“Primary diagnoses are right 48% of the time. So if you go to the doctor and ask ‘what’s wrong with me’ you’ll have about a 50/50 chance of getting the right answer,” says Don Jones, VP of Qualcomm Life and longtime mHealth proponent. Jones believes that mobile technology will make healthcare easier, more accessible, cheaper, and give doctors a better chance of having an aha! moment the first time.
And Jones isn’t the only one betting on these seemingly future technologies. Today, Nokia announced a partnership with the X PRIZE Foundation to launch the Nokia Sensing X Challenge. Entrants in the $2.25 million global competition will compete to develop a new generation of healthcare technologies. Similarly, Qualcomm Foundation’s own Tricorder X XPRIZE Challenge asks entrepreneurs to develop a device akin to a Star Trek-style Tricorder: a portable, palm-sized wireless device that monitors and diagnoses your health conditions. The goal of both contests is to stimulate the development of a new generation of healthcare devices – the types of devices once only imaginable in the movies.
And we’re ready for the future.
“The healthcare system as we know it is antiquated. Many of the practices we expect from the doctor are between 100 and 200 years old. Think about it -- you get up and go to the doctor’s office, they do fairly manual things like put their fingers on your wrist and scribble prescriptions on a piece of paper,” says Jones.
Jones explains that at the most basic level, there’s an opportunity for mobile to seep into medicine’s most simple concepts. “MHealth is touching on things where people touch healthcare with great regularity, like filling prescriptions or making appointments,” he explains.
Take for example, ZocDoc, an app that allows you to make an appointment with your doctor, similar to how you make a reservation at a restaurant on OpenTable. Another great example is the Walgreen’s Pharmacy app, which allows you to scan pill bottles and order refills. “What I like about these examples is that they’re very interesting ways to get people thinking about health on their phones. You are also likely to repeat these processes multiple times,” he adds.
Because of these simple breakthroughs, Jones believes that mHealth is finally beginning to show scale and distribution. The Apple App Store now has over 10,000 health apps some of which have reached millions of users. In India, over 50,000 people are conducting check-ups over the phone using a paid line similar to a 900 number. No longer are they required to travel to their doctor’s office – they simply tap into the existing mobile infrastructure.
Beyond relieving patients of the more tedious tasks associated with healthcare, mHealth advances also allow for improvements on medical devices themselves; things like the stethoscope, bandages, and heart monitors.
When you combine lower price points with better power management, stronger batteries, and innovation in flexible electronic “fabrics,” suddenly the idea of the broad adoption of mHealth seems within grasp. “The kinds of things we’re working on are integrated circuitry only done wirelessly, mobilely, and inexpensively. Take for example the concept of the smart Band-Aid—a peel-and-stick substrate that you can slap on and measure things like vitals. We’ve had the concept around for about ten years, but only in 2012 are we seeing the integrated circuit designs at the price of $1 or $2.”
For Jones, the idea became a real-life option when he witnessed his son, a congenital heart patient, continually battling with old-fashioned and expensive medical devices. “We were at the point where we laughed at our doctor when he suggested my son wear yet another expensive and uncomfortable Holter heart monitor. Like the way the Internet prompted people to do their own medical searches, we suggested that we’d start bringing our own ECG data into the office for the doctor to interpret.”
Enter the Corventis smart Band-Aid, a device that wireless transmits data from a sticky smart Band-Aid to a mobile device, completely eliminating the need to get “wired-up” with bulky, painful, and expensive equipment.
Jones sees an opportunity for current medical devices and their existing component parts to work with technologies like tablets or smartphones. “Medical devices that we’ve historically known can be disaggregated into component parts, which could be anything from disposable sensors, to downloadable applications from the cloud, to algorithms used to analyze and bring in data from environmental sensors (say wind or pollen counts), or information from electronic health records,” he described.
Jones has a clear vision for the future: “Rather than a proprietary black box that somebody spent thousands of dollars on, you can imagine the future of medical devices looking more like an iPad with some disposable sensors on it and access to the Internet.”
With connected cloud-based mHealth systems like Qualcomm’s own 2net Platform and Hub, device users, their health care providers, and care givers will be able to seamlessly pull in personal medical information from a variety of sources for a more holistic view of your health – with the same type of online security that your bank offers. Imagine if your doctor could access your retail pharmacy records, your medical history, or insurance claims? What if your doctor could get an alert on his or her smartphone the second you had a heart arrhythmia or asthma attack?
Armed with a mobile phone, seems like the chance of your doctor getting it right the first time just went up.
This article is commissioned by Qualcomm Incorporated. The views expressed are the author's own.
TRICORDER is a trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. Used under license.