Is mobile health approaching its iPhone moment?

Photo: Medical iPhone technology

Photo: Medical iPhone technology

Technological advances once merely imagined in Sci-Fi flicks (think of Star Trek’s communicator, Bluetooth technologies, and even a quasi version of touch enabled computer screens) are being realized and even superseded thanks to modern innovation.

Mobile technology, in particular, is experiencing a surge of advances in relation to the medical industry. Research breakthroughs, advances in supporting technology infrastructure, and even substantial allocations of resources from private investors are realizing far reaching technological dreams, and then some.

Several weeks ago, Mike Lazaridis’ Research In Motion’s Blackberry Vice Chairman, (the maker of those once ubiquitous handheld wireless devices), launched a $97 million dollar Quantum Valley Investments fund to support innovation and entrepreneurs focused on creating non-invasive medical diagnostic equipment. The idea is simply to make “Star Trek’s” medical tricorder device for diagnosis a reality.

The push to go mobile has been years in the making and has, in many respects, been assisted by underlying communications technology and the utilization of what many in Silicon Valley have termed the social, mobile, web trifecta. Smartphones, applications, and social media have helped to drive mobile advancements in relation to consumer technology adoption, and impactful breakthroughs in medical technologies have been evolving as well.

And the mobility aspect of consumer technologies isn’t slowing down any time soon. In fact, the utilization of once consumer-focused technologies into broader and, dare it be said, more significant applications continues to move forward at a rapid clip. Mobile health (mHealth) remains a serious innovator and benefactor in terms of mobile technologies.

Marc Perlman, Global Vice President of Healthcare and Life Sciences, Oracle Healthcare observes, “The mainstreaming and explosion of wireless devices and the advent of mHealth technologies bring an unprecedented opportunity to transform the delivery of healthcare while improving outcomes, particularly in the area of chronic condition management, which based on recent reports accounts for at least three-quarters of all healthcare spending in developed countries.”

“Since tools being developed can monitor a variety of indicators – including vital signs, blood glucose, and heart ECG [Electrocardiography] activity – and provide immediate information to healthcare providers, they hold the potential to minimize – or actually prevent – costly incidents through timely intervention.”

Perlman’s observations about industry trends and the fast pace of technology innovation, as well as mainstream adoption, should not be overlooked or trivialized.

Recently, researchers from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), one of two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology located in Lausanne, Switzerland, claim to have created a tiny implantable device placed just below the skin that can analyze proteins and acids instantaneously. A Bluetooth connection then transfers this information to a computer or smartphone.

As EPFL states, “The implant, a real gem of concentrated technology, is only a few cubic millimeters in volume but includes five sensors, a radio transmitter and a power delivery system. Outside the body, a battery patch provides 1/10 watt of power, through the patient’s skin – thus there’s no need to operate every time the battery needs changing.”

Essentially, the implant will, as the researchers point out, “allow a much more personalized level of care than traditional blood tests can provide,” facilitating a superior grade of individualized medicine for patients through monitoring.

Michael D. Dyal, M.D., a cardiology fellow at the University of Miami explains, “Technological innovations, especially in terms of medical hardware miniaturization and mobility, have the potential to be significantly impactful in terms of preventative health care. This is particularly applicable in high risk cardiac patients for diagnosis, early detection, and monitoring disease progression for a myriad of cardiovascular conditions.”

Concluding, Dyal notes, “The capability to provide around the clock, real-time monitoring for early warning and detection, using cardiac biomarkers for ischemic heart disease and heart failure, would be of substantial clinical utility. Combine this with future discoveries of newer, smaller, and more sensitive biomarkers makes for an exciting future in cardiovascular medicine and could prove to be a powerful tool to save lives.”

The outlook for mobile medical technologies looks strong, but the industry is still waiting for that seminal moment or watershed breakthrough. If one boils it down and compares it to the consumer technologies market – mobile medical technologies is still eagerly awaiting its ‘iPhone’ moment to truly become transformational. While there is a tremendous amount of dynamism and potentiality, the disruptive change on the horizon remains as elusive as the goal, but its inching closer.

As medicine continues to embrace cutting edge life saving technologies, the prospect of profound societal impact and even economic cost factor improvement seems genuinely poised to capitalize on leveraging the embedded benefits of medical mobility.

The production of medical diagnostic device implants, as well as more forward-looking noninvasive techniques, for monitoring and early detection was once considered an aspirational ambition. Today, with the concerted efforts of researchers, industry leaders, and practitioners alike, it would appear the half-life of innovation, time to market, and impact on humanity are superseding what was once regarded as the status quo or ignored as the underpinnings of a popular science fiction television show.

Fraught with challenges and hurdles that run the gamut, innovation in mobile medical health continues to push forward. Inching closer to warp speed, mHealth just may be the defining achievement in our next-generation’s greatest technological leap forward.

Please visit the Washington Times Communities to read more.

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