Its mHealth Jim, but not as we know it
Anyone who has seen the film and TV series Star Trek will know about the Tricorder, a piece of equipment that looks a little like an early mobile phone which can diagnose and heal just about anything by using sophisticated remote diagnostic techniques that belong to the future… Belong to the future? Hold on a second. We may be nearer to the development of the Tricorder than we dare imagine. Qualcomm’s $10 million Tricorder Xprize is essentially a race to emulate the functionality of the Tricorder. Qualcomm has long been a key supporter of mHealth and is behind several mHealth innovations through its Qualcomm Life Fund. So the race is on to create a portable wireless device that monitors and diagnoses health conditions. And several teams are taking it extremely seriously. San Diego State University, for example, announced that in a year it will have a prototype tricorder device capable of scanning the body and detecting certain health issues. Already many functions that are little short of miraculous are not only possible, but being commercialised. Although they may not yet all be incorporated into a single device. Mobisante, for example, has taken the ultrasound scanner and repackaged it as a device attached to a smartphone. And the era of the wireless bandaid may be just round the corner- digital plasters for monitoring vital signs have been trialled since 2009 and Toumaz started major hospital trials for its SensiumVitals plaster in November 2012. Developments like Mobisante’s should herald a new era of telemedicine where handheld devices can be used either in the field or in a hospital environment to avoid, for example, the need for patients to be wheeled around hospitals and plugged into expensive machines. And it looks as if smart mHealth devices can have a role in cutting costs in the healthcare sector. Our own forecasts suggests that remote patient monitoring can deliver global cost savings of up to $36 billion over the next six years. And we all know how important that is in an era of aging populations, higher incidence of chronic diseases and pressure on healthcare budgets.