Intended for healthcare professionals

Hospitals Of The Future

Sensors in medicine

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 13 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1288
  1. Charles B Wilson, director (
  1. Institute for the Future, Menlo Park, CA 94025-7020, USA
  1. Correspondence to: Department of Neurosurgery, University of California at San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-0350, USA

    Sensors are devices that detect physical, chemical, and biological signals and provide a way for those signals to be measured and recorded.1 Physical properties that can be sensed include temperature, pressure, vibration, sound level, light intensity, load or weight, flow rate of gases and liquids, amplitude of magnetic and electronic fields, and concentrations of many substances in gaseous, liquid, or solid form Although sensors of today are where computers were in 1970 medical applications of sensors are taking off because of advances in microchip technologies and molecular chemistry.2 3

    Sensors have played an important role in many industries, providing the mechanical “vision” used for counting, sorting, reading, and robotic guidance. Tactile sensors, typically piezoelectric materials, generate voltage when touched, squeezed, or bent, or when their temperature is changed. Other sensors can detect specific chemical pressures and fluid levels. Cars, homes, and offices are loaded with sensors. In the short term, sensors used in medical applications will emit a signal that can be read at the point of determination or transferred by wire or wireless transmission to remote locations Advances in microprocessor technologies have created a smart sensor that unites sensing capability and data processing in a single integrated circuit chip. The next step is combining sensing and processing with an actuator, such as microelectromechanical systems 4 5

    Summary points

    Sensors are all around us

    Now sensors are moving into health care

    Leading the way are sensors for the monitoring of glucose and vital signs

    Sensors will change the site of health care

    Smart sensors will initiate an appropriate response, including treatment

    Sensors at the forefront

    Many sensor technologies used in industry can be applied in medicine, and in the future, as unique sensors and sensor dependent microelectromechanical systems are designed and tested, non-medical industries will adapt them for industrial applications. Within the medical world …

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