EDITORIAL

Consistent with the explosive growth of mobile phone technology…

Smartphone Doctors Will Keep Us Healthy

F or now, those who want to screen for a disease or measure a medical condition with clinical accuracy still need to go to the doctor. But just around the corner, small handheld devices—our smartphones!—will enable us to access a plethora of health information inside out bodies. Such as information about our blood, about our chemistry, about our DNA, about our physiological state, and any other type of consideration that might be able to tell us more about the state of our health. This advent, and it’s coming faster than you think, could represent a huge health enhancment. If you wait, you might miss out on life-saving benefits.

A wide array of medical inventors, engineers, physicians, mathematicians and so on have recently been excited and spurred into creative activity by an award of $10 million, offered for winning a competition to create such a device to revolutionize healthcare. It’s the called the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, and after having been announced on January 11, 2012 the X Prize award committee is looking toward the finish line in the near future.

In this competition, many teams from around the globe have been leveraging technology innovation in areas such as artificial intelligence and wireless sensing—much like the medical Tricorder of Star Trek fame—to make medical diagnoses independent of a physician or healthcare provider.

“The goal of the competition is to drive development of devices that will give consumers access to their state of health in the palm of their hand,” state the hosts at http://tricorder.xprize.org/.

Out of the original entrees, in August of last year 10 teams were selected for the final count-down which is expected to culminate in January of 2016. “The $10 million prize purses will be awarded to the team that develops a mobile platform that most accurately diagnoses a set of 15 diseases across 30 consumers in three days. Teams must also deliver this information in a way that provides a compelling consumer experience while capturing real time, critical health metrics such as blood pressure, respiratory rate and temperature.”

In preparing for the competition, the questions asked by many of the participants include:

  • Which are the deep diagnostics of the most important biomarkers, the internal indicators that can serve as an early warning sign of a serious ailment?
  • Of the diagnostic medical instruments in use, which are the ones that can be shrunk down to the size of a matchbox?
  • Which are the most important measurable indicators to make sure that a person is healthy?

Of the final competitors for the X Prize, here is one:

At the DNA Medical Institute (DMI) in Boston-Cambridge, Dr. Eugene Chan and his colleagues aim to change the idea that doctors must play a preliminary role. Chan’s team has created a portable handheld device that can diagnose hundreds of diseases using a single drop of blood with what Chan claims is gold-standard accuracy.

The technology of DMI (known as rHEALTH), has been in play for the better part of a decade, with help along the way from NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They also won last year’s Nokia Sensing XChallenge, one of several competitions run by the self-annointed “moonshot-seekers,” the XPrize Foundation. XChallenge seeks to accelerate sensor technologies innovation for healthcare problems. Taking aim at that goal, DMI came up with tools to quickly and easily allow individuals to detect possible health problems without having to rely on analysis from large, facility-bound, and very expensive lab instruments.

Responding to a NASA challenge to create a diagnostics device that could work even in space, it is important to note that rHEALTH was portable from their first foray, due to space considerations. Subject of a recent article in WIRED magazine, Dr. Chan said, “There used to be no method for good, autonomous diagnosis … rHEALTH technology is highly sensitive, quantitative, and capable of meeting the FDA’s bar for sophistication, while still being geared for consumers.”

According to a video produced for the X Prize, this is how it works: first a drop of blood is introduced into a small receptacle where reagents and nanostrips react with the constituents of the blood. All of this is fed through a micro-mixer and forced past lasers that come up with a diagnosis, anything from a common flu to a devastating disease within a few minutes.

rHealth also contains patches that users can wear to get continuous health readings, such as EKG, heart rate, body temperature, and all of this is delivered to their smartphone via a Bluetooth link. As well, an app is included that walks the user through. Be aware that DMI is moving toward the market with all speed, and that there are others too.

Imagine a world where a diagnostic magnetic resonance spectrometer, built into your handheld smartphone, can diagnose cancer in an hour. Imagine the reality of active monitoring, when you are the user who can manage and monitor your own health.

Healthcare has become too impersonal and expensive. Don’t let the bureaucracy of diagnosis take over your life with endless waits for appointments and diagnostic data. This is about the new revolution of medical informatics, which will succeed. Be sure that you’re an early adopter!

Live long and prosper,

Will Block

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