Tablets and apps might be doctor’s orders of the future

Here’s a really interesting article on healthcare technology – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-25136074 – by Jane Wakefield, BBC Technology Reporter.

Ovum’s Smart Strategies for Healthcare Technology will cover many of these issues, so join us in London in March, to discover and discuss how technology is changing healthcare.

‘If you have ever sat in a doctor’s waiting room, next to someone with a hacking cough and with only a pile of out-of-date Reader’s Digests for company, then you may have asked whether the system was fit for 21st Century living.

The NHS seems under increasing pressure, from GP surgeries to accident and emergency rooms. It feels as if the healthcare system is in desperate need of CPR – the question is will technology be the thing that brings it back to life?

Daniel Kraft is a trained doctor who heads up the medicine school at the Singularity University, a Silicon Valley-based organisation that runs graduate and business courses on how technology is going to disrupt the status quo in a variety of industries.

When I interview him he is carrying a device that looks suspiciously like a Tricorder, the scanners that were standard issue in Star Trek.

“This is a mock-up of a medical tricorder that can scan you and get information. I can hold it to my forehead and it will pick up my heart rate, my oxygen saturation, my temperature, my blood pressure and communicate it to my smartphone,” he explains.

In future, Dr Kraft predicts, such devices will be linked to artificial intelligence agents on smartphones, which in turn will be connected to super-computers such as IBM’s Watson, to give people instant and accurate diagnoses.

“It may say, ‘Daniel, this is looking bad – you need to go to the emergency room’, or it might say this is probably just the flu because there is a lot in the neighbourhood and your symptoms are consistent with that.”

No such device is yet on the market but in the US there is currently a $10m (£6m) prize on offer to design one that is suitable for use in the home; 300 teams are competing.

Wearable devices such as Nike’s FuelBand or Jawbone’s Up are making people ever more aware of their health.

Wristbands

These days it seems as if there is an app for every medical condition. Diabetics can monitor their blood sugar levels via their smartphones, there are apps to track diet, pregnancy and menstrual cycles. It is even possible to get smartphone-enabled blood pressure cuffs.

Dr Kraft is wearing four wristbands, monitoring a range of things including his heart rate, his sleep pattern and how many steps he takes each day.

Such devices, he says, make him the “CEO of his own health” and he thinks that doctors will increasingly be prescribing such tools instead of handing out pills.

“I might prescribe you exercise. I might say, ‘Here’s a band and I want you to wear this and I want to see that you are improving your exercise.'”

Last year, the UK’s Department of Health said that it was looking at the possibility of doctors prescribing apps, although they are currently unregulated, leading some medical experts to question what role they should play in healthcare.

In September the US Food and Drug Administration said that it would regulate only the small number of apps that act like medical instruments.

Surgery via Glass?

“Such tools can be valuable but there are privacy issues about whether patients want to share their data with their doctor as well as how accurate such data is,” said Mary Hamilton, managing director of consultancy Accenture’s technology labs.

Accenture and Philips recently conducted a proof-of-concept demo in which a surgeon wore Google Glass, allowing him to simultaneously monitor a patient’s vital signs and react to surgical procedural developments without having to turn away from the patient.

Such devices could also be used to instantly bring up patient data when a doctor conducted his ward rounds, says Ms Hamilton.

If wearable technology and the data it generates does get integrated into the health service, GPs will know exactly whether a patient is following doctor’s orders.

“If you do a good job your healthcare premiums might get lowered or the NHS might give you an incentive like tickets to a concert,” says Dr Kraft.

Insurance firms such as PruHealth are already offering lower premiums for those who can prove they have healthy lifestyles’ …

Read the remainder of the article on the BBC website.

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