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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 Ramsay.

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 an infection.

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 be affordable.

"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.

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