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Cheryl Perkins column: Better technology makes health monitoring easier

10:16 PM, Jan. 24, 2013  |  Comments
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Innovation in health monitoring capabilities is one more way that technology is changing our lives. It's all part of the ongoing revolution in information technology and communication.

One recent product created by Proteus Digital Health is another step toward that goal. It's basically a robust, miniature radio that is swallowed as a pill. It contains no battery, but is powered by the current produced by the reaction of vitamin-sized amounts of copper and magnesium with stomach acid.

Once activated, the device sends information to a small patch worn on the patient's body, and relayed from there to a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone.An app then records the pill identifying information and time of ingestion. A placebo version of the "smart pill" has been produced and approved by the FDA just this past year. The company is now looking to sell the device to drug manufacturers.

According to the World Health Organization, only about half of people take their medications correctly as directed by doctor's supervision. It may be arguable whether or not that is generally a problem, but where it really might be important is for seriously ill patients where missing just a dose or two, or even perhaps taking too many doses, could have potentially catastrophic consequences. One example might be congestive heart failure.

Taking this whole idea a step further, additional sensors could provide information on heart rate, body temperature and body activity and motion. First responders, mining workers, or even law enforcement and military personnel could be easily envisioned as benefiting from this technology when in hazardous situations. Combining with a GPS location capability could even provide automated alerts and help in finding incapacitated or injured individuals.

Vivonoetics of San Diego, Calif., makes a range of health monitoring equipment, and that includes the VitalSense Core Temperature Capsule, a device that is ingestible and provides real time information on core body temperature. In combination with their Equivital EQ02 Lifemonitor, research trials are being performed with firefighters in Australia.

In the "heat" of action, firefighters may not always be aware of how critically high their body temperature may actually be. With accurate and immediate monitoring, if their body critical data spikes too high, both the individual and the group can be alerted that someone needs to be removed for cooling down or treatment. Firefighters can focus on the fire itself more confidently knowing that if something happens they will be more likely to be rescued.

And speaking of far-out ideas, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston are working on a "swimming" pill camera. It has no motor, but is guided by the powerful magnetic fields of an MRI machine that flip a tail section back and forth for propulsion.

Such miniaturized applications of this intertwining of the medical and digital worlds may seem almost like science fiction to us now, but it wouldn't be surprising to see some of them soon become reality.

- Cheryl Perkins is the president/founder of Innovationedge, and former senior vice president and chief innovation officer at Kimberly-Clark Corp. Check out Cheryl's blog at www.Innovationedge.com.

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