Wireless sensors are the missing link in mobile health applications

Scanadu Scout sensorWireless sensors are an evolving missing link and a gigantic opportunity in mobile health application development and commercialization.

Markets for mobile health are developing rapidly. Personal fitness, quantified self, chronic disease monitoring, elder health monitoring, infant monitoring, acute symptom diagnosis, physical therapy, and telemedicine are a few of the segments in mobile health.

We have fast networks that cover almost all of our population in the U. S. and most developed countries. Smartphones are powerful mobile computers with vast amounts of onboard computing power and storage. If the smartphone’s capabilities are insufficient, developers can access cloud-based storage, databases, and distributed computing that can scale to address any size problem.

Because all of this technology has been developed for mass consumer markets (and because of Moore’s law), it is inexpensive – orders of magnitude less costly than a few years ago.

So we have cheap, powerful, ubiquitous computing and connectivity mostly being used for social connectivity and YouTube video watching. This powerful computer network is also increasingly being used to improve healthcare diagnosis and delivery.

Still being developed are wireless sensors to take advantage of all of that computing power. There are a number of companies pursuing commercialization of sensors and apps to enable all sorts of mobile health capabilities and functions.

Some of the sensor technologies are wearable in clothing or on the skin, some are implantable, and others are ingestible. All use low power wireless communications technology such as Bluetooth Low Energy for continuous or periodic monitoring. The first generation of sensors, like Holter monitors, recorded data for a time period and were sent to a lab for processing so a report could be generated for a physician. The new generation of sensors records continuously and sends the data in real time where a physician or even the patient can access data that has been processed by a smart application.

Physicians are beginning to be able to monitor their patients with chronic diseases in real time. Individuals active in the “quantified self” movement have more personal data than ever with which to monitor and analyze themselves. Physicians can prescribe personal diagnostics to collect data in order to make a more accurate diagnosis.

For example, Given Imaging of Israel has developed a capsule that has video recording and radio transmission capabilities. The capsule is swallowed by the patient. It then records and transmits its journey through the patient’s digestive tract. The video is reviewed by the physician to determine a preliminary diagnosis and the need for more invasive interventions like surgery.

For the Star Trek fan, Scanadu is developing a crude “tricorder”  – a disk of sensors that is placed on the forehead to measure temperature, heart and respiration rate, blood pressure, and more. The Scanadu Scout is intended for consumers, not physicians.

According to Medical Device and Diagnostics Industry, Pathfinder Software, a mobile and wireless application developer, has created a clever infographic showing various sensors and the body functions they are intended to monitor.

The sensors shown on the infographic are a mere subset of what’s currently available and in development. For example, a startup in my home city of Redmond, Washington, Heapsylon has developed sensors for “smart socks” that can measure a variety of parameters related to running gait to improve athletic performance and prevent injury.

Takeaways: There are opportunities for novel sensors to monitor and measure all sorts of body functions and parameters. There are opportunities to develop applications that gather, process and interpret sensor data for consumers and for healthcare professionals. There are opportunities to analyze aggregated sensor data to assess population health and trends. Finally, there are opportunities to develop and deploy solutions that bring low cost healthcare to underserved populations.

Read more: How Innovations Using Sensors Can Disrupt Healthcare (infographic) | MDDI Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry News Products and Suppliers.