An Apple a day does keep the doctor away

How medical devices sensors and mobile devices are advancing healthcare

Healthcare has been hot for mobile over the past few years, even more so than any other industry. Hospitals, medical device companies and software providers have been clamoring to have an increased presence in a booming industry. The latest trend in healthcare is integrating small sensors to be able to stream live data from a patient back to another system and drive that information back to the doctor or the family of the patient. For example, you may have a family member in home health services or in a nursing home. The sensors would wirelessly feed data such as pulse, respiration, oxygen saturation and temperature back to a small device in the patient’s room or a bed that is connected to the network. From that point the data can be viewed by the doctor via their mobile device. Aside from internal medicine, mobile devices and sensors are being used to monitor your fitness, sleep and many other aspects of overall well being.

Personal Healthcare Sensors

There are already several excellent peripheral devices in the medical field for the iPhone. Withings is a leader in the consumer space. They provide a blood pressure cuff, scale and a baby monitor that you can connect to your iPhone or iPad directly and their app allows you to keep and graph historical data. The advances in bluetooth technology and Near Field Communication (NFC), in conjunction with mobile devices, has allowed these technologies to be taken one step further.

As with any emerging technology, engineers are trying to figure out ways to make sensors and monitoring work for all modes of healthcare. In some instances, the patient themselves carry a mobile phone or medical device that transmits status of sensors attached to them back to another system via wifi or cell network. If the patient falls, the accelerometer on the device itself registers the fall and an alert is sent out. This is extremely helpful in situations where you might have a parent or loved one living alone and you need to manage aspects of their healthcare.

Among popular options for the consumer are the sleep monitoring apps that attempt to determine how you are resting at night. The Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock  for your mobile device allows you to monitor patterns in your sleep to determine if you are getting that quality rest that we all need by waking you up only when you are in a higher level of sleep instead of a normal alarm clock that might wake you up abruptly from a very deep sleep.

Institutional Settings

In another way mobile sensors are making a splash in healthcare is the field is sleep. Sleep clinics are making cash hand over fist in an age where most folks are overweight and those extra pounds are increasing the likelihood of apnea and other sleeping disorders. Although the people who actually have a sleep disorder is an order of magnitude larger than the people who actually go to a sleep clinic to get tested since it usually means at least two nights of very uncomfortable sleep with sensors attached to your legs, chest and head. Again mobile sensing devices are solving the problem. Some cutting edge sleep technicians are hooking you up at night with the sensors and those sensors are transmitting to a mobile device and then the device is transmitting the data back to a server where it is monitored by the technician in another location. So imagine, you get hooked up at the clinic and then go home to a familiar environment where you can sleep better or the sleep technician comes to your home to hook you up and then leaves. The net effect is more people are comfortable seeking testing and less is being spent on sleep clinic suites. Sleep Group Solutions is one such company that offers such technology with an app called mSleepTest.

In the 1960s, when Star Trek debuted on television, the audience was amazed at how Bones could monitor his patient just by them lying on the bed or how he could use his tricorder to instantly scan the health of a patient. Although, even as advanced a concept as this way, the doctor had to be in the vicinity of the patient. The doctors of today can do much more than he dreamed of by monitoring the patient from afar using their iPhone. AirStrip is a company that specializes in monitoring vitals and cardiological condition via mobile devices. A doctor can monitor the stats of any patient with near real time accuracy from any location they choose by reading the waveforms from a patient’s sensors. At Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, similar technology is being used to alert anesthesiologists when their patients are in certain states without having to visit the operating room to check themselves. Also, at Vanderbilt, mobile apps allow for the viewing of a patient’s room by their physicians. Stryker, a medical supply company that manufactures hospital beds, is already launching an iBed that provides information about whether or not the patient is in the bed and if they need to be moved if they cannot do so themselves.

Personal Fitness

Mobile has not only taken on healthcare but the health and fitness market as well.  A new way of heart-rate monitors supporting bluetooth technology have emerged and Polar is one such company providing one. No longer do you have to buy a watch when you can buy just the bluetooth chest strap. These heart rate monitors have more applications than tracking your workouts as well. By combining this technology with mobile, the data that was once limited to the watch or your computer now can be transferred wirelessly back to another location monitor the purposes of alerting. Imagine using this technology to monitor a loved one with a heart condition. Nike has been a forerunner in the mobile World since the early stages of the iPod by integrating it with their Nike+ product to track your fitness and workouts.

What’s next?

In just 3 short years, healthcare has taken a dramatic leap forward in terms of care, but the advances haven’t changed some of the things that have been constants for many years. You still have to make an appointment, wait for the doctor, wait for laboratory work, wait for an X-Ray and then wait for the doctor again. After that you usually have to head to the pharmacy and wait some more. In the near future, eventually this process will change due to sensors. Imagine a first- come-first-serve sensor  KIOSK where you step inside and get an analysis that is recorded to your mobile device and then take that to your doctor to speed the process or a device that you purchase that measures hundreds of points about your healthcare status by just attaching the device. Think about it like the OnBoard Diagnostics tool that your dealer uses when he services your car and the error codes it throws when it finds a problem. Healthcare wish lists aside, we are already heading into a fantastic beginning to healthcare technology.