Source: Press Of Atlantic City
The same devices used to take selfies and type out tweets are being repurposed and commercialized for quick access to information needed for monitoring a patient’s health. A fingertip pressed against a phone’s camera lens can measure a heart rate. The microphone, kept by the bedside, can screen for sleep apnea. Even the speaker is being tapped to monitor breathing using sonar technology.
In the best of this new world, the data is conveyed remotely to a medical professional for the convenience and comfort of the patient or, in some cases, to support a clinician without the need for costly hardware.
Smartphones come packed with sensors capable of monitoring a patient’s vital signs. They can help assess people for concussions, watch for atrial fibrillation, and conduct mental health wellness checks, to name the uses of a few nascent applications.
Companies and researchers eager to find medical applications for smartphone technology are tapping into modern phones’ built-in cameras and light sensors; microphones; accelerometers, which detect body movements; gyroscopes; and even speakers. The apps then use artificial intelligence software to analyze the collected sights and sounds to create an easy connection between patients and physicians. Earning potential and marketability are evidenced by the more than 350,000 digital health products available in app stores, according to a Grand View Research report.
Most Americans own a smartphone, including more than 60% of people 65 and over, an increase from just 13% a decade ago, according the Pew Research Center.
Some of these products have sought FDA clearance to be marketed as a medical device. That way, if patients must pay to use the software, health insurers are more likely to cover at least part of the cost. Other products are designated as exempt from this regulatory process, placed in the same clinical classification as a Band-Aid. But how the agency handles AI and machine learning-based medical devices is still being adjusted to reflect software’s adaptive nature.
Judging these new technologies is difficult because they rely on algorithms built by machine learning and artificial intelligence to collect data, rather than the physical tools typically used in hospitals. Failure to build in such assurances undermines the technology’s ultimate goals of easing costs and access because a doctor still must verify results.
Big tech companies like Google have heavily invested in researching this kind of technology, catering to clinicians and in-home caregivers, as well as consumers. Currently, in the Google Fit app, users can check their heart rate by placing their finger on the rear-facing camera lens or track their breathing rate using the front-facing camera.
“If you took the sensor out of the phone and out of a clinical device, they are probably the same thing,” said Shwetak Patel, director of health technologies at Google and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Washington.