Speaker, entrepreneur, and author of The Patient as CEO Robin Farmanfarmaian has spoken the world over about how technology can empower patients and make a positive impact in the health and medical field.
“Cars, planes, rockets –– all are full of sensors that tell you about the machine’s operating system and record data that can be accessed to diagnose a problem. Look at your body in the same way,” she says. “You are an operating system (software) combined with hardware — and that can be broken down into components with data.”
She goes on to explain that our hardware are our organs, our skin, and our bones, while the software is how our genes and brain and neurology which all work in conjunction to keep our hardware healthy, functioning, and moving.
“Breaking the body down into an operating system makes you realize that everything inside it is treatable in some way,” Farmanfarmaian says. “That’s what we’re striving for now, finding ways to monitor and tweak the operating system of your body, instead of modifying the hardware with things like surgery and removing an organ.”
Farmanfarmaian further highlights that sophisticated ways of monitoring the body are emerging in the form of wearable technology with activity tracking devices such as Fitbit, Misfit Shine, and smartwatches using three-dimensional accelerometers to measure how much we move. “All the major tech companies are coming out with their own version of the Apple iWatch, which can be used to track your biometric activity with your iPhone,” she says. “The wearable technology industry is an industry in its infancy. But we’re soon going to see the same kind of technology mature, get much more accurate, and do much more.”
Farmanfarmaian predicts that we’re going to see more technology become HIPAA compliant and get FDA approved and that we’re going to see technology get seamlessly integrated into our daily lives, with sensors that fit against or under the skin (subcutaneous) like temporary tattoos, and sensors that fit inside blood vessels. According to Farmanfarmaian:
These sensors will detect and transmit data such as blood pressure via blue tooth technology that can be downloaded directly to your device. The electronics company MC10 is working on epidermal conformal electronics that can tell you, via your smart phone, body temperature and hydration levels. It has partnered with L’Oreal cosmetics to do an in-depth study on human skin. L’Oreal will probably be launching the MC10 epidermal sensor in the next year or two, along with their makeup line, to tell consumers about their skin. What makes these technologies so exciting is that you can’t forget about them and the battery isn’t going to die. You can’t lose it and you don’t have to worry about whether it’s obtrusive or matches your outfit.
Most importantly, a sensor inside a blood vessel provides continuous, accurate monitoring that the patient doesn’t have to think about. Compliance goes way up when you don’t have to worry about remembering to put a device on every morning.
For people with an illness like diabetes, continuous monitoring sensors will have a huge impact, according to Farmanfarmaian. “Instead of needing to do multiple finger pricks every day to check blood glucose levels, the sensor will alert the patient,” she says. “The discomfort and expense of finger pricks will go away (currently a single test strip for a glucose meter costs about a dollar) and compliance with diabetes treatment will go way up. We’re going to start to see fewer of the bad complications you can get from diabetes, like foot ulcers, amputations, and vision loss.”
It’s an exciting time in tech with many new and emerging technologies that will work to keep us and our doctors informed as to the state of our health without hospital trips, waits for lab results, and lab fees. Here’s to, as Farmanfarmaian says, “being informed so as to empower us to make the best decisions for our health.”