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In September, I attended the annual Qualcomm Life event, Connect 2015, where Dr. Eric Topol, an electric speaker and director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, delivered a presentation on “Democratizing Medicine.” The democratization of medicine is happening and it changes everything. Imagine you, as a patient, being in charge of your health, while doctors focus on diagnosis and treatment. Smartphones are at the heart of this transformation. Already, consumers are using them in conjunction with blood pressure cuffs, glucose meters, weight scales, and other home portable medical devices. Ultrasound front-ends are now available for smartphones and tablets. Smartphone selfies are beginning to take off — for medical use. You can now diagnose your child, or even yourself, with an ear infection; you’re just an app away. Snap that selfie of your tympanic membrane and put it up on social media, or maybe just your EHR, for a slightly more professional review. Ear, nose, and throat apps are coming. Say “ahhhhh.”

Consider, for example, a new startup in Toronto called Figure 1. The company is building an “Instagram for doctors” and their app now has over half a million users. According to Daniel Debow, a VC investor and senior vice-president with Salesforce, Figure 1’s approach begins with a bottoms-up appeal to professionals rather than to institutions: “Once you have the trust of doctors… you can do all sorts of things.” See the Globe and Mail article1. With Mr. Debow suggesting that Figure 1’s approach mirrors the likes of Salesforce, you’ve got my attention!

Further, medical apps running on smart mobile devices are increasingly used for life-critical decisions — a concern if there is some danger that the mobile computing platform hosting these critical apps may fail to perform. Operating systems, which run on top of the device hardware and provide the software platform on which applications can run, are a vital element to running a critical medical solution. The behavior of a smart mobile device can significantly affect the data being read by medical devices, and the information being sent to remote clinicians and caregivers.

Not all operating system are created equal. Considerations of multitasking, standards compliance, and security should be considered, but the attitude of the general public towards the reliability and security of health data remains variable. Perhaps a purpose-built data aggregator or health hub could provide a more reliable and trustworthy approach.

Back to Connect 2015 for a second. Shortly after the event, Qualcomm Life announced the acquisition of Capsule Technologie, which provides medical device integration and data management solutions. This acquisition moves Qualcomm Life from operating strictly within the home environment to also offering a significant value proposition within the clinical environment. The effects of this continuum and of connectivity, whether at home or in the clinic, are profound. The new world of medicine will become more individualized, as data about you is better extracted from a generalized population. Your biometric data, or some of it, will be continuously taken from home and the clinic, so that trends and real behaviors can be tracked, rather than a single data point taken annually at the doctor’s office.

Typical use cases and communication protocols for the healthcare application space.

What does all this mean to us as patients? The concerns are many. Is your data secure, both in transit and at rest, on your device and in your EHR? As a consumer, you’ll need to choose your hardware (smart mobile device or aggregator of some kind), your software (OS and applications that run on top of it), and your service provider, based on your personal security expectations. After all, your medical and personal health records may not be something you want posted on social media.

What does this mean to those of us in the medical device industry? How do we manage the interoperability and potential overhead burden of wireless communication? We may all need to become experts in wired and wireless protocols, both standard and proprietary, at home and in the clinic. The decision of choosing your hardware, software, and service provider wisely shouldn’t be taken lightly.

As consumers and as technologists we should be concerned about — and demand — robust, reliable performance.

References
1http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-growth/like-instagram-for-doctors-figure-1-app-now-has-500000-users/article26374609/

 

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