Medicine on the Go – Mobile Devices and Healthcare

The medical and health care applications of wearables haven’t gone unnoticed. From devices meant to monitor pulse and blood pressure to contact lenses that can measure glucose levels, there has been an explosion of new technology meant to help patients keep better tabs on their health.

Much has been made of the proliferation of mobile devices and the impact they will have on health care in the future.  The annual Consumer Electronics Show is a veritable buffet of the newest tech gadgets, and for the last several years has featured now common pedometers and other wearables such as Fitbit and Jawbone.  The future of wearables remains strong according to this recent review of the top 11 tech trends at the 2015 International CES in Las Vegas, which mentions wearables that are more than just glorified pedometers.  Prime example?  SunFriend, a wearable that measures your exposure to UV light and tells you when it’s time to seek the shade to prevent a sunburn (although I do have my doubts that such a device could work on my Scandanavian-inherited, burn-to-a-crisp-in-under-5-minutes skin).  Then of course there is the Apple Watch, which can monitor your activity, your sleep, prompt you to stand up if you are sitting for long periods of time, and a myriad of other uses.

Glucose measuring contact lensesThe medical and health care applications of wearables haven’t gone unnoticed.  From devices meant to monitor pulse and blood pressure to contact lenses that can measure glucose levels, there has been an explosion of new technology meant to help patients keep better tabs on their health, and help their doctors monitor the health of their patients. Given the emphasis is now being placed on preventative care and the effectiveness of care given, rather than the old fee-for-service model, these wearables are no doubt going to have a strong presence in the future of healthcare.

But one interesting thing about many of these health care wearables is that many of them are being produced by non-health care companies.  This of course leads to a lot of interesting questions about the efficacy, security and safety of using the products.  Do they really measure what they are supposed to measure accurately?  If the device is designed to submit data to your physician, is that data encrypted or sent securely?  These are just a few of the questions that many in the healthcare technology field are beginning to ask.

I found this article by Trisha Thadani to be an interesting peek into the rapidly evolving world of medical tech.  It’s not just about the EHR’s and E-prescribing that many people are now familiar with.  It’s also about helmets that can monitor the impact of a blow to the head to determine if a concussion is likely…very useful given the recent acknowledgement that repeated blows to the head common in football and other sports can lead to significant mental deterioration.  It’s also about an iPhone which can record an asthma patient’s breath strength and send readings to their physician so that they can better monitor and respond to asthma attacks.

As the article points out, healthcare “…has always been behind other industries by about 20 years,” according to Health Care Strategist Marc Olsen.  The common benchmark often given as a ruler to measure progress in health care technology is the banking sector, which I can tell you is far more advanced in terms of technology, security and even software development.  I hope that the medical field can look to the banking industry and banking industry professionals as they continue to make advancements in their own technology.

Now 20 years may not sound like a long time, especially to someone who trained in history and is used to thinking in terms of centuries rather than decades.  But think about how technology was different 20 years ago.

No GoogleTwenty years ago, Google did not exist.  

Apple MonitorTwenty years ago, computer monitors topped out at 14 inches.

IBM SimonTwenty years ago, the IBM Simon cell phone was one of the first on the market.  It had a battery that could last one hour and cost $899.  

So being 20 years behind the curve?  That’s pretty significant.

The USA Today article also points out, quite accurately, that we are going to see a fairly high failure rate with healthcare technology in the next few years.  History is a good demonstration of that.  After all, have we seen tech companies and products in the last 20 years emerge and then disappear like one hit wonders?  Absolutely.  Do you know anyone who still uses a Palm Pilot?  But does the fact that Palm Pilots are no longer around mean that their creation was a mistake or a bad thing?  Not at all, because what we learned from them was incorporated into other devices and tech that is still in use today.

Technology is going to be a new and exciting area in medicine for the next few decades, if not longer.  It has the capacity to bring enormous change to the field, including benefits and challenges.  I know that I am excited to see what the future holds!

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