One of the factors keeping doctors from getting a complete picture of a patient's health condition is lack of patient cooperation. Patients are often advised by doctors to regularly record measurements such as glucose and blood pressure levels and chart their home and work readings, but compliance is really low.
According to Dr. Eric Topol, in his recent book The Creative Destruction of Medicine, "People usually get a yearly check-up where their blood pressure is taken, their heart is listened to, and a basic blood test is performed. But what happens between those tests?"
Three years ago, at TEDMED 2010 in San Diego, Walt Mossberg, the technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, who suffers from diabetes, said that all he wanted was a smartphone app that took care of glucose regulation, with a device that measures his sugar levels and adjusts insulin accordingly. Fortunately the medical devices industry is getting closer to that goal.
Smartphones are getting more sophisticated all the time, and they are getting more sensors embedded into them. Wireless healthcare really started in the last decade, in the fitness and health fields. Many apps use the sensors embedded in our smartphones to calculate the number of steps we take during the day, or display the duration of exercise, distance, velocity, and even the route taken. The combination of smartphone sensors, including the gyroscope and accelerometers, can be used to determine the user’s mood and detect when somebody falls, calling an emergency contact if the person doesn’t respond to the fall alert.
Now specific wireless sensors are coming to market. One is the AliveCor Heart Monitor, recently approved by the FDA as a prescription device -- it was being used before by veterinarians. The device attaches itself to a smartphone and is able to produce an accurate electrocardiogram when the patient touches the two sensors. The app is able to record the measurements and transmit them wirelessly to a doctor in real-time. This is invaluable for people with some heart conditions that need to have an ECG when symptoms occur; many times they fail to make it to the hospital in time, or they need to stay connected to an ECG machine for several days waiting for the symptoms to appear.
The Corvertis PiiX goes much further, continuously collecting health information including fluid status, heart rate, heart rate variability, respiratory rate, posture, activity, and ECGs (when rhythm abnormalities are detected) while patients go about their daily activities.
Wearable technology is now making its appearance, and some smart watches, such as the Nissan Nismo, will be loaded with new sensors, able to monitor our heart rate, temperature, and other biometrics.
The FDA is cautious with these devices. The agency is concerned about patients acting on inaccurate data from the smartphone. But the powerful processors used by today's smartphones should minimize the concerns.
We are seeing new devices and applications being introduced every week. The smartphone has become the window to the world, and now is opening another window inside our bodies. Soon we’ll have sensors that can monitor our basic health indicators 24/7 and alert us -- or our doctors -- of any sudden problems. We need to prepare for that, and make sure people are informed and confident about the measurements, the security, and the privacy of information. And we need healthcare CIOs and doctors to prepare for a new flood of data that is going to change the way medicine is practiced. Will your healthcare institution be ready to go from not enough data to a flood of data practically overnight?