Minding Your Own Medical Business
Ramsay is working on his own smart device, one that tells
patients, parents, and the orthodontist how much time a child is wearing a
removable appliance -- for instance, a retainer.
"There is greater appreciation about the role that a
patient's behavior plays in determining his own health outcomes -- whether it's
exercise, smoking cessation, modifying diets, following regimens like taking
pills, brushing teeth, and wearing orthodontic appliances," says
This has led to a growing recognition that devices, in addition
to having their basic biological, physiological, or pharmacological therapeutic
benefits, should also integrate the technology to help patients use them better
and more faithfully.
"They have to help the person do what we want them to
do," he says.
Don't Call These Gizmos Gadgets
"I think I have a concern about the word 'gadget.' When you
put together the words 'medical' and 'gadget,' what you don't want to have are
medical toys," says Cecelia Horwitz, MBA, associate director at the Center
for Future Health at the University of Rochester in New York.
Rather, she says, think of these products as data-collecting
devices intended to empower the consumer.
"It is not a gadget, but is something that is part of your
life and gathers information for you. ... It is ubiquitous, integrated into
your life, and you don't have to bend for it. Smart technology recognizes
changes in a person's condition, and it provides information for them to take
action on own behalf."
At the Center for Future Health, Horwitz says, scientists are
working on several different products, including eyeglasses that can remind
people with memory problems of the names of friends and relatives, and smart
bandages that help physicians figure out which particular bacterium is causing
Home, Sweet Smart Home
Perhaps the mother of all gadgets -- for lack of a better word
-- is what Horwitz calls "the smart home."
"Imagine your home being outfitted with equipment that [is]
very friendly to you," she says. "For example, a medical advisor you
could talk to and say, 'I don't know whether I took the right pills today' and
you show it your pills and it's able to tell you. Or you could ask it, 'When
was the last time I went to the doctor?' or 'How is my blood sugar level
today?' and it could answer you in a way that is easy to understand.
"And what if, in that home, your bathroom mirror is a smart
mirror and it scans your skin as you look in it to see if there are any hints
of abnormalities that might lead to skin cancer?" she continues. All that
data would go to the electronic medical advisor, for the patient to do with as
he wants, she says.
"With smart medical technology, people will be able to
monitor their health, take early action, and be much healthier, for much
longer, in their own homes" Horwitz says.
And it's not just a pipe dream, she says. The technology for
smart homes -- and even a prototype -- is already available. And soon it should
"This is intended to be affordable. That is what our whole
mission is about, to invent affordable technologies and products to help people
stay healthy in their homes," she says.