Can a Star Trek-inspired Device Revolutionize Personal Health Diagnoses?

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By Melissa Hagstrom, contributor 

January 20, 2013 - The customary Vulcan phrase, “Live long and prosper,” may be among the most famous Star Trek quotes, and now the Qualcomm Foundation has funded a $10 million competition to help health care consumers live longer and better with help from a Star Trek-inspired device that will be developed with real-world technology.

The Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE, inspired by the fictional personal medical device predominately featured throughout the famous television series--is a global competition aiming to stimulate innovation and integration of diagnostic technologies. The contest organizers hope to bring reliable diagnosis directly to patients through the development of a five-pound-or-under device that integrates artificial intelligence, wireless sensing and other cutting-edge technologies.

“It is probably most likely going to be like a mobile phone or a mobile phone, but with an array of different biosensors and other devices that will make the device an intelligent diagnostic tool for consumers,” explained Mark Winter, senior director of life sciences for the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE and the Nokia Sensing X CHALLENGE.

“Its goal is to do something unique, though it is not a diagnostic tool for clinicians. It is focused on creating a smarter health consumer. Its objective is to help people understand an existing condition or be able to detect an unknown condition and therefore facilitate care which is more timely--perhaps with better communication back to the patient’s physician or nurse, and generally build a stronger bridge of care between the care-providing entity and the patient.”

The top prize will be awarded to the team that develops the best-performing solution in its ability to specifically measure and verify 15 different health conditions or diagnostic states and five vital signs, while also providing the best user experience. From diabetes and melanoma to pertussis and pneumonia, this technology has the potential to transform the way people make decisions about their health, while also helping to improve communication between health care professionals and patients.

“We’ve known for a long time that primary ER admissions and secondary admissions are one of the major driving cost factors in the U.S. health system,” Winter said. “And the ability for a consumer to be able to determine, for example, whether their child has a walking case of an pneumonia, or simply a bad cold, and can discriminate accurately as to whether or not they should rush to the ER or stay home and administer fluids--those are the kinds of things that can make a difference in the scale of this economy to really change the economics of the U.S. health care picture.”

It has been well documented that the rising cost of care and insurance in the United States can be attributed to unnecessary admissions and lack of preventative care, and Winter stressed how important nurses and other health care professionals are in changing the overall picture.

“The intent of this is not to cut the care provider out of the equation but rather help to make their job more efficient by having better communications and better information from that remote patient,” he said.

“It’s our belief that if nurses of all different scopes and levels of capability begin to really use and master this technology--and that means being able to interact with it and work with it--it will essentially make them more valuable in the clinical workforce. It will ultimately enable them to meet the challenges of increasing patient loads, where there is not enough nursing personnel physically available, and still meet the needs of patients. “

Even with the extreme ratios of physicians to patients, Winter believes the device will serve as a way to improve the communications and quality of care to patients--which is one of the major complaints that consumers have about the health care system today.

In addition to boosting communication, the development of this type of mobile device is especially relevant considering the country’s aging population and increased need for home health care services.

“Remote monitoring is projected to grow at an astronomical rate within the health care system, particularly with the demographic changes going on in the country,” Winter said, adding, “It is crucial that health care professionals have the ability to do remote monitoring, and this is the exact type of technology that can offer that solution.”

“We’ve been in a crisis in the U.S. health care industry for quite a long time now, and cost, quality of delivery and outcomes are all big facets of this. This kind of solution clearly is called for.”

For more information, visit the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE website.



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