Tuesday, June 12, 2012

From glow caps to cell scopes, mobile health future is near

CHICAGO – The future is getting closer for emerging mobile technologies to take a critical role in engaging consumers to make better health decisions, and in equipping providers with tools to obtain more data from their patients to improve outcomes.

Two early examples are contact lenses that can send and receive data, and vital signs sensors capable of continuously monitoring the wearer.

[See also: Mobile health app market in growth mode]

A “super” convergence of technology and market trends is opening up new ways to coordinate care and manage personal health, said Mike Wisz, a health IT consultant.

“Clinical workflows will be impacted by changing care delivery that becomes more preventive. The basic idea is to keep patients out of the hospital,” he said at a recent HIMSS online briefing. “We’re going to see more pieces deployed, used, worn, ingested and implanted, and it’s going to be a data tsunami."

The flood of mobile health technologies and devices can be viewed as an eco-system. Sensors and other medical devices that measure person-specific information may be attached to or embedded within the body or work within the person’s home. Many emerging software applications also run on mobile or Web-based platforms for use by the patient.

[See also: Mobile health monitoring market on the rise]

Platforms are emerging that offer easier ways to communicate the patient’s information from all these devices and applications through gateways, which can include home health hubs, mobile phones and other machine-to-machine devices, said Wisz. They deliver information to the cloud, where systems may aggregate the data for physicians to access and use.

Some providers are testing or adopting remote patient monitoring systems but hurdles persist, such as who pays for the technology, concerns about privacy and security, and the fact that providers are already busy with meaningful use and other mandated changes, he said.

Mobile product designers are moving beyond touch screens and multi-touch interfaces to experiment with new forms and systems, like Google glasses for “third eye” capability, said Rob Campbell, CEO of Voalte Inc., a provider of mobile clinical communications technologies.

Wearable computing will likely deliver ways to manage information and interact with the world. “For example, personal see-through devices could overlay computer-generated visual information on the real world in real time allowing immediate hands-free access to information,” he said.

The first step to this always accessible information will be deployed through see-through glasses. Ultimately, a much less cumbersome display of augmented reality will come in the form of contact lenses.

In the future, contact lens systems may receive data from external platforms, like mobile phones, to provide real-time notifications and event alerts. As contact lens bio-sensors advance they may alert the wearer of a health anomaly occurring in the body.

The long-term goal is to create a display that can be comfortably worn in the form of a contact lens, which will include a pixel array for imaging. An antenna can be connected with a wireless network. “They’ve even figured out how to monitor tears for glucose levels,” he said.

Some devices start out in acute care but new versions could eventually make their way outside of the hospital, Wisz added.

“With the trend for devices getting faster, smaller and cheaper, many are looking forward to using the devices as a monitoring system for the patient across the continuum of care," he said.

A platform for comprehensive vital signs monitoring, for instance, keeps clinicians connected to their patients that are in the hospital anywhere within the facility. Patients wear comfortable body sensors that allow for better freedom of movement outside of traditional ICU-monitored environments. Eventually systems like these will be modified for use outside of the hospital to enable early detection of potential problems, Wisz said.

Some of the growing connected smartphone devices include:Blood diagnostic product that uses high resolution imaging sensor that lets users snap photo of a blood smear from finger prick to determine if it detects malariaCellscope that attaches to smartphone so that doctors, and eventually parents, can take photos inside of a child’s ears to determine if there is ear infectionAdaptor and system software for eye test for glasses through which user receives measurements needed for eyeglasses for nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatismVoice, alarm and text messaging with consumer-grade usability for major smartphone platforms to improve physician and nurse communications within healthcare facilities to improve coordination of care and alerts among the care teamGlow-caps on standard medication pill bottles that use light and sound reminders and follow-up phone call or text message so patients don’t miss a dose to assure medication adherence.

[See also: Mobile health developers see bright future ahead]

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