By Andy David
In the original TV series ?Star Trek,? the starship Enterprise?s medical officer Hank McCoy carries around a handheld device known as ?tricorder,? for monitoring injured persons? vitals. McCoy hovers the tricorder around the patient to know his ailments, then makes the appropriate medical treatment. All this without having to touch the patient.
In the 1986 sci-fi movie ?Aliens,? soldiers scouting an abandoned human facility are being monitored remotely via devices attached to their armor. Their heart rate, body temperature, and even their exact locations are being shown on a computer screen inside an armored vehicle. The information being fed to the field commander enables him to talk to each soldier and provide on-site tactics that should have the soldier complete a mission and evade the enemy.
These technologies seem more appropriate for science fiction. However, advancements in technology have enabled some form of health monitoring and assessment devices. While their use is still limited there application could be broad and the healthcare industry can benefit greatly. The surprising fact is, remote health monitoring is becoming ever more plausible and an exciting progress towards better healthcare services.
Healthcare is one of the key industries where sci-fi creativity and real-life technology can meet. The ability for devices to connect wirelessly through great distances (and, most importantly, almost for free) has encouraged people to utilize this digital infrastructure for good use.
The last two years have seen smartphones and tablets becoming even ?smarter,? allowing people to connect not just to their loved ones and friends but also to a wider audience. Application development on these tablet devices and mobile phones have also increased and the sectors these developers target range from personal communication, gaming, and security, and health.
There are even mobile ?games? targeted at weight watchers, though more serious applications for use by healthcare professionals are also available.
As it is, the healthcare industry is huge; globally, it is estimated to be worth $6 trillion. In the US, the healthcare spending is now equivalent to 17 percent of the country?s gross domestic product (GDP).
But healthcare has often been plagued by the absence of an infrastructure to make healthcare services available to a wider population. And even in places where healthcare is provided, often, the right service is not available for the specific needs of patients.
In most cases, patients have to physically be at their healthcare service provider?s facility, sometimes wait for their doctors to arrive (also dependent on the doctor?s schedule) and wait up in line. Not only is it cumbersome for the patient but also inefficient for the healthcare facility.
Patients are expected to be given the best of care while waiting for their doctor and that does not mean having to wait down the corridor, sometimes for hours.
There is also the concern of managing and transmitting patient information. With travel becoming cheaper, people will be going to places and the information about their health needs to go with them especially during emergencies where appropriate medical care is of utmost importance. One false diagnosis by a doctor unfamiliar with a patient?s pre-existing medical issues could be dangerous.
Coming of ?wearables? and ?Care Circles?
Just like in all major industries, information is important for medical professionals to make the right decision and take the right action when giving healthcare to patients. Current processes of acquiring that information is still somewhat tedious especially if the data is still in physical form.
But with many hospitals digitizing patient records, there is an opportunity for medical institutions to have the patient data made available to wherever that person is. In fact, the patient himself can become the carrier of the information without the need to actually bringing around pieces of paper.
Enter the ?wearables? — digital devices worn on a person that augments specific actions. Such technologies have been made possible as manufacturers like Samsung and Sony who initially developed wearables as extensions to smartphones. These are made as a form of a wristwatch (thus, a wearable device) that could synchronize with the owner?s phone and access their email or text message.
Some functions were later added to new models, such as heart rate monitor and a basic thermometer. Eventually, these consumer-specific wearables would have body water indicators, blood pressure gauges, and glucose monitor.
In a broad sense, wearables can be anything from a simple heart rate monitor to a blood gauge used primarily within a hospital to the up and coming Google Glass, a futuristic eyeglass-like device that is seen to have some potential benefits for the medical industry particularly for telemedicine.
Meantime, collaborative care platforms are also making an entry into the market. Care Circles is a service from SAP that helps patients and their families to find best practices in care-giving from experts and caregivers around the world.
Care Circles is for the caregiver ? someone whose parents have been diagnosed with Alzheimer?s or dementia, for instance. Care Circles can also be tailored for patients with autism, cancer, brain injuries, and more.
The online resource gathers team members ? family, doctors, and specialists ? and allows them to share progress and collaborate in a private community. It features a marketplace of care strategies and best practices, including content from reliable partners such as Autism Speaks, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and the Alzheimer?s Association in the United States. Caregivers can track progress and share journal updates, easing what is otherwise a costly, consuming, and emotionally draining process.
Care Circles is also an ideal solution for healthcare providers, thanks to SAP?s data analytics and dashboard capabilities. Care Circles can reduce the cost of care for doctors by enlisting the patients and their caregivers to learn about and manage their health, which can also improve healthcare outcomes and reduce re-admissions.
In addition, doctors can combine patient-reported data and medical records to remotely monitor patients and identify potential issues. Soon, Care Circles will also feature aggregated, anonymized data about care delivery around the world, so doctors can use real-world data to personalize patient care.
In the Philippines, SAP is looking for a Care Circles pilot partner in the field of Autism care. This will be the first SAP Care Circles pilot in Asia Pacific Japan.
The author is the director for healthcare at SAP Asia Pacific and Japan