The future of health care is social, and techie
March 30, 2014
AUSTIN — Your favorite social apps will soon enhance more than just your lifestyle.
If you think it’s cool sharing a dish at your favorite restaurant with your friends via Facebook or Twitter, imagine using social media to quit smoking, lose weight or avoid a debilitating knee injury or heart attack.
“There’s no more compelling app than one for your health or (the health of) your loved ones,” says Dr. Leslie Saxon, a cardiologist who runs the University of Southern California’s Center for Body Computing.
The health care industry is ripe for innovation thanks to a wide array of wireless medical sensors that are either in development or already being tested, Saxon said Saturday during a session of the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin.
The health industry “is where the music industry was with the vinyl LP,” Saxon says.
These sensors of the future won’t just be worn on your wrist or finger or in your clothes, she says.
The devices can also be implanted beneath the skin or – in the case of a drug-dosage monitor from Proteus Digital Health – come in the form of ingestible sensors no larger than a grain of sand.
They will track everything from sleep and body temperature to hydration and respiratory function.
The goal of all this invasive technology will be to give patients more control over their medical data and, therefore, over their own health care, Saxon said during her talk, titled “The Future of Networked Humans.”
“Consumers will be able to curate their own sensors and track the data they want,” Saxon says.
A company called Vantage Health is teaming up with the Scripps Translational Sciences Institute in La Jolla, Calif., to develop so-called point-of-care consumer health applications based on existing research from NASA, the U.S. space agency.
One of the first products being developed by this medical-device partnership is a breath analyzer that can detect lung cancer earlier than current diagnostic procedures.
It’s not only this sensor technology itself that will change health care, but the way it will communicate with other sensors in our homes, cars or portable devices — and with our friends, families and health care providers.
For example, apps that elicit encouragement from a smoker’s social media contacts are already proving more effective than other stop-smoking methods which use strictly-medical approaches, such as nicotine patches, according to Saxon.
The same devices we use to enhance our lifestyles – namely mobile devices connected to social media – will be used to enhance our health, Saxon says.
The product of all these sensors will be data – reams and reams of it.
A two-year-old of the future whose health is tracked in detail “will have more medical data in the cloud than any adult alive today,” she says.
That will present doctors, hospitals and patients with new issues of medical ethics, according to Saxon.
“Making sure that individual rights are safeguarded” will be just on of these challenges, she says.
Yet the new future of health care will make it possible to enhance both physical and mental health.
For example, what if you could have a video record of a past conversation that changed your life – even though you didn’t realize it at the time?
The ability to go back and replay that conversation could yield greater understanding, Saxon says.