Exploring New Health Technologies

Monitoring Vital SignsBy Beth Kelly

There are more new health technologies on the market than ever before. Mobile phones and tablets provide health apps, many of which are capable of interacting with wearable fitness tracking devices. Trackers and their accompanying apps, which can be used to measure heart rate and steps per day, take medical awareness a step further than programs that simply focus on caloric intake.

EDITOR: While the accuracy of many of these wearable devices disappoint medical professionals, the simple ability to track progress, no matter how accurate, is a big step forward. And accuracy will improve over time with better sensor technology.

Managing diabetes and other medical illnesses, losing weight, and obtaining a higher level of health has never been easier as a result of the new technologies. Every year, more medical based products and updates improve upon the older technologies, and as a result of mobility, Wi-Fi and the use of sensors, they are becoming increasingly beneficial. Industry blog HealthITjobs.com explains, “The new surge of health, fitness and nutrition apps make communicating with your primary care provider much easier and can even provide them new information that they previously could not obtain. This allows individuals to monitor their own health in ways we have never seen before so the potential for improving preventative care is tremendous.”

Google Fit is one example a new product focusing more heavily on the medical side, which is to be released very soon. Fit is part of a platform acting as a centralized app that encompasses virtually everything ‒ the Fit’s open APIs is said to eventually allow any connected apps and devices to seamlessly share data in what the company calls the “Google Fit ecosystem.” After aggregating such details as heart rate, sleep patterns, weight and diet, the platform will arrange the data in an easily interpretable  way to allow a person to manage the information regarding their health. Fitness is of course a major feature, but for the majority of us, the Fit provides an opportunity to self-monitor basic health.

The chief of Google’s Android division, Sundar Pichai, insisted it was “crazy” that people visit their doctors, at most, once a year to have their heart rate and blood pressure measured. He told BusinessWeek, “You obviously need to be able to measure these things so many more times and then apply more intelligence to it.”

The wearable devices keep track of what’s going on in real time, and in context so you and your doctor can understand what may have contributed to the sensor reading you see and why they may be out of range.

Since the introduction of Google Fit, Google has announced more than a dozen apps that will be working and integrating with the platform. This includes apps from Adidas, Mio, Nike+ and others. Google Fit will also provide recommendations to help each individual stay on track.

Apple Healthkit is a similar setup, albeit designed specifically for iOS devices. The interactive platform provides a dashboard that can establish calories burned, sleep patterns and various other details. The technology giant has two major advantages however. One is their partnership with the medical giant that is Mayo Clinic, and their technology, and the other is their relationship with EPIC, the leading electronic medical records (EMR) company, which gets them into other major hospitals. Mayo already has a successful patient portal and patient app, but the medical center views its partnership with Apple as a way to reach out to consumers with whom it doesn’t already have an established relationship. For example, if a patient’s blood pressure is pinpointed as abnormal in Apple’s Health App, the Mayo Clinic, within the app, will provide follow-up recommendations.

Mayo’s medical director for marketing and public affairs, Dr. John Wald, told InformationWeek, “[The HealthKit API] breaks very exciting ground. For a subspecialty like cardiac, we’re monitored on what our 30-day readmission rates are. [This gives us] the ability to have the patient monitored at home with a variety of devices and move the information into the data aggregator, HealthKit. Our doctors can pull the vital numbers they need into the electronic medical record as a permanent catalog, and intervene if they need to. We can keep patients at home or pull them back into the hospital if we need to interact with them sooner.”

The Apple Health Kit will collect as much data as a person wishes, similar to the Google Fit. Both will also have the ability to immediately delete, share, or unshare any data at any time – somewhat reassuring the privacy concerns of storing so much medical data on Apple or Google’s database. Additionally, a medical ID card can be created to inform emergency responders about any medical conditions that a person has,  such as allergies to medication, and medical notes like an “in case of emergency” number and the contact information for their general doctor.

The rumored iWatch is a future smart watch that will eventually have the capability of collecting an array of biometrics to be stored on Apple’s Health Kit. The sensors on the watch will more accurately inform a person how long they’ve slept, how many calories they’ve burned throughout the day, and much more. It is expected to release into the market between October and December 2014. There will be multiple screen sizes and sensors, thus providing multiple price points. A total of 10 sensors can be included in the watch. It will also perform such functions as voice calls, text messaging and advanced mapping.

The new health technologies have advanced to such a level that a person doesn’t have to wait until going to the doctor once a year to learn where their health is at. Matters can now be taken into their own hands with Google and Apple leading the way. The iWatch is one of the many ways to collect data, but there are also FitBit bands and  others that can work with the different platforms to provide information. With a web connection, people can then set and view benchmarks, receive recommendations, and alter their lifestyle as necessary to remain healthy all year long.

About the Author

Beth Kelly is a freelance writer and blogger living in Chicago, IL. She writes frequently on health and technology topics, but loves reviewing a good monster film now and then.
Find her on Twitter at @bkelly_88.