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New Excuse to Buy that Smart Phone: The Continuous Physical

Posted Dec 21 2010 11:13am

The greatest opportunity for cost savings and increased quality in health care is mobile wireless technology.  Many engineers already know this;   Withings ‘ scale that sends information to the computer, Nike and the iPod, and Fitbit come to mind, transmitting user fitness data to online databases. But why can’t this be done for medical patients — diabetics, heart failure patients, and others who would benefit from continuous monitoring?

It can, and it is already beginning. According to a blog post by Dr. Unplugged , (aka Dr. Joseph Smith), of the Western Wireless Institute :

The connected person of the future will carry a personal Communicator (PERC) whose function is to connect that person to the optimum network and to be aware of the user’s precise location. There will be at least a half dozen network choices depending upon the location, the user’s priorities and budget, etc. The device will be located on the body in a customized fashion as simple as belt-worn or as complex as an ankle worn unit that charges kinetically. Inputs to the PERC come from a selection of devices tailored to the needs of the user including some devices that could be embedded in the PERC.

Thus, one configuration might be a cell phone much like a modern smart phone. More likely, the “phone” itself would be optimized as a behind-the-ear or embedded device. The user’s running shoes might include sensors that derive calories expended as well as other performance measures, and a variety of health related sensors would be mounted on the body as determined by the user’s specific problems, age, interests, or genetic data.  Input would also come from external devices such as the bathroom scale, mattress, and automobile.

The PERC contains, in effect, the identity of the user and thus would become the focus of commercial transactions (obsolescing the credit card and even money), security systems, and the like. Depending upon the user’s desires and sensitivity to privacy issues (all of which will be creatively and effectively addressed) the user’s health, fitness, eating habits, and financial health could be continuously monitored in addition to enhance versions of the already implemented communications ability (phone calls, texting, and social networking of many kinds).

This is the vision of Martin Cooper, who invented the cell phone. Cooper says there’s no reason why people can’t be continuously monitored wirelessly, and their data fed to a central source like the physician’s office, where it can send out an alert if there’s a noteworthy or dangerous variation.

A recent study says consumers want mobile health, and will pay for it:

Worldwide about 70 percent of people are interested in having access to at least one mHealth application, according to …Pyramid Research. What’s more they are willing to pay for that access, the report found. Pyramid also estimates that about 200 million mHealth applications are in use today and that number will triple by 2012.

Think  how this might help patients with cardiac arrhythmias, who show up in the doctor’s office and then can’t duplicate the feeling they had when they called to make the appointment.  These patients, who now have to wear a Holter monitor and come back to the office to have it read, could now be diagnosed from home.

Yes, people will question the privacy or the security aspects of this new application of mobile technology at first, but they will acclimate to it, just as they now openly converse on cell phones in public places and post the intimate details of their love lives on social networks.

I’m optimistic about the impact this will have on health care costs as the Baby Boomer generation begins to age.

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