Sasha Kamenetska | Contributor
January 11, 2013

The Healthcare Revolution: Smartphone Medical Devices


Healthcare has been a popular topic in the past few years.  A lot of attention has gone into legislation and how we can improve our ailing healthcare system.  While the fights over laws have gone on, innovators in the medical device space have made leaps and bounds, making healthcare more accessible to individuals.

In its quarterly technology review, The Economist profiled a number of medical devices that are using smartphones to provide consumers an easier way to track their well being.  With medical expenses rising and the number of doctors not keeping up with demand for medical services, these devices could prove to be incredibly useful for the general public.

Take for example diabetes.  According to the International Diabetes Foundation, there are 371 million diabetics in the world, up from 366 a year ago.  And by 2030, the group predicts as many as 552 million people will have diabetes worldwide.  That is a lot of glucose to monitor.  

A French drug company, Sanofi, has partnered with a glucose monitor maker, AgaMatrix, to create a solution that could help diabetics monitor and keep track of their diabetes.  This solution takes the form of an iPhone attachment called iBGStar that measures glucose levels from blood samples.  The novel thing about iBGStar is that it stores these readings in an accompanying iPhone app.  That means that patients can now have a long history of glucose readings at their fingertips (no pun intended).

Many other smartphone attachments/medical devices are making their way to the market.  Everything from an ultrasound smartphone device to smartphone optical attachments that could help with things like the remote diagnosis of ear infections is available.

Devices like this are great for monitoring overall health of patients.  Most of us only see our doctors once a year for a check-up (if we make it to the doctor at all).  Doctors only get one data point from one day out of 365 to represent our health.   With these medical devices and the growing array of fitness trackers, such as the newly launched BodyMedia Core 2, the amount of data on individual health and well being has the potential to sky-rocket. 

This could drastically improve our health care system.  But the amount of data could also be overwhelming.  And with different apps measuring different health metrics, combining everything into one coherent picture could be challenging.  That is why we will need APIs and platforms to combine all of our data, make useable and make it secure. 

These platforms have already begun appearing.  Aetna’s CarePass Sync API is a health and fitness data cloud that allows health and fitness apps to integrate into it, so that consumers can store data from across their devices and apps in one place securely.

The influence of a platform like this, that could combine exercise, diet and health data monitored by smartphones and other devices with your medical records, could be huge.  Doctors will have a much better view of their patients overall health and patients will be better informed to make health decisions.  On top of that, these APIs and platforms will provide a much needed security layer by ensuring that the right users are accessing your health data.  This would enable device and app makers to focus on making the best health, fitness and medical products without worrying about the data layer. 

As much as we need legislation to change health care for the better, perhaps APIs, apps and smartphones can be the catalysts of change in our health care system.  Let’s hope our smartphones can really make a difference in our health, in a positive way.