, so too do the demands on the array of interconnection requirements.

Many medical applications demand extremely accurate measurements such as nuclear medicine dosiometry, where double screened triaxial cables are needed.

In a ‘noisy’ signal environment many stray signals could disrupt or corrupt signals with dangerous consequences. Triaxial cables and their connections allow for high integrity signals to be accurately transmitted ensuring patient and equipment safety. 

The need for accurate measurement details to be applied to any piece of equipment- either measuring or dosing nuclear medicine is paramount, and a triaxial system uses a double RF screen to allow very low signal levels to be accurately measured without the risk of spurious interference having a disrupting effect on the signal levels.

RF signals in cochlear implant signal transducer

Increasing demands for miniaturisation as well as demanding environmental conditions such as large numbers of mating cycles and the need to waterproof, have led to the introduction of RF connectors into cochlear implants.

A cochlear implant often referred to as a bionic ear, is a surgically implanted device that enables a severely deaf person to hear again.

The external transmitter (where the connector is required) transmits RF signals through to the implant via a magnetic connection to reduce any chances of any infection.

The transmitter processes the RF signals from the microphones through a speech processor and then into the internal implant, which connects to the cochlear allowing the person to ‘hear’ the sound.

To provide a user-friendly RF connector for the components that are located in the external transmitting/ processing part of the device requires an extremely rugged and reliable custom connector solution.

At last estimates the number of people with implants fitted is close to 200,000 and the demanded reliability of all products needs to be in excess of 99.5 percent, which requires specialist ­connector expertise and experience, in producing reliable designs and products.

The use of RF ablation in the treatment of tumours or other dysfunctional materials is gaining increasing popularity. One of the main reasons for this is that it eliminates the need for procedures to be performed under general anaesthetic, as it does not stimulate nerves or muscles.

RF ablation is applied using high frequency AC current through a probe, the RF increases the temperature within the tumour or material being treated which destroys the target cells without affecting the surrounding tissues.

The various uses RF ablation has been applied to so far include: lung, kidney, breastbone, and liver tumours. It is also used in cardiology to destroy abnormal electrical conductive routes, which cause irregular heartbeat, fluttering and other atrial fibrillations.

Other applications of RF ablation include the treatment of varicose veins, and pain management such as back pain and is now being applied to lesioning and other allied applications.

In all these types of uses, custom RF connectors can be used to supply the correct energy handling, single or multiple use, waterproof sealing, high integrity interconnections that are demanded by this technology.

The use of RF and wireless technology is virtually limitless in the number of applications this can be put to, and patient monitoring is seen as one of the biggest growth areas for RF applications with a growing ageing population.

These devices can be used to monitor vital signs and chronic conditions either within a clinical environment, or remotely over long distances.

Vital signs and serious conditions can be monitored in real time in a hospital environment, and for less severe or chronic conditions then the patient can be remotely monitored from a ­distance via mobile phone technology.

This monitoring equipment for home use by the patient requires miniature RF connector technology with a high degree of reliability and good environmental protection along with the endurance capability to ­perform high numbers of mating cycles.