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Healthcare Gets “Smart” with Sensors, Apps, and Wearable Technology

October 01, 2014

“Smart” technologies and wearable devices that monitor everything from blood sugar to medication adherence are beginning to peak consumers’ interests.

Though Apple’s headline-grabbing Apple Watch and its Healthkit suite of apps have dominated recent news, several companies offer a variety of technologies designed to address people’s specific health needs.

California-based company Proteus Digital Health, for example, has developed a system in which ingestible radio frequency chips within medications allow wearable sensors to track a patient’s medication schedule. Combined with the sensor’s ability to monitor activity and rest patterns, data on the user’s medication usage can be shared with relatives, caregivers and medical staff. Imagine that? A phone or tablet sending medication reminders and alerting a caregiver when an elderly parent has skipped his or her medication. These technologies are a promising development for the healthcare industry and are becoming more affordable for the average consumer. They present enormous potential for how medical providers can better care for patients in their own homes.

Advances in smart technology also extend to other health needs, such as diabetes monitoring. Wearable “smart” blood glucose monitors can be paired with insulin pumps to control blood sugar in people with diabetes. Other technology, such as  a “bionic pancreas,” also could make diabetes management easier. The technology, which was recently tested on children at a Boston summer camp, uses a sensor placed underneath the skin to monitor glucose levels. It checks blood sugar in 5-minute intervals, sends the information to a smartphone app that determines whether to raise or lower a person’s blood sugar, and subsequently administers the appropriate insulin dosage. It has huge implications for people with Type I diabetes (insulin-dependent), and it opens up new possibilities for people with chronic pancreatitis and even pancreatic cancer.

Aside from smart technology, health-related apps also are very popular among consumers. Apps like PocketPharmacist give consumers drug information, while others like MyFitnessPal and RxmindMe monitor activity and calorie intake and send medication reminders, respectively. The FDA now regulates some of these apps, especially those that are used in conjunction with a regulated medical device or act as one themselves. You should do your research before downloading a health app, as some app developers have deliberately tried to avoid FDA regulation.

Many new technologies are emerging that could benefit people’s health and possibly revolutionize health care. While nothing can take the place of a nurse’s healing touch, a doctor’s compassion, or a therapist’s expert care, these technologies will continue to develop and provide valuable assistance to patients and providers alike.