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Telemedicine monitors the vulnerable from a distance

One of the fastest moving fields in the technology-social interface is medicine. A couple of developments drive home the point in what is generally classed as ‘telemedicine’.

This is harnessing technology to solve problems, manage risk and even treat people from a distance.

Just a Phone Call
For example, while Parkinson’s disease is not confined to the elderly, it is often prevalent in older age groups. Now new technology being developed in the USA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can detect early onset of the disease from just a phone call.

The new system, which developers claim is 99% accurate, can analyse the tremors, breathiness and other individual quirks of a person’s voice to to predict years early if they are prone to the debilitating illness. Answering a few questions and making an ‘ah’ sound, the same over a period of time, will allow detection and preventative treatment.

A  Simple Revolution

Also to help patients at home, new software that can be used with a basic webcam to track a patient’s vital signs, ‘pulse, breathing rate and oxygen saturation’ without the need of anything else at all, is coming on stream.

Oxehealth is a new venture evolving from Oxford University’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering and is positioned to create new devices to allow patients to accurately monitor their own health and well being.

This should have a beneficial effect on queues in doctors’ waiting rooms and hospital beds. However, the danger of self-diagnosis LINK are very real, so a happy balance is needed.

Commercial Aspects

It’s the market that is the interesting aspect. The happy convergence of medicine and technology means that taxpayers’ money is saved, people can manage independently better and for longer and a whole new industry is being created along with a new lease of life for many older ones.

And it’s not just in telemedicine, from a distance, it’s in the whole technology as hands-on sphere that growth has been phenomenal and is set to rocket again. Ford are pioneering in-car, on the move health management systems, to take one example of innovative thinking.

The other interesting point is about research that is going on universities and institutes throughout the UK to exploit intellectual property. Rights and ownership of ideas, new systems, processes and products and reinterpreting old equipment and thinking, is big money.

That has been at the root of years of court battles between phone/tablet manufacturers. It has caused engineers and developers like James Dyson to despair of hanging on to the value of what they have invented in a global market.

A company called Digital Healthcare is an IT provider based in Cambridge that provides image management and storage solutions in the ophthalmology sector. A little over a decade ago, such a company did not exist.

Now they are world-class leaders in population based screening programs, diabetic retinal screening and are pushing the boundaries of clinical ophthalmology in new instrument technologies, clinical interventions and treatment options. They are not alone, and show that it digital health is a real growth industry, ripe for investing in.

Who Foots the Bill?

Health inflation has long been a scourge of governments. Technology’s ability to improve healthcare, keep people alive for longer with treatments that are little short of amazing has long outstripped the ability of public budgets to keep pace.

If we want the very latest and best technology to cure our illnesses, diseases and accidents, what happens when the money runs out? Priority that it is, we cannot afford to fill a bottomless pit.

Further reading:

Cars Are No Longer Last Private Places, 28 March 2102

Intellectual Property Rights Are Web’s Grey Area, 21 March 2012

The NHS and New Technology, 25 January 2012

Image: Dhama InnovationsPvt.Ltd