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Post-Pandemic Scenarios – XIII – Doctor at home

Easy to use devices for at home health monitoring and testing devices will become more and more common. In the picture a device for EKG, as easy as placing two fingers on a pad and reading the result on the smartphone screen. That result is shared with the doctor for analyses. Image credit: AliveCor Kardia Mobile

Healthcare at home

At home healthcare is nothing new. As technology progresses there are more and more opportunity for continuous monitoring and remote diagnostics. I remember I started to be involved, from a Telco perspective, in telemedicine 40 years ago as we were looking for application of ISDN, an amazing technology that could provide 64kbps connectivity, and with some ingenious tricks push it to 128kbps. I know it seems ridiculous now, but at that time we worked with other companies to support EKG data transmission from a (bulky) equipment that could stay at home of the patient.

Compare that with the the tiny pad shown in the picture, the AliveCor Kardia, that detects electrical fluctuation through your fingertips and sends them to your smartphone where an app will process them and create the EKG with possibility of raising a red flag and sharing the data with a doctor thousands of miles away.

As expected, the FTI’s report foresee an acceleration of the transformation in the whole healthcare sector as consequence of Covid-19 pandemic. Actually, I found the part on healthcare the most interesting one of the whole report for the insights it provides on the profound disruption looming ahead.

The technology evolution is ubiquitous and in this sector we are seeing a convergence of technologies that produces a multiplying effect leading to a disruption in the rules of the game. The technologies that have most impact in this transformation are:

  • genomics (including rapid testing, gene manipulation – CRISPR-CasX- leading to rapid vaccine creation);
  • Bio/physiological parameters detection (both through wearable, implants and external devices) through advanced, low cost sensors;
  • Signal processing (SoC, artificial intelligence including machine learning for custom analyses);
  • Cloud and Edge Cloud for low cost, high intensity processing, along with pervasive communications infrastructure – 5G is not a must but of course it is nice to have;
  • Local detection, processing and storage provided by personal devices, like smartphones, that are easy to use and do not burden with additional cost the healthcare system;
  • Blockchain and data protection / data frameworks -like GaiaX- providing a robust and shared architecture that both increases data sharing possibilities whilst preserving privacy.

Interestingly, most of the above technologies are not stemming out of the healthcare sector, they are not controlled by that sector big players and yet they are transformative of the healthcare processes and business. We know very well than whenever there are radical processes changes the established companies (incumbent) are facing a challenging time. We are seeing names like Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple, that are major forces in those technology evolution, starting to flank the big healthcare players with the aim of replacing them in the long run (or at the very least to put a significant dent in their business). If you click on those company names you see some articles discussing their growing role in healthcare.  I’ll come back onto this transformation in a later post, for now let’s look at the evolution of healthcare devices that can change our home into an healthcare hub, actually into the first healthcare hub.

The smartphone is becoming the de-facto processing node for a variety of medical sensors that in an increasing number are getting an FDA approval (that is usually leading the approval of several other healthcare institutions in different Countries), in addition to already mentioned portable EKG we have:

  • Apple Watch, Fitbands, SmartWatches are becoming more and more widespread and are sensing more and more parameters, from electrical signals (detecting irregular rhythm) to oxygen-blood saturation, blood pressure, temperature, sugar in sweat, …;
  • VR headsets, like VROR Eye Dr.,  that can perform ophthalmic examination locally and send the data to an ophthalmologist;
  • portable sensors, like Steth IO to capture breathing “rumours” that are pre-analysed in the smartphone (watch the clip) and then transferred to a pulmonologist;
  • portable ultrasound devices, like Butterfly IQ, that connect to the smartphone for image display and first level analyses;
  • salivar testing to detect a variety of mouth bacteria, like Paratus Diagnostics. The race is on to provide Covid-19 salivar testing at home;
  • ear infection tele diagnoses, like CellScope, to check on your baby or kid ear canal and sending the images to the pediatrician,
  • fertility tracking bracelet like Ava, worn as you sleep, provides data to a smartphone app to monitor fertility cycle.

Additionally, our homes will host a number of smart appliances/devices that can double up as healthcare monitoring by providing data to artificial intelligence based software (the AI relates to the capability of the software of learning over time the digital signature of that specific person and interpret any changes, raising an alert if needed):

  • smart toilets will become labs for daily test of several physiological parameters,
  • smart mirrors will look at changes in your face, detect spots on your skin …,
  • smart shower will embed sensors and scanners to detect suspicious moles,
  • safety cameras will provide continuous feed of your whereabouts at home and image recognition software will spot changes in gait that may signal a neurological condition,
  • smart toothbrush can detect early gum diseases and cavities…
  • microphones, like Alexa, will provide your voice digital signature to be compared and analysed, making it possible to spot some medical conditions (apps to detect the risk of being Covid-19 infected are already on the market and they analyse your voice pattern changes over time and the type of cough…).

The list goes on and on. Part of the devices and appliances mentioned are already a reality and will get better in the coming years, others are still on the drawing board but can be expected soon changing the way healthcare is being monitored, making it proactive and customised.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.