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Sci-Fi or Real Life? Gadgets For Health Care

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Sci-Fi or Real Life? Gadgets For Health Care

We love our gadgets and tablets, our phones and Fitbits. They keep us connected (and give us something to do when waiting for the train). But in the future, maybe they’ll even be able to cure us.

Could the tablets we swallow really be replaced by computer tablets? In some cases, this might not be as silly as it sounds. Apps that can cure you is just one example of next-generation health gadgets that could revolutionise your health.

Smart Glass

Seeing through someone else’s eyes seems like pure science fiction. But smart glass is perhaps the hottest new kid on the (wearable) block. It’s one example of augmented reality (AR), enhancing what we can do and experience.

Google Glass are glasses which overlay information about what you’re seeing and can film what you see and stream it to others. But when worn by surgeons, it might also help cure. With such glasses, surgeons can use voice commands for web searches without using their hands. They can also consult with other specialists watching the video feed of the surgeon’s-eye view of the surgery. Also, keep a lookout for smart contact lenses.

Bioprinters

3D printing is already set to revolutionise prosthetics, making them much less expensive, and Organovo is already printing blood vessels.

You’ve heard the buzz about 3D printing. So you might have guessed it: we’re on the verge of printing body parts. To make living tissue, the printer prints not with ink or plastic, but with cells. Layer by cell layer, the tissue is built up. 3D printing is already set to revolutionise prosthetics, making them much less expensive, and Organovo is already printing blood vessels. The hope is that eventually organs can be printed for transplantation.

Wearable Health

Photo Credit: The Verge

What if you could improve your health simply by wearing something? T-shirts that monitor heart rate are entering the market, as well as socks that keep track of your running or warn you of an injury risk. Sensor socks send running data to a phone app, which analyses and presents the data. Take that, fitness bracelets!

Ingestible Gadgets

The future of health tech looks promising. One day, perhaps we’ll be wearing T-shirts that cure backache, or wearing gloves that can see.

Even something as simple as a pill is set to change. The idea of swallowing a robot doesn’t sound terribly appetising. Yet that may be what’s on the menu in the future: after wearables may well come ingestibles. Proteus Digital Health, for instance, has developed ingestible sensors that are activated by stomach acid to record when medication is taken, and an Australian team is 3D printing gels that can conduct electricity in the hope we can one day eat sensors and digest them too.

The future of health tech looks promising. One day, perhaps we’ll be wearing T-shirts that cure backache, or wearing gloves that can see. Time will tell, and many of these new devices have yet to be tested for long-term safety. But what is sure is that there are plenty of surprises in store for us in the digital age of health care.

Bionic Eyes

Health Gadgets (5)

What you see is the result of a pattern of electronic impulses stimulating your brain. In order to see, you don’t necessarily need eyes. For someone who’s blind, this provides hope. And bionic eyes are emerging; in 2013, the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, video glasses for people with retinitis pigmentosa, was approved.

This device decodes video images and stimulates the retina which then communicates to the brain. Also approved in 2013 (in the EU) was BrainPort V100, which works on the principle of sensory substitution. It uses the nervous wiring of one of our five senses to do the work of another. In this case, video information is relayed to the brain via sensors on the tongue. These devices might not replace eyes just yet, but perhaps we’re moving in that direction. and 20 percent of Budget Direct survey participants said this is the sci-fi device they want to see in real life.

Dr. Robot

It might surprise you to know that surgical robots have been developed and are about to be used for kidney transplants.

Can computers ever replace doctors and nurses? It might surprise you to know that surgical robots have been developed and are about to be used for kidney transplants. The decision-making will still be done by human doctors. For now.

But that may change too: the Watson supercomputers’ ability to analyse, learn and make decisions is in the works to help doctors treat cancer. Combine a learned computer with surgical arms and in the future we may get a robot doctor.

Implants for Obesity

Obesity is a major health problem and on the rise. Sure, you can have stomach surgery, but that’s too extreme for many people. And so many miracle pills have bitten the collective dust. But there may be another way.

What about a tiny device just under the skin which told your body it’s not hungry? In 2015, the FDA approved the MAESTRO VBLOC System, an implant which controls appetite by blocking the vagus nerve, which connects the stomach to the brain. Wireless, battery-less implants send messages to your phone and could be the future for monitoring diabetes.

Apps that Cure

There are 3 million Australians suffering from anxiety or depression, but antidepressants are only effective in about 50 percent of cases, not to mention the side effects. So how can a phone app step in? This rests on the ability of the brain to retrain or heal itself. The app is your brain’s personal trainer or shrink, coaching you to strengthen certain pathways and behaviours and let go of others.

Apps for depression are being tested, while NeuroSky’s apps claim to ease anxiety, control ADHD symptoms and help with nervous conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. It’s estimated that by 2018, 50 percent of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users will have downloaded “mHealth” (mobile health) applications.

Games that Improve Your Brain

Parents fret about screentime rotting their children’s brains. But used intelligently, there’s evidence it can improve them. Even a humble game of Tetris has been proven to improve memory and cognitive skills. Even for highly skilled adults, there could be benefits. Gaming has been shown to help surgeons perform better. Treating your child with a video game… now that medicine would certainly go down easily.

Treating your child with a video game… now that medicine would certainly go down easily.

Get Quantified

Check-ups are an inconvenience. But being able to catch something early can be a critical factor, sometimes determining whether you live or die. So what if you could do it all yourself, at home, in seconds? Welcome to the era of DIY health checks. Scanadu caused a crowd funding sensation in 2013 when it raised more than 1.6 million U.S. in pre-sales. This micro-home-lab “is packed with sensors designed to read your vital signs and send them wirelessly to your smartphone in a few seconds” according to the inventors.

These self-checks include blood pressure, blood oxygen level, ECG and temperature. There is also a new Scanaflo stick device — currently awaiting approval — for testing urine for levels of glucose, protein, white blood cells and pH. A phone app reads colors on the stick and gives you the results. No need for waiting-room magazines.

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Survey Stats: Survey was conducted by Budget Direct in the month of April 2015 with a random selection of 1,000 people.

 

Kirsten Puls

Kirsten Puls

Dr. Kirsten Puls has a PhD in medical biology and works as a freelance writer in the subjects of science and medicine. She worked in Europe for 13 years and recently returned to Australia, bringing with her a French family.