PORTLAND, Ore. — Wearable medical sensors monitored with an app -- including disposable smart patches applied like a Band-Aid -- mark the beginning of the end for bulky, traditional medical instruments, Donald Jones, vice president of global strategy and market development at Qualcomm Life Inc., said at last week's MEMS Executive Congress in Napa, Calif.
"We are starting to see the disappearance of the medical device," Jones said. "The machine itself will be gone."
In his presentation, "Mobile and the Future of Health and Wellness," he described dozens of wearable accessories and instrumented patches that turn smartphones and tablets into medical diagnostic tools, with more on the way. He predicted that, by 2017, wearable sensors for health and wellness will surpass 170 million units per year.
Qualcomm Life is supporting the effort by putting together a ecosystem of partners covering all aspects of wearables for medical diagnosis and treatment. "At Qualcomm Life, we are committed to medical devices for patients to use. There are already enough accessories that you can do a complete physical exam with a smartphone."
Sotera Wireless' Visi Mobile performs all the monitoring functions of a hospital for patients, no matter where they are located.
Qualcomm is also sponsoring the Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize -- with a $10 million purse -- modeled on the famous Star Trek medical scanner that performed instant medical diagnoses. Dozens of teams worldwide are working to create a handheld device that can diagnose 15 diseases and record and transmit key health metrics. Jones cited Scanadu, headquartered at the NASA-Ames Research Park, as one of the entrants offering the first serious tricorders measuring blood oxygen levels, electrocardiogram, stress, heart rate, body temperature, blood oxygen level, pulse wave transit time, and more.
"By giving the patient a handheld lab, we are turning the patient into a doctor," he said.
Qualcomm is also working to provide the infrastructure to connect mobile health measurement devices to the cloud for multi-variable analytics. Its HealthyCircles venture provides a software-as-a-service model that connects healthcare professionals, caregivers, and their systems to patients and their families in an integrated, accessible, and interoperable system that monitors and manages treatment regimes remotely.
Dexcom G4 glucose monitoring system provides continuous
readout of blood sugar levels.
Jones cited other trends in this field. In "doctors prescribing apps," doctors have started advising their patients to download apps (for things like exercise and stress reduction) and use them at home. In "apps prescribing doctors," the app makes a preliminary diagnosis and then recommends the kind of specialist qualified to treat the malady. The patient can then use an app like ZocDoc to browse doctors with that speciality and book an appointment.
The Zio XT patch from iRhythm continuously records heart rhythms for up to 14 days to identify arrhythmias.
Finally, Jones said online services like Google's Helpouts will soon offer online video chats with healthcare professionals to help diagnose and treat maladies from the comfort of your easy chair.
— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times