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There is no doubt that the mobile health market is not just exploding, but demonstrating innovation the likes of which we have not seen for some time. And it has finally provided technology to solve one of the great mysteries of life.
Some of mobile health is simply an extension of existing applications to a new platform with greater mobility. While a boon for many, it is debatable whether this all represents a technological leap forward. We may have untethered the user, but that doesn't mean that delivering an existing app on limited-screen real estate or with limited functionality is a suitable replacement.
I remember when I first saw an IBM portable computer back in the mid-1980s. It was about the size of a large, thick briefcase and opened along the top edge only, exposing a small, amber, character-based screen, two 5-and-¼-inch floppy drives and a fold-out keyboard. It had a big rigid handle across the top because "portable" may have been a misnomer. "Luggable" would have been more appropriate due to its heft - it weighed in at 30 pounds.
I vividly recall how excited my colleague and I were. We were practically drooling as we brainstormed how to justify the $4,000 price tag to our boss ("Hey - it comes with 256K of RAM, expandable to 640K!"). We were nerds of the highest order and were envisioning all that we could do with this new mobility. We were no longer tethered to our desks - we could now compute anywhere that had a very sturdy tabletop and nearby outlet (no batteries until the next model), get a workout at the same time from carrying it around, and keep our opticians in business as we squinted to see the very small screen.
The parallels to some aspects of mobile health are undeniable. We're using a new platform and enabling greater mobility, but that doesn't mean that the usability and utility are the same - in some cases it suffers. It's a trade-off. I can't necessarily do everything that I could on a desktop, but I can do it in more places.
But that's where innovation comes in. People with more creative minds than mine have asked the questions: How can I leverage this platform to make something new or to improve on what's already there? How can I leverage other complimentary technologies to do on a mobile device what I can't do on a desktop? What's more, while many may be asking these questions with an eye toward revenue generation and profits, ultimately such innovations are improving health, wellness and outcomes.
So when I read about a new technology in which a sensor could be embedded in a pill or other ingestible vehicle, swallowed and monitored as it makes its way through one's gastrointestinal tract via a wearable patch that picks up signals from the sensor and transmits them to a mobile device, I was astounded. Not just for what it can do from a mobile health perspective - there are a lot of good use-case scenarios - but also for the possibility of solving an everyday mystery of life.
Who ate that last piece of cake?
If you have children, or have ever lived with roommates, the mystery of who ate the last piece of some treat or who partook of a particular delectable that was deemed to be off-limits has always relied upon the honesty of your cohabitants. I'm not saying that my children regularly practice the art of deception, but when asking the question, "Who ate that cupcake I was saving for later?" results in multiple denials, I have always wished for a technology that would permit empirical evidence of fibbing.
And now it's here. Innovation in mobile health has provided me with the tools to better manage my household and enforce truth telling - not to mention making sure that Twinkie remains allotted for me. All I have to do is plant one of those sensors in the treat in question, and place a patch on each member of my family. My smartphone will then alert me to the pastry thief, even if - unfortunately - it is after the fact.
Mystery solved. Until someone notifies Child Protective Services.
Postscript: In a recent post, I wrote about searching for a Virtual Personal Health Assistant. The kind folks at Healarium reached out to let me know that their Personal Health Assistant for Smartphones app does what I was looking for. They function in a B2B2C model, so while you can download it from an app store, you need to be enrolled through a sponsoring organization to access the functionality. Still, what they're offering is pretty nifty.
The views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer.
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