Plessey Poised for NHS rollout of its award-winning handheld ECG monitor

Plessey Semiconductors

Plessey Semiconductors’ imPulse™ handheld ECG monitor recently won the ‘Healthcare Technology of the Year’ award at the National Technology Awards. The easy-to-use device incorporates Plessey’s patented award-winning EPIC™ sensing technology and has already been enthusiastically received by consultant cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and physiologists, GPs and nurses alike. imPulse™ is CE marked and ready for its launch in September, when it will be rolled out to the UK’s regional Clinical Commissioning Groups.

Aimed at the medical, automotive and industrial sectors, this innovative sensor technology has been creating considerable interest within the medical community, where the primary focus has been on using it for surface body electrode physiology applications, such as electrocardiography (ECG), electromyography (EMG), electroencephalography (EEG) and electrooculography (EOG). Initial studies with the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Bristol University Hospital has shown that the imPulse™ unit can be used to determine cardiac rate and rhythm, and associated disorders.

How the imPulse™ ECG monitor works

When a patient places their thumbs on the imPulse’s sensors, the unit detects an ECG signal. This enables a routine, quick, accurate recording of a lead one ECG signal, without the need for conductive gel or skin preparation, or for a patient to get undressed. The signal is sent to a smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth with software displaying the trace in real-time including automatic indicators if certain features are detected. As well as enabling the ECG trace and heart rate readout to be displayed, data from the sensors will indicate whether the user is at risk of arterial fibrillation – a precursor to heart failure or a stroke.

The portability of imPulse™ is ideal for health monitoring where a patient can’t get to a doctors’ surgery, or needs to monitor a condition periodically. The trace can be saved, emailed and quickly and easily analysed by the doctor or cardiologist. In conjunction with secure cloud data provision from the smartphone or tablet, imPulse™ also paves the way to automated secure home health monitoring.

Design and development

The product design has been a collaborative effort, led by Russell Beard of Square Banana, a product design consultancy based in Cheltenham. Beard’s design approach for imPulse™ created a system that’s comfortable, easy-to-use and visually appealing incorporating Plessey’s EPIC™ technology. The brief was to deliver something that users would feel at home with in both a medical environment as well as for patients’ using the device in their own homes. It had to be compact, robust and operate consistently. At the start of the process the only items on the table were two EPIC™ sensors and a desire to create a product that would revolutionise ECG monitoring.

As part of the design process, Plessey’s imPulse™ team looked at product positioning, user experience, ergonomics and semantics. This enabled them to develop a concept that sat comfortably between consumer products and healthcare, was obvious on how to use and could easily adapt to either medical or domestic environments. The process involved challenging some existing aesthetic conventions around medical products, to ensure the imPulse™ was bold, friendly and incredibly simple to use.

By working with an experienced product design consultancy, these core values of usability, friendliness and simplicity were established at the outset and maintained throughout development. Consequently, the production units retain all the favourable elements identified in the early concept design. At every stage of the design process, the team ensured these elements weren’t compromised. The imPulse unit is testament to that design vision and commitment. This focus will be extended to docking stations, packaging and all future products, to ensure these retain the imPulse’s core values.

Dr Keith Strickland, Plessey’s Chief Technology Officer, explains: “Plessey’s imPulse™ capacitive ECG sensing system is helping identify Atrial Fibrillation (AF) in both primary and secondary healthcare in the UK, to significantly reduce the risk of stroke. We should be seeing the imPulse™ unit in use in the NHS in the near term, and we look forward to continuing to develop many more innovative solutions in the healthcare sector.”

Arterial fibrillation increases someone’s risk of a stroke by 500%, so can have devastating consequences for the person, their family and community. Timely diagnosis, followed by treatment of the condition with anti-coagulants, could save the NHS over £100 million per year. It’s hoped the Plessey imPulse™ will revolutionise early diagnosis.

Besides developing semiconductor products used in sensing, measurement and control applications, Plessey is now at the forefront of the solid-state lighting revolution. Its MaGIC™ (Manufactured on GaN-on-Silicon I/C) LED technology has won numerous awards for its innovation and ability to cut the cost of LED lighting, by using standard silicon manufacturing techniques. Drawing on its understanding of electronics and expertise in micro-electronic product design and manufacture, Plessey is radically enhancing the human experience with micro-electronics solutions that enable people to achieve more than they thought possible.

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