Mobile tech redefining modern medicine
Monday, February 14, 2011
Mobile tech redefining modern medicine
Digital-devices' apps and roles are proving as valuable to health care as the stethoscope.
By Andy Vuong, The Denver Post
Posted: 02/14/2011 01:00:00 AM MST
Not long after exclusively landing Apple's iPhone in 2007, AT&T created an emerging-devices division to bring wireless Internet connectivity to other gadgets.
The division focuses on the expected product segments: e-readers, laptops, digital cameras and in-car entertainment and navigation devices.
But the segment, or vertical, that AT&T says has the most promise is an unexpected one: health care products.
The company and its partners are developing products such as "smart slippers," which wirelessly monitor changes in a patient's acceleration and pressure measurements that could alert caregivers about falls. The slippers, currently under a clinical trial, transmit data via AT&T's network.
"We view the health care vertical as potentially one of the largest, if not the largest, opportunity in the emerging-device space," said division president Glenn Lurie.
The move by AT&T, which lost exclusivity to the iPhone last week, is one example of how consumer technology is invading an industry long considered one of the slowest adopters of new technology.
GE and Intel formed a health care joint venture last month to develop in-home products for seniors and people with chronic conditions.
In addition to large technology companies, smaller independent app and product developers are part of this growing wave of digital health care innovations.
"This has become the focus for a lot of different industries as they realize that there's a nexus here of technology, consumer products and health care that all center around how to make it easier for people to live," said Stephen Axelrod, chief executive of Denver- based TabSafe Medical Services.
TabSafe showcased its computer- like pill dispenser at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show, where the exhibit space for digital health products was four times larger than a year ago.
Roughly the size of a coffeemaker, the TabSafe device can be programmed to beep or call a caregiver or family member if a patient doesn't take his medication as scheduled, based on whether the cover is opened. The device can handle multiple medication schedules simultaneously.
The company also is testing at a Denver area assisted-living community other emerging technologies, such as a pressure-sensor bed that turns on the lights when a person stands up, Axelrod said.
"These are technologies that are not meant to replace caregiving," Axelrod said. "They're meant to augment or make it easier."
Last month, AT&T and a partner released Vitality GlowCaps, which are $10 bottle caps that can light up, beep, send a text message and place a phone call if they are not opened as scheduled. They come with a $15-a-month service plan.
"Today, 47 percent of Americans over 50 do not take their medication correctly," Lurie said. "Just simply having people take their medication correctly and as prescribed could save the health care system over $100 billion."
Health care professionals are embracing the new products and services. Debra Nickell, a practicing physician assistant in Erie, carries an iPad on her rounds with patients, turning to apps that provide immunization charts, pill identification tables and an EKG guide.
"I take my iPad right into the room with my patient, and we will look up drugs together," she said. "I will show them information in terms of anatomy or procedures."
One of her top apps is a digital eye-vision chart. "I do the Department of Transportation physicals and every once in a while you'll get somebody who comes in and they've memorized the eye chart so they're trying to fool you," Nickell said. "The iPad will actually randomize those letters."
Nickell, director of the physician assistant program at Red Rocks Community College, ordered iPads for each of the program's 60 students and seven faculty members last year. The students use the iPad to read textbooks and view high-resolution X-rays and CT scan images — which aren't as defined on overhead projectors. They also use the tablets during clinical rotations.
The pilot project has not gone without hiccups. For example, some AT&T Lab researchers are collaborating with hospitals and universities on "smart slippers" that wirelessly monitor a patient's gait to identify pressure signatures. (Handout | NA)textbooks are not available on e-text and some students have had problems with the indexing of books because pages change depending on whether the material is read in portrait or landscape mode.
"All of this has been a learning experience," Nickell said. "Overall, we've been very pleased with what the iPad can do."
Andy Vuong: 303-954-1209, email@example.com or twitter.com/andyvuong
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