Is Google an mHealth Visionary?

Google’s latest announcement - that the company is developing smart contact lenses to measure blood glucose for diabetes (through tears) - illustrates two things: First, miniaturisation and ingenuity will make solutions possible which are hardly even imagined today (had you thought of that?), and second (if we didn’t already know it) that Google’s next frontier is wearable computing. As we already know the Google Glass computer glasses project is well under way… Here is what Google has to say on the subject: “At Google, we wondered if miniaturised electronics- chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair — might be a way to crack the mystery of tear glucose and measure it with greater accuracy.” Google will use chips and miniaturised glucose sensors stuck between two layers of soft contact lens material. Even in the prototypes, readings can be generated once per second. And Google is also exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up if readings are out of the norm. So when might these miniature mHealth devices come to the market? Well, Google is in discussions with the FDA, but there’s still a lot more work to do to turn this technology into a system that people can use. And the company recognises that it will need partners to bring products like this to market. These partners would use technology for a smart contact lens and develop apps that would make the measurements available to the wearer and their doctor. (In a model which is common to most mHealth projects, incidentally). There are two things that are generally underestimated. The first is the length of time required for a technology to really take hold, and the second is the magnitude of the impact of technology when it does. Google’s contact lens project suits this maxim down to the ground. Lower chipset and computing costs, and interest from players like Google, mean that widespread use of mobile networks and devices in the healthcare sector is around the corner. Eventually mHealth will influence healthcare practices and everyday lives in ways that we cannot even foresee now. But it is not going to happen overnight.