We all know the industry buzz right now: What will who come out with over the next few weeks? The anticipation (and rumor mill, especially about the iPhone6) is quite heated around what will and won't be featured in the latest round of smart devices, ranging from watches to phones and tablets from the leading (and those focused on becoming global leaders). Among the developments gaining ground along the sidelines is the important question of how will these latest devices and applications drive medical electronics for consumers and for the medical community?
Dr. Get Smart?
Earlier this summer when Apple held its World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, CA, we learned of the new iOS 8 Health app. At the WWDC, HealthKit was presented to developers as a means for them to utilize consumer's personal health information that is collected and then transmitted to their iPhone (and presumably iPad and maybe iWatch?) which could then be incorporated into various new software applications (e.g., warning, monitoring, (field/remote) diagnostic, etc.). The idea being that consumers and the medical industry would be able to move beyond fitness level information and provide intervention and prevention to improve patient care when not in the hospital or medical facility.
This is all great news and certainly extends the utility of smart devices (and likely increases the draw to purchase the latest high-end and high-priced smart devices) by moving it into medical events. More importantly, what we are seeing the medical electronics industry getting excited about is the possibility of a flurry of new, affordable (for customer and field/remote use) medical electronics (both disposable and customer owned) that can greatly improve the health of patients globally. In the developed markets, the ability to improve preventative or post-event care events is seen as a means to reduce the need for routine doctor office visits or unnecessary Emergency Room (ER) visits by having appropriate information and advice at the patient's fingertips. For remote care, the possibility of new, low-cost devices that can be used in field and remote sites gives greater access to medical care to more rural populations.
New diagnostic tools to revolutionize health?
The opportunities for extending medical electronics to many patients and improving preventative and maintenance care is truly exciting. Putting applications and devices on the backs of smart devices, and utilizing previous generation technology with lower ASPs to develop low cost electronics that can serve the medical community has the potential to revolutionize health care globally. The capabilities of smart devices, especially, with their many embedded sensors and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) present the opportunity for application and device developers and architects to provide critical tools that can support people and health care providers regardless of location. One new example that recently passed the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is "AliveCor's smartphone ECG [that] becomes a diagnostic tool." This free app available on smartphones and provides users with access to "[T]he algorithm [that] is capable of detecting symptoms of [arterial defibrillation] AF through AliveCor's ECG mobile heart monitor and alerting patients through AliveCor's analysis service. Users will also be able to confer with a U.S. board-certified cardiologist or their personal physician regarding the results."
Cardiac monitoring, alerting and improved preventative care is an obvious benefit and an important breakthrough given the high fatality rate for sudden cardiac events. Thankfully, the number of maladies that can be positive affected and manage through smart, medical electronics are many and importantly cover many long-term, chronic conditions including diabetes which is a far too common and critical disease – Google announced in July the partnership with Novartis to develop a smart contact lens to monitor glucose levels through tears for diabetics. The idea and strategy for Google is to ensure that commercialized technological advances are also made available for medical and scientific use to "meet unmet medical needs," said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez.
At the core of the medical electronics revolution that potentially gains momentum this fall, are both the components that are sophisticated enough that previous generation, hence lower-cost, designs can be used to design and produce lower-cost medical electronics devices. Lower cost means accessibility to patients, rural areas, and especially the developing world where medical assistance and information are desperately needed. Also driving the opportunity for successful medical electronics breakthroughs this year and forward is the ability to now collect, analyze and use Big Data that allow for the real-time collection of multiple patient data and do so at intervals to create and present a full timeline of the patient's condition. These data and holistic patient views can then be shared across a medical team and provide improved healthcare delivery and maintenance, as a recent Medical Design Technology article explored.
Let's see what comes to the frontlines in the next few weeks, and how the medical electronics market is able to leverage these technological advances and open both opportunities for a new, competitive, medical device market for consumers and health care professionals. Importantly, let's hope we will see the start of improved health care access globally.