Wireless technology seeking new market in healthcare
The doctor might say, “Take these two digital pills, and I’ll call you in the morning.”
Because of the growing sophistication of sensors and the existing wireless infrastructure of cell phones, Silicon Valley companies are ratcheting up their programs attending to the healthcare system’s expansion.
The Wall Street Journal talked to Andrew Thompson. “Hospitals are costly places,” he said. Thompson hopes his company can help keep people out of them.
His Silicon Valley start-up, Proteus Biomedical Inc., is testing a miniature digestible chip that attaches to conventional medication, sending a signal that confirms whether patients are taking their prescribed pills. A sensing device worn on the skin uses wireless technology to relay that information to doctors, along with readings about patients’ vital signs.
Thompson predicts the company’s technology will generate a wealth of new information about patients’ evolving conditions and the impact of drugs they take. Doctors might decide to intervene, for example, when they notice a heart patient is not sleeping well or is taking incorrect dosages, problems that could lead to congestive heart failure.
“Wireless applications have the potential to change every one of these areas,” said Eric Topol, a cardiologist and genomics professor at Scripps Research Institute. Topol, who is also chief medical officer of the West Wireless Health Institute, a San Diego nonprofit research organization, cites a 2008 study that a coalition of companies and organizations distributed supporting health-care reform. It put annual savings from remote monitoring at $10.1 billion for U.S. sufferers of congestive heart failure, $6.1 billion for diabetes, and $4.9 billion for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Using wireless technology has the potential to reduce costs in part because part of the infrastructure already is in place. With more than 4 billion cell phones sold to date, a large percentage of the world’s population has access to devices and networks that can send medical data to doctors.
Another factor is the advancing sophistication of sensors. Triage Wireless Inc., a San Diego-based start-up, is testing a wearable device for wirelessly measuring vital signs in hospital rooms including a long-sought ability to continuously measure blood pressure, rather than conducting spot checks by inflating a cuff around a patient’s arm.
Corventis Inc., of San Jose, Calif., is focusing on monitoring patients on the go using a Band-Aid-style sensor called PiiX that includes measurement of respiration, fluid status, and physical movements.
Chipmakers, seeing medical applications as a big new market, are racing to make such devices more capable and less expensive. Qualcomm Inc., known for its cellphone chips, is also developing low-power variants for wearable medical applications.
Intel Corp. has teams of researchers studying devices to help care for senior citizens at home, including what it calls a “magic carpet,” which is a mat with sensors to track how a patient moves. The goal is to gather data to prevent falls, a major cause of accidental deaths and a big contributor to health costs.
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