MEMS & Sensors Can Bring a New mHealth World

DN Staff

March 11, 2015

4 Min Read
MEMS & Sensors Can Bring a New mHealth World

Last year I spoke at a conference focused entirely on the topic of mobile health -- aptly named “mHealth Summit” -- where I met dozens of companies dedicated to the practice of medicine and public health through mobile devices. But let’s be clear: We are not talking about some whiz-bang new technology that still needs to be invented. We have the technology now to enable doctors to diagnose disease from across the globe, delivering the results to your smartphone. That technology is MEMS and sensors, and we are just glimpsing what it can uncover through the increase in quantified-self data from wearables and health monitoring devices.

MEMS/sensors device manufacturers see the obvious opportunity. According to Marcellino Gemelli, head of business development for Bosch Sensortec (BST), the key is in expanding from the automotive domain to other markets. BST is eager to bring MEMS/sensors first developed for automotive safety applications to mobile health, or mHealth -- with product modifications, of course. As one of the largest providers of MEMS/sensors to consumer applications such as mobile phones -- which are quickly becoming the conduit between patients and the healthcare community -- BST, it seems, is on its way to achieving that goal.

CareSpan sees an even larger opportunity: every patient on the planet. CEO Mark Winter defines CareSpan as “the first cloud-based platform for real healthcare (enabling diagnosis and prescription) that operates entirely inside a Web browser with no software or special video hardware to install.”

This allows CareSpan to scale up at a tremendous cost advantage for providers, by using the standard personal computers, tablets, and smartphones of patients as medical care terminals, says Winter. “Doctors and patients can truly be anywhere and still fulfill the standards of an in-person exam,” he said. With billions of people using mobile devices on a daily basis, and those devices potentially fitted with built-in personal health sensors, imaging systems, and apps, CareSpan and other technology enablers have a built-in audience for mHealth applications.

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CareSpan works off Continua Alliance standards, Apple HealthKit, and other emerging mHealth standards, making data “coherent and relevant to individualized patient care,” according to Winter.

But the biggest challenge is the data. Winter calls it the “dark side,” asking, “How will physicians and other healthcare providers manage the avalanche of personal health data coming at them from their patients? Even more important, how do these providers integrate this data in a meaningful way into the day-to-day care process, whether it is an in-person visit or a telemedicine exam?”

Nodding his head in virtual agreement, Gemelli states that BST’s biggest challenge is “the quality of the collected data.” He points out that consumer heart-rate monitors cannot easily compensate for the patient’s motion. Having spoken with numerous companies on the device manufacturer/sensor fusion algorithm side of the house, I know that companies are working to resolve this issue -- and believe a solution is not far away.

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One of the brightest minds in mHealth is the keynote at MEMS Industry Group’s MEMS Executive Congress Europe 2015: Claus Nielsen, business development manager, health & care technologies, at DELTA in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Nielsen likes to talk about mHealth’s next “supermodel” and the manner in which Nordic countries are leading the way for the rest of the world. Why are they superior? Because “the Nordics have taken a bold strategic decision to change that for the future, and have adopted Continua guidelines nationwide to be able to securely and legally collect health data from patients’ devices,” he says.

They are taking the first stab at knocking down the silos that we’ve created in much of the US (and the rest of the world) by developing separate mHealth systems such as Apple’s HealthKit, Microsoft’s HealthVault, and Google Fit.

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Nielsen advocates for “the adoption of interoperable standards that can affect real change and save lives,” including that of Nielsen’s son, who has Type 1 diabetes.

But we aren’t there yet, and mHealth has still not delivered fully on its promise. I welcome a world where patients are empowered to creatively destruct today’s healthcare system by using the MEMS and sensors in their smartphones/glasses/watches/T-shirts to fundamentally change the patient-healthcare provider paradigm. I cannot wait for the time when “the doctor will see you now” doesn’t mean an hour-long wait in an uncomfortable uniform gown followed by a five-minute talk with your doctor that often leaves you with more questions.

Clearly we have some work to do, but we’ve got the technology, and now it’s time to knock down some walls, create the necessary standards for interoperability, and build a new mHealth world.

Karen Lightman is executive director of MEMS Industry Group (MIG), the trade association comprising more than 160 companies advancing MEMS and sensors across global markets. Click here for more information.

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