Qualcomm teams with Benchmark Electronics on wearable patches to monitor vital signs

Qualcomm Inc. is rolling out a technology blueprint for building connected, disposable patches for monitoring vital signs for patients in hospitals and medical clinics.

The San Diego wireless giant said Wednesday it is teaming up with contract manufacturer Benchmark Electronics Inc. to deliver low-cost vital signs patches — akin to network-connected Band-Aids.

“A patient walks in the door, the first thing that happens is a patch is placed on them,” said Rick Valencia, head of Qualcomm Life, the company’s wireless healthcare arm. “So hospitals and clinics are already beginning to capture vital signs and biometric data from the patient.”

Several companies make wearable patches for uses as diverse as monitoring athletic activity and delivering time-release drugs.

To date, however, connected patches have cost too much to be widely adopted in hospitals and clinics, Valencia said. In a recent study, Persistence Market Research of New York cited the high costs of manufacturing and designing medical patches as a “major restraint” on the market.

“They are so expensive that they are primarily used in research environments and not in the general practice of medicine,” Valencia said. “So what we are trying to do is create a model — through the design that we have created — that drives the cost way down.”

Valencia would not reveal what the patches would cost. But Qualcomm and Benchmark think the market can grow to billions of patches if the price is right.

“In order for it to be that big and disposable, it has to be orders or magnitude cheaper than the cheapest thing you can find on the market today,” Valencia said.

Qualcomm’s blueprint — known as a reference design — is for a patch that would transmit data via low-energy Bluetooth to Qualcomm’s cloud-based 2net network, which is approved for medical use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and meets healthcare privacy requirements. 2net would deliver the data to the hospital’s medical records systems.

Benchmark Electronics has licensed the reference design and is pursuing FDA approval for the patches, which initially would monitor temperature and motion, including gait and other aspects of movement.

“This collaboration aligns with our mission to deliver high-value solutions and innovative technology for our customers,” Paul Tufano, chief executive of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Benchmark Electronics, said in a statement.

The patches are slated to be commercially available through Benchmark in 2018. As sensor technology improves, the patches eventually could monitor other key vital signs, such as heart rate, Valencia said.

“We have 2,500-plus hospital customers that are using our [2net] platform to get data from patients into their clinical information systems,” Valencia said. “They’re calling for access to more data so they can manage their patients more continuously — not just in the emergency room but wherever they are in the hospital. We are trying to help seed that market.”

Freeman writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

mike.freeman@sduniontribune.com

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