Patients Self-Monitor With Wearable Diagnostics

Laird Harrison

September 25, 2014

SANTA CLARA, California — In a scene that does not usually take place at a medical conference, models showed off wearable diagnostic and tracking devices here at the Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference.

The technology included otoscopes attached to smart phones and monitors that fit inside pendants, bras, socks, and wrist watches.

A model demonstrated a headset that monitors brainwaves to accompany an armband that tracks heart rates (Evoke Neuroscience), jewel-like sensors that update the wearer on exposure to sunlight (Netanol), and a monitor that inserts under the skin to continuously report on glucose (Medtronic).

Many of these devices are targeted to health-conscience consumers. Under Armor's "I Will What I Want," campaign, created for athletic women, similarly aggregates data, allowing users to compare themselves not only with friends but also with celebrity athletes hired by the company.

"We envision a world with sensors all over the place," said Chris Glode, Under Armor' vice president of connected fitness.

Healthy Target by WebMD, Medscape's parent company, seeks to help patients make sense of all the data they are collecting on themselves, set and track goals, and compare their success against people in their network.

We envision a world with sensors all over the place. Chris Glode

And Walgreens is working with Aisle411 and Google's Project Tango to help consumers make use of health data while in their stores. "It's our obligation to provide both choice and interoperability so people can bring the data wherever they go," said Adam Pellegrini, Walgreens vice president of digital health.

Despite marketing directly to consumers, the entrepreneurs still envision a role for physicians.

"The stethoscope has not changed since the 1880s," said Connor Landsgraf, whose company, Eko Devices, is preparing to sell computerized inserts for stethoscopes. "The result is that you see rampant misdiagnosis."

Many physicians do not get adequate training in how to interpret the sounds they hear with a classic stethoscope, he said. The Eko Devices insert fits inside any classic stethoscope and creates a visual waveform that can be analyzed on a smart phone.

Other inventions were created to appeal to caregivers. Eric Douglas, chief executive officer of CellScope, envisions parents waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of a crying child and using his company's cell phone–mounted otoscope to take images of the inside of their children's ears.

These images can then be sent to physicians, who can tell the parents whether the children have ear infections. It can save many patient visits and has been designed to walk the families through the situation, he said.

Similarly, the iDoc24 software for cell phones allows patients and caregivers to send images of skin conditions to participating dermatologists who, for $25, will not only diagnose the condition but also prescribe medications.

Artificial Intelligence

Cognoa applies a similar principle to developmental delays: Caregivers video their children's behavior and fill out a questionnaire about it, and the company's algorithms then analyze the results to produce a risk score for autism and other developmental issues. This can guide the caregivers' next steps, such as contacting an expert, said the company's chief executive officer Brent Vaughn.

"Because of delays many kids get diagnosed too late and miss the window of opportunity where we can help them most," he said. "Cognoa allows diagnoses in 3 days instead of 13 months."

Similar to Cognoa, Infermedica uses artificial intelligence to facilitate a diagnosis. The company offers a suite of software programs that physicians and patients can use to crunch data. The programs might help patients decide whether to seek medical attention or help physicians think of diagnoses that would not otherwise have occurred to them.

"The technology knows what questions to ask, based on primary responses," said Infermedica Chief Medical Officer Irving Loh, MD.

In the question-and-answer period after the show, a member of the audience wondered how long it would be before computers completely replace doctors in diagnosing patients, "like in Star Trek."

In lots of cases, like in critical care medicine, for example, "You don't ever want the machine running the show," Infermedica's Dr. Loh replied.

Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference. Presented September 23, 2014.


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