May 26, 2014

Technology Stirs Motivation to Reach Everyday Health Goals

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

I have talked about ground-breaking medical technology that can improve management of chronic illness and improve the odds of overcoming a life-threatening condition. Now, common technology is helping people manage their health habits by using gadgets and apps that monitor diet, exercise and sleep habits.

“The same industry that introduced Facebook and Angry Birds is now turning its attention to how technology can be applied to keep people healthy,” says Forbes in an article, “5 Ways Technology is Transforming Health Care.” Wearable wireless fitness devices have become a $330 million industry, according to NPD Group, a consumer research firm. These apps use social networking and gaming to motivate users to exercise more by competing with friends online.

A few standouts among the wearable devices that track walking, running and biking are UP by Jawbone and Nike+ Fuelband (“motivation on your wrist”) and Fitbit Ultra, which has an “altimeter sensor that knows when you’re climbing stairs.” All are mentioned in Computer World’s “Mobile Health Apps and Gadgets for Better (and Longer) Living.

Some “wearables” offer two- or three-in-one features including the Apple iPod Nano (6th Generation) which combines a music player, pedometer and option to hook up to a cardio machine at the gym. The MOTOACTV by Motorola is a fitness watch with a GPS and digital music player that connects with heart-rate monitoring and bike sensors.

PC Magazine, in its article, “The Best Activity Trackers for Fitness,” awards its Editor’s Choice award for the best wrist-worn and “most interesting activity tracker on the market” to the Basis Carbon Steel Edition, which measures steps and calories burned, heart rate, skin temperature and sleep.

The wearables fitness market looks to be here for the long run. Facebook just announced its acquisition of a company that makes a fitness-tracking smart phone called Moves.  Moves uses sensors in smartphones to track walking, biking and running, among many other uses. Facebook’s head of mobile, Erick Tseng said, “Wearables really come to life when you use them to connect to other people, not just collect data.”

For those who are more health and wellness-minded than fitness-minded, there is new technology that can also track sleep habits and count calories. Getting enough sleep and improving its quality have been a hot topic in recent years. The medical world has known that sleep plays a critical role to optimum health for heart, weight and mind, in addition to being beneficial for memory improvement, improving athletic performance, reducing inflammation and even living longer. Dozens of calorie-counting, food-monitoring and menu-tracking apps and monitors are out there to aid the diet-conscious and those on a quest for weight loss.

Here are a few of the apps and monitors that have received honorable mentions from the health and tech industries:

Still, some are waiting for technology to take a step further. As some say, “Wearable tech is a work in progress” and that most devices are “adept at collecting data, but they fail to provide consumers with valuable health-related insights” to tangibly improve it. Industry analysts speculate that Apple will produce a smart watch and its “flag will be firmly planted in the terrain of wearable tech” by the end of 2014.

When you think of how far cell phones have come since they were introduced, it’s a safe bet that we have a lot to look forward to with wearable tech and apps to help us with our everyday health.

May 5, 2014

Technology is Transforming Health Care in Life-Saving Ways – Part 2:

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

In part one of this blog we talked about how health-care technology is evolving for important life-saving uses including cancer diagnosis and treatment. Development of medical devices and techniques is ushering in a new age of health care to satisfy demand for better, less invasive and less costly therapies and care.

Medical websites, associations and publications all have their favorite medical device technologies. Here are a just a few of the innovations that promise to radically change diagnoses, monitoring and treatment.

The number-one choice of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in its “Top Five Medical Innovations” is a handheld optical tool called MelaFind that reduces the number of surgical biopsies for melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. The society’s second choice is “electronic aspirin,” an implanted nerve stimulating device by Autonomic Technologies to block pain-causing neurotransmitters at the first sign of a headache.

Number three on the ASME list is a transdermal biosensor for diabetes patients to read glucose through the skin without drawing blood. Echo Therapeutics is working on the technology that involves a patch and “hand handheld electric-toothbrush-like device that removes just enough top-layer skin cells to put the patient’s blood chemistry within signal range of a patch-borne biosensor” and sends the readings wirelessly to a remote monitor.  

Telemedicine, the use of phones and computers to transmit clinical health care and data remotely, is ASME’s fourth pick. This technology has been around for a long time and is especially beneficial to patients living in remote communities who can receive care from doctors far away. The next step, medical robots that can check patients in different hospital rooms, have been developed jointly by iRobot Corp. and InTouch Health.

The RP-VITA Remote Presence Robot is a mobile cart with a two-way video screen and medical monitoring equipment that is programmed to maneuver through the busy halls of a hospital to perform routine rounds, check on patients and manage charts and vital signs, all without human intervention.

Some of the most mind-boggling innovations in medical technology are happening thanks to 3D “biologic printing,” as chronicled by MedCity News in its “The 6 Biggest Innovations in Health Care Technology in 2013.” Potential applications of 3D printers include printing of embryonic stem cells; laser-printing skin cells, blood vessels and sheets of cardiac tissue; printing of stem cells that would develop into bone and cartilage; printing cancer cells for research and drug testing; printing patches of cells to help improve heart function; and printing parts or entirely new organs, eliminating the need for organ donations.

As far-fetched as those ideas sound, a company called Organovo already has successfully printed blood vessels and sheets of cardiac tissue that “actually beat along just like a real heart.”

A big win for the medical-device field is the new Medical Device Innovation Consortium, announced by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, which oversees the approval process for new medical devices.  MDIC is “charged with simplifying the process of designing and testing new technologies and will prioritize the regulatory science needs of the medical device community and fund projects to streamline the process.”

In my next blog, we’ll see what new technology is available for everyday uses to keep people healthy. 

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