TTM 2014: Future of Health Care

There are plenty of apps in the Healthcare domain. How many of these are trustworthy and really help?

There is a lot going on in the health care space although, unfortunately, most of it is just noise with start ups looking at selling themselves rather than creating a sellable product. Examples of absurd data and absurd computation abounds with apps measuring your exercising rate by using GPS coordinates without even checking if you have been walking or using a car to go from A to B.

In spite of this noise, there is a lot that can and will be done in the healthcare domain. It is becoming possible through sensors (continuous monitoring, like using sensors on a wristwatch and discrete monitoring, like using sensors in the bathroom mirror or toothbrush, and toilets) that can detect vital parameters. They can provide massive volumes of data and the first challenge is to clean up all these data. It is only after this cleaning up that data can indeed be used to provide meaningful insight on a single person and on a community.

The good news, hence, for a company that would like to enter into this market is that although there are plenty of players very few are serious contenders. Notice, however, that providing accurate data and inference means also becoming accountable and health care is fraught with legal implications that make biz very tricky.

A much deeper understanding of physiology is needed to create something valuable and there technologists have to partner and listen to physicians.

There are already plenty of opportunities using existing sensors, although the availability of new sensors may open up new opportunities. Examples of existing sensors are those monitoring blood pressure or glucose continuously. These parameters (pressure and glucose) make sense if one can measure them continuously and this is what an application potentially can do. Apps on the market often do not have a data sampling strategy, hence their results are basically irrelevant.

New sensors, and data analyses, can indeed provide a much better picture of what is going on in our body. As an example our beat rate and the electrical activity in the heart depends on the position of our body as we sleep. Todays’ devices are not able to correlate the heart beat and electrical signals with the position of the body but leveraging on and analyzing different sensors’data could do that.

Monitoring in a continuous way (which means with the appropriate sample rate) allows data comparison with the normal pattern in a population and with the normal pattern in that specific person. Both discrepancies may be significant and worth investigating.

The goal is to take action both in terms of changing the behavior of the person or by providing appropriate medicine. And, by continuous monitoring we can assess the impact of the changes. Smartphones can be very useful in monitoring by embedding the appropriate sensors or leveraging the existing ones (like detecting gait change through accelerometers signals).

New ways of monitoring are coming up through home diagnostics, like fertility tests, that can be performed at home by buying the appropriate testing kit at a department store or glucose tests performed periodically. In this area there is a need for standardization so that data can become significant in a comparison.

In general, the availability of health data can become an amazing asset to progress health care in the next two decades but this raises the issue of privacy. Trusting Google or Apple as official healthcare data repositories may be stretching owns trust a bit too much.

Sensor fusion, contextual sensing, trend analyses optimization of health through feedback, and deviation based problem detection are probably the ways we are going to see evolution in the next two decades.

The overall message is that we can expect significant changes in the way we check on our health and on day by day feedback to keep healthy and we don't need to wait for future technology evolution but rather expect market solutions that are reliable, easy to use and trustworthy to appear soon and to evolve through the next two decades. By 2035 continuous personal health care assisted technology may have disappeared from our perception and morphed into people's life style.

Another interesting spin came not from the Future of Health track but from the Future of Fabrication track. There, the speakers included as part of the future of fabrication "organ" fabrication by 2035 hinting at how the availability of replacement for our aging organs will be a bonus for health care and yet it is going to open up a quite complex set of issues that never before we had to tackle.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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