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And You Thought We Already Lived in a High-Tech Age?
Enter any modern medical facility and you will be immediately surrounded by an assortment of high-tech gadgetry designed to make our lives easier, healthier and more secure. Much of the technological wizardry would not have been conceived a decade ago and yet now we rely on it every day to care for your young, or elderly and our sick.
For many people, even when they leave a medical facility, high-tech healthcare still follows them around. It has been estimated that – by 2015 – 500 million people around the world will be using Smartphone apps to monitor weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, heart rate and sleep quality; and some claim apps that they are even able to detect cancer.
However, not everybody is so keen to adapt to healthcare by phone and, in the same way as the Government had to “incentivize” the healthcare industry to start using EHRs, patients are now being bribed to engage in remote monitoring programs which could not only save their lives – but win them a cash prize too!
Not Had a Heart Attack? Congratulations Mrs. Henderson, You´ve Just Won a Prize!
Studies have shown that up to fifty percent of patients recovering from a heart attack fail to take their medicine – resulting in a much higher likelihood of a swift return to the emergency room – and researchers at the Penn Medicine Center for Health-Care Innovation have designed a remote, web-based platform which can report back to doctors on which patients are failing to take their medicine.
Patients participating in the study are given remote monitoring pill bottles that connect to the platform. The patients receive daily alerts to remind them to take their medication, and the technology measures whether they actually do. The accuracy of the program may have a flaw in it however, as patients participating in the study are rewarded for taking their meds with a lottery ticket which gives them the opportunity to win a cash prize!
Meanwhile, over at UCLA, technology has recently been implemented to monitor patients´ rehabilitation after a stroke. A monitor strapped to the ankle of the stroke patient detects the patient´s frequency and pace of movement and sends a signal back to an app on the patient´s Smartphone. According to Dr Molly Coye – Chief Innovation Officer of the UCLA Health System – “the system encourages patients to exercise and recover more quickly than if they are provided an exercise regime without the feedback”.
Dr Coye claims that the “interactivity has been found to be a great motivator”. But not as good a motivator as a lottery ticket, eh doctor?
What´s Next? Physical Therapy by Robots?
That´s exactly right. A digital avatar at the San Mateo Medical Center in California – “Molly” (the name given to the avatar) – asks patients about the pain levels they are experiencing while a video guides them through their post-surgery physical therapy exercises and 3-D cameras measure the patients´ movements.
Other high-tech healthcare innovations on their way include:
· Electrical engineers at the University of Utah have developed a two-tier sensor system that detects when an elderly person falls over in their home (or in a nursing home) and is unable to get up again.
· The team at Senseonics has come up with a glucose monitoring system for diabetics which includes an implanted sensor that sends Wi-Fi warnings of impending hyperglycemia to a Smartphone app.
· Asthma suffers will know whether they are using their inhalers correctly due to acoustic detection technology, which monitors the use of the inhaler and sends a report to an app on their Smartphone.
The bad news for those unable to get to grips with high-tech healthcare is that, as the cost of developing Smartphone apps comes down, the volume of gadgetry that can be used to detect early signs on infection or the deterioration of a chronic condition will go up.
Returning to UCLA´s Dr. Coye, she suggests that “within the next five to seven years, the sensor technologies required to monitor vital signs and exercise and calculate caloric expenditure will be so inexpensive we’ll be able to monitor most patients at an affordable cost.”
So, even more high-tech healthcare is on the way, but will patients always need bribing to take their medicine?