We should not turn our backs on the promised benefits of all these advances. Indeed doctor-patient relationships could be greatly improved with internet apps. However, everything is still in an embryonic stage and there are many justified concerns about these developments, which will fall away once everyone has access to these apps and people can see how really helpful they can be in practice.
An app to repair sleep
Medical research on sleep is unanimous: sleep is far more than just a simple battery charger. Regular, peaceful sleep truly depends on how well individual metabolism functions, which can be measured via hormone and anti-body production. Approximately 10% of the French population suffer from insomnia, which prompted several companies to research the issue and market heaps of devices to improve sleep quality. However, the RestOn sleep monitor by Sleepace is a cut above in terms of efficacy (latest version presented at the early January 2017 Las Vegas CES). The device is so simple: a thin, 36-inch long strip is slid under the sheet attached to a monitor that magnetically snaps onto the sheet. It records sleep quality data via multiple sensors, which is then sent to the relevant smartphone app. On waking, users can read sleep time and duration, movement frequency, heart rate and respiratory rate. The app can keep a comprehensive score of a person’s sleep. RestOn provides advice and personal exercise suggestions to create a perfect personal sleep plan and improve sleep quality. In addition, the app can detect sleep apnoea which is total or partial breathing interruption for a few seconds during sleep. RestOn alerts users as the condition can be very serious if it carries on over the long term and can cause high blood pressure and all sorts of heart conditions. Using the device and app illustrate a desire to up use of digital technology in healthcare: improving wellbeing and making prevention methods part of everyday life.
The smart monitoring revolution : no more guesswork
Diabetes is one of the major public health issues of our time. Over 8% of the global population suffer from diabetes, characterised by high levels of glucose in blood. While treatments do exist, monitoring diabetes is often quite difficult for patients, who have to monitor glucose levels several times a day to prevent hypoglycaemic or hyperglycaemic shocks. Until now, glucose levels have only been read by finger pricks and analysis of a drop of blood on a test strip. This procedure is a chore, especially when working. Irish company Medtronic is looking to revolutionise the procedure by digitalising it with the Guardian Connect system. This involves a transmitter being fixed to the patient’s stomach with an electrode that slips under the skin into the interstitial fluid that is practically painless. It connects to the glucose sensor and sends glucose readings to the smartphone app via Bluetooth, which can be read discretely. The transmitter does this every 5 minutes (288 times per day, compared to around 10 times per day using standard test strips). Thanks to the app, patients can check glucose levels, see if target ranges are achieved and be alerted if heading towards a hypo or hyper. Guardian Connect also sends customised alerts to patients when glucose levels are rising, falling or reaching pre-set thresholds. The patient, notified by alerts (via smartphone SMS), can therefore anticipate and manage levels more accurately. The system was also designed as a security measure; recorded data can be remotely shared with family and friends who will be notified in case of hypo incidents.
3D-printed bone grafts
Health specialists may now turn to 3D printers when a serious break or fracture requires bone grafting. Researchers from Illinois University in America have developed an implant model produced using a special elastic substance, which contains hydroxyapatite (found in teeth and bone) and is far better accepted by the human body than traditional grafts. Furthermore, the 3D printer can produce an exact copy of the broken bone. Technological progress can really help the medical field and surgeons will be able to offer patients a brand new type of graft. They are cheaper than traditional grafts, easier to order, easier to produce and have a longer shelf-life. Grafts produced by 3D printers can be ‘smart’ grafts; once grafted, it will gradually disintegrate over time as the original bone grows new bone.
Virtual reality pregnancy scans
Doctors could be using virtual reality to scan pregnancies in the very near future. A prototype has been designed for a clinical trial on 30 pregnant women in Brazil and has produced encouraging results. The procedure uses RMI images combined with traditional ultrasound imaging. The foetus images are then added to a virtual reality app compatible with the Oculus Rift helmet (from Facebook). With the system, doctors and future parents get a 3D model with far clearer images of the baby. Latest technology provides this precision and represents major progress to help medical practitioners detect abnormalities much earlier. The 3D model provides a clear view of the foetus oesophage with unprecedented detail. The system greatly facilitates monitoring of malformation instances such as Atresia which can lead to suffocating and digestion problems for babies after birth. Certain types of tumours can also be detected more easily. A case of malformation was diagnosed among the 30 pregnant women taking part in the clinical trial, enabling the medical team to prepare for post-natal surgery much earlier. While the technology has not yet been adopted generally, virtual reality offers an example how useful it could be in diagnosing and saving lives in the womb.