Health Encyclopedia

 

Health Encyclopedia Home



'Talking' Medical Devices, Apps Continue to Evolve

'Talking' Medical Devices, Apps Continue to Evolve

TUESDAY, Feb. 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- They remind you when it's time to take your medicine, coach you through emergency medical procedures and text you their approval when you eat your veggies.

No, they're not mothers or nurses or family doctors -- they're "talking" medical devices and apps, among other techy health-focused inventions, that help people manage everyday wellness routines, such as taking pills and checking blood sugar levels, as well as dire medical circumstances.

Talking medical device technology isn't new, but more and more device makers are using the technology now to create more patient-friendly products, said Benjamin Arcand, an engineer and product innovator in the medical devices field, and associate director of the innovation fellows program at the University of Minnesota's Medical Devices Center.

Talking portable defibrillators have been around for years, guiding users through the steps of saving a cardiac arrest victim. A new epinephrine pen follows suit -- it calmly instructs a nervous parent or teacher through the injection process to help stop an allergic child from going into anaphylactic shock.

Other high-tech health tools help teach operating room staffers how to assemble the complicated set-ups of rarely used surgical devices. In homes, chatty thermometers tell parents a child's fever reading and an innovative new app lets an expectant mom hear a baby's heartbeat.

"People have been thinking about talking devices for a long time. The technology has been trying to rise up above the surface for a long time," Arcand said. Finally, he said, the technology is sophisticated enough and affordable enough.

"What I think you'll see is user-friendliness is going to go up over time," Arcand said. "About 10 or 20 years ago, we saw this huge bloom of all these medical devices. Now that the industry is maturing and there's more regulation and less funding capital, new device development is slowing down."

He said while the pace of new products entering the market has slowed, better, more updated versions of older ideas are appearing: voice-prompting and voice-activated devices, and better electronic interfaces for patients, and devices talking to other devices.

"More incremental improvements, not so much breakthrough devices," Arcand added.

He said some inventors of talking medical devices, including himself, employ "ethnographic" research so their inventions will be more likely to succeed right out of the starting blocks, and avoid expensive redesigns or worse, injuring patients.

With ethnographic research, "an inventor might go into the operating room and see how staff uses a device and talk to them about it," Arcand explained. "There will be observation and interviewing. It's about careful observation and watching what happens over time and throughout the patient's care and recovery."

Bernard Fuemmeler, an associate professor of community and family medicine at Duke University Medical Center, said a glut of health apps "talk" back, too.

He and colleagues at Duke developed a health app geared towards adolescents -- cancer survivors who tend to struggle with obesity as they age.

"We developed the app as part of an intervention. Another one we are working on is for obesity in adolescents," said Fuemmeler, who is also co-director of mHealth@Duke. He explained that while the apps don't talk out loud, they communicate verbally using push notifications and chat features, reminding users to eat their one new vegetable a day, or giving users kudos if a nutrition goal is achieved.

He said there are some great app concepts in the "talking" health app world, but they fall short because they are not backed by solid evidence, or they're technically mediocre.

Fuemmeler said he and colleagues conducted a review of obesity apps and found that many were not built on solid medical research. "Many versions that first came on market were not very evidence-based in terms of their recommendations for how to lose weight, the evidence-based advice we'd adhere to if we were counseling patients on weight loss," he said.

One example of a new talk-back app doesn't involve being told what to do by a computerized voice, but instead, hearing the sounds inside your own body -- in this case, a pregnant woman's body. The makers of the Bellabeat app say on their website that it lets a woman listen to her unborn baby's heartbeat, record it, and share the rhythm with loved ones -- for $129. The app also helps a woman plan and track weight gain during her pregnancy on her smartphone or other devices.

Another medical device with promise is the Scanadu Scout, said Dr. Christopher Scorzelli, chief medical officer at Kablooe Design, a Minneapolis company that invents, designs and engineers medical and other devices. His company is not involved with the scanner, made by California-based Scanadu. The product is still in development.

The website for the new scanner says that it will "enable anyone to conduct sophisticated physical exams" on themselves, or as their promotional video suggests, on their sick child. The new scanning devices will be able to keep an ongoing record of daily vital signs -- heart rate, respiration, temperature and oxygen saturation. The scanners will be able to "talk" with patients and doctors via text or other messaging system. Physicians will be able to get a much richer picture of a patient's recent health status, Scorzelli said.

"Think about the snapshot your doctor gets -- they see you maybe once a year and then maybe your insurance changes and you switch health care providers," he said. "There's no continuity of care. What we're hoping is that if we attach a device to your body it will give you an idea of where you are day to day and month to month."

Health devices that talk to each other, not just to the patient or doctor, are another big growth area right now, Scorzelli noted.

"There's a lot more now about smart devices able to talk to other devices -- being able to get updates from different neuromodulation devices and implantable defibrillators about what the activity has been," he said.

But Scorzelli said for talking devices to move forward successfully, inventors and designers need to think broadly.

"Anyone designing a talking device now needs to think about things like will it work in multiple languages? If so, are there slang terms that mean something completely different in another land?" he said. "And to think about how it functions in its environment. There are a lot of devices recalled because the creators don't think through the human issues. The human factor is much more critical, much more important than people give it credit for."

More information

For more on medical devices, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

SOURCES: Benjamin Arcand, Ph.D., associate director, innovation fellows program, Medical Devices Center, University of Minnesota; Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S., associate professor in community and family medicine and co-director of mHealth@Duke, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.; Christopher Scorzelli, M.D., chief medical officer, Kablooe Design, Minneapolis

 
Related Items
Wellness Library
  Know When a Bandage Will Suffice
  Winter's Cool Advice: Watch Out for Hypothermia
  What to Do if Someone Collapses
  How to Respond to a Medical Emergency
  Managing Your Medicine Cabinet
  What's in a First Aid Kit?
  Treating Minor Childhood Injuries
  How to Avoid Common First Aid Mistakes
  The Best Ways to Treat, Prevent Tendonitis
Quizzes
  First Aid/Emergency Quiz
Daily News Feed
  Homemade Blowgun Darts Pose Choking Dangers for Teens
  Childhood Hazard: Choking on Food Persists
  ER Docs Can Tell Difference Between Stroke and Bell's Palsy
  Casino Smoking Ban Tied to Drop in Ambulance Calls
  Mental Health Services Should Be Part of Emergency Disaster Care: Review
  Certain Beer Brands Tied to More ER Visits, Study Finds
  Medical Lessons Learned From the Boston Bombing
  Hospitals Increasingly Give Powerful Clot-Buster for Stroke
  Ultra-Early Treatment Reduces Disability After Stroke: Study
  Readmission Rates for Children May Not Reflect Hospital Performance
  Toddlers Can Die From Swallowing Parents' Drug Detox Meds
  CPR Underused by Minorities, Study Finds
  Two Studies Highlight Benefits of Electronic Health Records
  Chest Pain Less Common in Female Heart Patients: Study
  'Bath Salts' Drugs Led to 23,000 ER Visits in One Year: U.S. Report
  Medicaid Patients Behind Jump in California ER Visits, Study Finds
  Better-Educated Public May Bring More Lifesaving CPR, Study Shows
  Many More Kids Visiting ER for Sports Concussions, Study Finds
  Appendix Removal Isn't Riskier on Weekend, Study Says
  Bullet Wounds Kill 8 Percent of U.S. Kids Treated at ERs
  Seniors With Serious Injuries Often Don't Receive Specialized Care
  Ultrasound Device May Improve Emergency Stroke Care: Study
  Too Few Kids Follow Bike Helmet Laws, Study Finds
  'Super-Magnets' Pose Rising Threat to Kids, Study Finds
  Health Tip: Keep a First Aid Kit in the Car
  Divorce May Raise Risk of Accidental Death
  For Children of Teen Parents, Most Injuries Due to Falls: Study
  Transfusions During Hospital Transport May Help Trauma Patients Survive
  Certain Allergies Plus Blood Pressure Meds Could Be Bad Mix
  Signs of Early Kidney Damage Found in Some 9/11 Responders
  Fewer ER Visits for Kids After Cold Medicine Restrictions
  Bone Doctors May Miss Signs of Domestic Abuse, Survey Finds
  Nail-Gun Injuries on the Rise Among Construction Workers
  Sudden Cardiac Arrest May Have Early Warning Signs
  Antidote Might Reverse Complication From Blood Thinner Pradaxa
  CPR Training Rates Lower in Poor, Rural U.S. Communities
  CPR Devices No More Effective Than Hands-On Method: Study
  Cross These Dangerous Toys Off Kids' Christmas List, Experts Say
  Ecstasy Use on Rise Again Among U.S. Teens: Report
  Morphine, Blood Thinner Plavix a Bad Mix for Heart Attack Victims: Study
  FDA Renews Warning on HeartStart Defibrillator Failures
  Study Challenges Myths About Frequent ER Users
  Rise in U.S. High Chair Injuries Stuns Experts
  When Winter Fun Isn't So Fun
  Avoiding Injury During Winter Sports
  Medicaid Use May Boost ER Visits, Study in Oregon Suggests
  No Harm Done From 'Scoop and Run' Police Transport Policy: Study
  Stocking Epinephrine in Schools Might Save Lives
  ERs Not Curbing Overuse of Antibiotics, Study Reveals
  Twenty U.S. Kids Hospitalized Each Day for Gun Injuries: Study
  Giving Magnesium to Stroke Victims Early Not Helpful: Study
  Infants at Highest Risk for Childhood Burns
  Survival Rates Similar After Accidents, Acts of Violence: Study
  Few Americans Get Recommended Emergency Stroke Care
  Infections Like Colds, Chickenpox Tied to Some Stroke Risk in Kids
  Insured Patients May Not Always Get Best Trauma Care, Study Finds
  Vigorous Exertion at Work May Trigger Heart Attacks, Strokes
  Texting While Walking Often Leads to Injuries: Expert
  Spring Break Drunkenness a Dangerous Tradition
  Repeat Drug Overdoses Raise Risk for Hospitalization, Ventilator Care
  Elderly Diabetes Patients on Insulin Most Vulnerable to Low-Blood-Sugar Trouble
  Trauma Center Closures Tied to Higher Death Risk for Injured Patients
  Protecting Children From Poison Emergencies
  Women Face Delays in Heart Attack Care Compared to Men: Study
  ERs Dispensing More Narcotic Painkillers: Study
  More ERs Treating Headaches With Narcotics, Study Finds
  Two Drugs Work Equally Well for Epileptic Seizures in Kids: Study
  Research Shows Ways to Speed Stroke Care
  Dispatcher-Assisted CPR Boosts Cardiac Arrest Survival in Kids: Study
  Don't Let the Warm Weather Leave You Snakebitten
  Trampolines Linked to More Than 1 Million ER Visits Over a Decade
  Know the Signs of Stroke
  ERs See Spike in Traumatic Brain Injuries
  Injuries From Swallowed Magnets on the Rise in Kids, Study Finds
  As Summer Arrives, CDC Offers Pool Chemical Safety Tips
  Sharp Rise in ER Visits Tied to Abuse of Sedative, Study Finds
  Older Black Trauma Patients Fare Better Than Whites in ER: Study
  Sharp Rise in 'Meth'-Linked ER Visits in U.S., Study Shows
  Teen Drinkers Risking Their Lives: Study
  1 in 6 Teens Treated in ER Has History of Dating Violence: Study
  Hurricane Season Has Begun: Are You Ready?
  With ERs, the Busier, the Better, Study Finds
Adult Diseases and Conditions
  Sunburn
  First Aid for Eyes
  Head Injury
  First-Aid Kit
  Home Page - Non-Traumatic Emergencies
  Lumbar Strain (Weight Lifter's Back)
  Bites and Stings: Animals
  Traveler's First-Aid Kit
  Overview of Sports Injuries
Pediatric Diseases and Conditions
  Home Page - Burns
  First-Aid for the Eyes
  Eye Safety and First Aid
  Bites and Stings
  First Aid for Poisonings
  Treatment for Human Bites
  Insect Stings
  Tick Bite Diseases
  Superficial Injuries Overview
  Minor Injuries Overview