Every year medical devices increase in capability due to developments in biotech, robotics and connected devices. Simultaneously the patient experience is changing: health consumers are by and large tech literate, mobile and accustomed to the on-demand services and information and possess similar expectations of medical services. Remote medicine and telemedicine are becoming more standard as health providers and insurers begin to solidify their support behind telemedicine, in particular the financial benefits to both sectors.
In conjunction we see the development of a series of diagnostic tool that utilize the smart phone as a conduit for medicine tests, diagnosis and health maintenance. Many of these tools are modular. Here’s some of the most interesting in the field right now:
At home/remote laboratory testing
Yo Sperm Test
Traditional sperm tests aren’t the most comfortable sample to deliver, traditionally relying upon a male inpatient visit to a health clinic or hospital. A modern alternative is YO Sperm Test from Medical Electronic Systems, a $50 male fertility kit that is FDA approved for at-home use with the use of a smart phone. It includes everything needed to collect a sample: a sample collection cup, a testing slide, a plastic pipette, and a special liquefying powder.
A mini-microscope attaches to a smartphone camera to measures sperm motility — the movement of sperm and count the quantity. The participant can even view the sperm on their phone screen. The sample is piped onto the slide and inserted into the clip and a accompanying app takes and analyses a 30-second video. The company values their analyser at 97 percent accuracy. There is more detailed and advanced testing that advanced laboratories can carry out, but it’s an interesting development in mobile at home testing.
In late 2016 a group of scientists developed a home HIV testing kit that speeds up diagnosis and allows patients to monitor their own treatment. Teams from Imperial College London and DNA Electronics collaborated to create a USB stick containing a mobile phone chip. A drop of blood is placed onto a spot on the USB stick. If any HIV virus is present in the sample, this triggers a change in acidity which the chip transforms into an electrical signal. This electrical signal connects to a corresponding software program.
Initial research shows the device to be highly accurate. Of 991 blood samples tested, the technology was accurate 95 per cent of the time. The device also significantly reduces the testing time-traditional HIV tests take a minimum of three days whilst the USB stick can produce a result in under 30 minutes.
The application is also useful for at home monitoring of the level of the virus in the blood stream, enabling health providers to determine firstly medication adherence and secondly, if the virus has developed a resistance to the prescribed drugs. It would further benefit those in remote regions of Africa where despite high rates of HIV, blood testing facilities are limited.
The team are also investigating whether the device can be used to test for other viruses such as hepatitis.
Respiratory conditions such as asthma require constant management and easy access to medication in the event of an attack. Sensor technology can not only provide real time health data for asthmatics and their doctors, but also ongoing assistance. Polish start up findair has created a sensor cap for asthma inhalers.
It works alongside a corresponding app equipped with a specially designed algorithm to help patients prevent and anticipate asthma attacks. It monitors how often patients use their inhaler/s and the circumstances of drug usage. This helps asthmatics learn their asthma triggers as the collected data warns the user about possible situations in which asthma attacks can occur. With sensor modules such as those created by nexpaq, real time analytics of neighbourhood temperature and humidity would be a great addition as these are common asthma triggers.
The device also features location functionality to ensure that a lost inhaler sends an alert to the patient through their mobile phone, even if under a pile of clothing at home, a loss of medication can be deadly. Importantly, unlike existing treatment inhalers, the sensor cap enables the consumer to determine how much is left in your inhaler.
One wearable company invested in the management of food allergies is the Allergy Amulet, wearable that looks like jewellery and contains testing strips that enable you to test your food for allergens in seconds. A small case stores disposable testing stripes and acts as a strip reader. It can be worn on a necklace, bracelet, watch, or mobile phone case.
The strip has microscopic cavities that match the molecular shape of the unique proteins in a given allergen. If that allergen is present in a dish, the proteins in it will bind to the strip. Once the strip is inserted into the reader, the device will will flash and buzz if the strip picked up any of the hazardous proteins. If you’re allergic to peanuts and you’re not sure whether the nut is hidden in your food, all you have to do is dip the strip into the dish. If the strip picks up any peanut particles, the reader will alert you. Then you can throw out the strip and replace it with a new one on your necklace or bracelet. The reader can be mounted to your phone or carried separately. The creators of the Allergy Amulet claim the device is extremely sensitive, and can detect peanut particles at levels as low as 1-2 parts per million
One of the modular health products we’d like to see in the future is a new design of the Epipen (a portable device that delivers life saving adrenaline to people in anaphylactic shock). At present the large and clunky pen is the only commercial means to self-deliver adrenalin. A modular version would ensure that it could be carried easily and a connected sensor could alert emergencies services of the reaction as the use of an Epipen always requires a trip to the emergency department.
25% of 415 million diabetics have to know the contained carbohydrates of each meal and most of the others have to lose weight. For both this is a lifetime challenge. Up until now, counting carbs have been a numbers game involving lists of calorie estimations and estimates at best. Now the YuScale System from Germany is able to determine the nutritional values of ready-to-eat meals with a precision of 80%.
The system involves a small portable digital scale (currently round in prototypes but in future a rectangle that can fit the back of a mobile phone is planned) and an app. The user, weighs eat plate of food and takes a picture of their plate of food. The shapes of the ingredients are traced with your finger directly on the phone screen and assigned to a pre-existing database of more than 20,000 entries along with the and means of preparation. The YuScale app then calculates the precise caloric and nutritional values. After your meal, the plate is weighed again, including left-overs.
The results are automatically saved with the correct date in a personal food diary. These entries can even be refined with frequent updates on your personal weight, BMI, your mood or personal notes. This adds a correlation between your physical and mental development over a longer period of time. The success a diet or nutritional concept can be precisely analyzed using this data.
The device is still a little labourious in use as it yet to go to market, but future iterations will be able to utilize more advanced machine learning analytics to identify food items and method of cooking in each meal in a more systematic way.
Modular Pill box
Sensor tech can also extend to the way medication is stored and administered. Pillbox is a connected pillbox and dispenser that helps users adhere to medication regimes. Dosette boxes are commonly used by people with multiple medications to manage. Using the Pillbox, each medication packet barcode is scanned via an app which connects with the pill box. This ensure the correct dosage is administered at the right time when the individual module opens to access the pill (removing the risk of drug overdose).
The device dispenses the medicine to you with a mobile reminder and lets you know when you are running low. Extra modules can be added to the pillbox if there are more family members that need to take medications. Users can also configure the app to require a confirmation after a family member has taken their medication and the health information can also be shared with a health professional.
The box is currently available for pre-order for $499. This is price is the pillbox’s biggest downfall as there are already connected pill boxes (admittedly with only basic functionality).. It’s a little way off but you could foresee this kind of product in nursing homes or care facilities in the future.
Home diagnostic tools
TytoHome is a connected health system that provides a complete telehealth visit and comprehensive medical exam of the heart, lungs, ears, skin, throat and temperature through the use of an advanced digital stethoscope, otoscope, thermometer and examination camera with a secure data exchange, clinical repository, appropriate instructions and live telehealth visits. The company has recently announced a partnership with American Well, making online health care accessible, though the health provider reimbursements may vary from state to state.
The benefit of the product is that it could be used by different members of the family (assuming it is appropriately sterilized between uses) making it more cost effective. However, I wonder how quickly it will be usurped by a more sophisticated model, leaving early adopters wanting. The company also offers a product for health professionals, enabling them to offer clinical services to remote locations when needed such as schools, nursing, and home care facilities, this could prove more successful. The home devices cost $250 and whilst their current form is sensor enabled, it’s easy to imagine future iterations in a more compact, modular form with swappable components.
Remote health and modular design go hand in hand
Remote health services extend from in-home care to mobile, on call and specialty care services. The advantage is that care is not limited by location and can extend to rural and remote areas, including locations where specialistl health services are not available. The use of connected modular technology means that products can be reused, reused, reapplied, and repaired easily in contrast to single purpose products which may have a high carbon footprint. At nexpaq we’re working hard to create modular solutions across many sectors for now and the future.