IBM came out with a study this week that looks at what future healthcare applications and devices, be they PCs, tablet or smartphone might look like.
The study notes that medical device makers have in the past few years successfully targeted consumers who are extremely health or fitness conscious as well as those who need to be regularly monitored because of a serious health problem. But the IBM study says those devices and services could now go a step further and integrate mobile and home-based devices with web-based resources, electronic and personal health records to help people make more well-informed medial decisions and actually help manage their healthcare situation more proactively.
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From the study, which surveyed more than 1,300 health and wellness device users, IBM scientists envision a number of new devices that could make this next leap including:
• Diet devices: A new generation of devices for dieting will also measure movement, speed and intensity. These devices will engage users if they aren't moving enough or provide a movement task to accomplish. Relying on the help of friends, family and social networks, the devices could alert others to elicit motivation, encouragement or even to "tell on them" to hold them accountable to a friend. These devices will be integrated into tools for monitoring medication adherence, blood pressure and weight for a more complete picture of the user's health.
• Elder care: In the U.S., an estimated 5.4 million people have Alzheimer's disease. In the United Kingdom, two-thirds of people with dementia live outside of a care facility. For patients suffering from memory loss or impairment, devices for establishing location and compliance with medication regimes, connected to a digital pill box will be commonly used. These devices will pinpoint the location of both the user as well as the caregiver, to give the patient peace of mind, providing medication reminders and direct access to caregiver support.
• True blood: The advent of a non-invasive blood test to automatically analyze blood via a wrist band will wirelessly transmit data to your doctor. When cholesterol levels spike, iron levels drop or white blood cell counts increase, users will know when to modify their medications, or seek medical attention.
• Mobility: Mobility is a critical factor to independent living, enabling people to remain in their homes and delay entry into assisted living and hospital facilities. Devices to keep people ambulatory will increasingly be used to monitor movement. These devices will provide coaching and tasks to improve coordination, range of motion and stability. They will also determine if the user is walking steadily, getting out of chairs easily, or if he needs assistance. Devices and sensors that predict conditions that could lead to a fall can alert the user to stop and rest or ask for help.
• Inside your head: New devices that tap brain waves will make it easier for the medically fragile and impaired to express their thoughts and sensations via a digital avatar of the human body. With the help of sensors, even non-verbal patients will be able to express how they are responding to specific treatments or pain, precisely indicate sensations in their body, or ask for medical attention, such as to change their position in bed or request more oxygen. These devices will capture important vital sign data as it streams in, interpreting it in real time and alerting caregivers to changes instantly.
The study went on to note some key requirements if such devices are to be really useful for the majority of the population. According to the survey:
• 96 % said ease of use is the top factor in selecting one device over another.
• Costs at or below $100 is a critical decision factor according to three quarters of users who consider price well ahead of features, customer support, warranty or stylish design.
• 86% of consumers want real-time, easy-to-understand feedback from their devices.
According to the study, device companies will need to strengthen their collaboration and partnering skills since it is unlikely any single firm has all the capabilities required to offer a total package. These companies may need to collaborate with software companies that develop user interfaces, or publishing companies that supply health-related information and content.
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