Imagine a day when instead of calling your doctor because you’re not feeling well, your doctor calls you to make an appointment because you are about to get sick. Or being able to swallow a “digital pill” that transmits a message to your healthcare provider, letting her know when you took your medication and how your body is responding to it.
These are not madcap ideas of the future. They are developed technologies being used in health care today. And while still in their infancy, they are part of a movement in wearable sensors that may redefine the way doctors practice medicine.
Leading the charge
Out in the front of this revolution is Leslie A. Saxon, MD, chief of the division of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and founder of the University’s Center for Body Computing, an innovation institute that studies and creates wireless health solutions.
Earlier this month at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, Saxon presented her vision for a future where patients will use body sensors to continuously capture medical-grade health data and push it to their doctors.
“Consumers will be able to curate their own sensors and track the data they want,” Saxon said. She believes the technology will create a new medical paradigm where patients can be diagnosed and treated from anywhere in the world.
A unique kind of collaboration
Saxon founded the CBC in 2010 after conducting research that showed patients whose implantable defibrillators regularly transmitted data to their doctors lived longer than those whose devices did not. She wanted to use this insight to enhance patient care.
‘’I got interested in big data and networked medicine…so I started an innovation center about wearable sensors,” she said. ‘’And I realized you could scale some of this stuff over the globe and really extend life.”
The CBC is known for its multidisciplinary approach that draws together talent from the University’s schools of medicine, business, engineering and entertainment. In addition to creating its own solutions, the CBC also acts as an incubator, offering startups assistance with strategy and product development, clinical studies, and networking.
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A market ripe for picking
Worldwide spending on wearable technology is expected to reach $19 billion by 2018, according to Juniper Research. That’s a meteoric rise from the $1.4 billion predicted in 2014.
Given that health-related devices capture a large segment of this market, the area is poised for substantial growth. The CBC estimates there are nearly 130 health-related wearable devices on the market, but the search is on for sensors that are smaller, more accurate and more affordable.
An innovative pipeline
Here’s a snapshot of just a few of the many ideas coming out of the research center:
- AliveCor Heart Monitor. This mobile device allows user to take an accurate electrocardiogram (ECG) and share it with friends, family and physicians. Available as a smartphone case or an attachment that plugs in to the back of the phone, the monitor is both Android and iOS compatible.
- The health car. Get in your car, turn on the ignition and your steering wheel reads your vital signs. The car then automatically sets the temperature and music to match your mood. The technology is not available yet, but many car makers are in the race to create it. That includes BMW, which formed an alliance with the CBC in 2012 to develop this technology for their luxury automobiles.
- A smarter pacemaker: Drawing on her earlier research with implantable defibrillators, Saxon has teamed with Boston Scientific to develop a pacemaker device that communicates directly with patients. The device will detect changes in heart functioning and tell patients how to adjust their medications accordingly.