Wireless healthcare empowers consumers


By Lynne Friedmann


Imagine a future in which wireless technology makes it possible to:
  • Track vital signs, location and activity of Alzheimer’s patients
  • Monitor a diabetic’s blood glucose and hemoglobin
  • Continuously monitor blood pressure in hypertension patients
  • Use an ultrasound device at home to conduct a breast exam in lieu of a clinic-based mammogram

That future is already beginning to take shape with global research in wireless health showcased at Wireless Health 2010, held Oct. 5 to 7 at the Hilton La Jolly Torrey Pines. First in an annual series of academic and research conferences on wireless health, the meeting brought scientists and engineers together with thought leaders from academe, medicine, government, and industry interested in the application of cell phone and other wireless technologies to treat diseases, manage chronic conditions, and lower health-care costs.
“(Wireless healthcare) sets up the consumer in command,” said to Eric Topol, M.D., Wireless Health 2010 co-chair and director of Scripps Health’s Translational Science Institute in La Jolla.

There are an estimated 140 million Americans with at least one chronic disease. In addition, an aging population means even more people will need the diagnostic services in the coming years. Topol predicts that the public’s embrace of current digital and social media will speed the adoption of new wireless health technologies.

“We are hyperconnected at all times,” said Topol, who is also vice chairman of the board and chief innovation officer for the La Jolla-based West Wireless Health Institute. “On vacation, in restaurants, in bed — even in our place of worship.”

With the convergence of wireless technology and genomics, Topol and others envision a future in which an individual’s pharmacogenomic information (the

influence of patient genetic variation on the efficacy or toxicity of prescribed medications or therapies) is stored on a smart card that they would then shared with physicians.

Consumer willingness to explore wireless healthcare first emerged in the fitness world. Witness the Nike+iPod Sports Kit, a sneaker-based sensor able to store information such as the elapsed time of a workout, the distance traveled, pace, or calories burned by those wearing the outfitted shoes. Millions have been sold.

Another wireless health consumer product on the market is the Zeo, a device composed of a wireless headband, bedside display, set of online analytical tools, and an email-based coaching program, through which individuals can analyze and improve their sleep patterns.

In the realm of acute-care medicine, there are FDA-approved remote applications available that allow medical professionals to use their smartphones for real-time monitoring of patients’ vital signs in the intensive care unit, emergency department, operating room, and neonatal ICU.

“An estimated one-half to one-third of patients do not take prescribed medications appropriately,” said George Savage, M.D., co-founder and chief medical officer of Proteus Biomedical, Inc., in Redwood City, CA.

This led the company to develop an Ingestible Event Marker (IEM), a sand-grain-size microchip with a thin-film nontoxic battery that is activated by stomach fluids. Once swallowed, the IEM transmits a faint radio signal, picked up by a small receiver patch on the skin, confirming the medication has been taken.

Due to the convergence to two of San Diego’s leading industries — life sciences and wireless technology — the region is considered the premier location in the United States for the development of wireless health solutions.