Healthcare in the Palm of your Hand
Monday, September 25, 2023

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The dire need for improvements in health and healthcare in the U.S. has captured the attention of government, industry, and private citizens for years. But a viable solution has yet evaded one of the most technologically advanced, educated and prosperous nations on the globe. Integrated diagnostic technology, once available on a consumer mobile device that is easy to use, will allow individuals to incorporate health knowledge and decision-making into their daily lives.




Over the last 50 years, engineers have made great strides in the development of medical device technology. Sparked by the first commercially integrated circuits in the 1950s and the promise of ever cheaper computing power, a whole generation of engineers would go on to invent an awe-inspiring list of medical devices: From artificial hearts to MRI and CAT scan machines to advanced linear accelerators that more accurately target radiation therapy for cancer, to name just a few. These inventions have had a dramatic impact, helping countless people live longer and more productive lives. But developments in medical technology need to move further, faster. Our health care system in the U.S. today is wobbling: Instead of preventing disease in many cases, we spend billions to treat the symptoms. Far too many people have inadequate access to health care, while many more have none at all.


As envisioned for this competition, the device will be a tool capable of capturing key health metrics and diagnosing a set of 15 diseases. Metrics for health could include such elements as blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature. Ultimately, this tool will collect large volumes of data from ongoing measurement of health states through a combination of wireless sensors, imaging technologies, and portable, non-invasive laboratory replacements.

 In places like East Africa, where there is just one doctor for every 50,000 people as compared to one doctor for every 390 people in the U.S., the situation is even more dire. Here, some people have never had their blood pressure taken or weight measured in their lives. However, the momentum behind providing health care to everyone is growing.  In 2009, Khanjan Mehta, a senior research associate in the School of Engineering at Penn State University at NI Week, a worldwide conference for engineers on measurement and automation held by National Instruments described an innovative program that is bringing networked health solutions to developing regions like East Africa.  One of the primary engineering goals of the program is to develop low-cost medical devices such as a spirometer and a pulse rate monitor, which can operate under conditions that can be rugged and unforgiving. The aim is to keep the devices simple - just a sensor, minimal hardware and a cardboard backing - and move the intelligence to the network. Once patient information is collected, it can be uploaded to a server, where a doctor anywhere can read it. More recently, I was thrilled by the announcement of two new X PRIZE competitions designed to revolutionize healthcare: the Nokia Sensing X CHALLENGE, which aims to achieve affordable, personalized healthcare for all people through the application of sophisticated sensing technologies and devices, and the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE, which challenges participants to develop a portable, wireless handheld device that will monitor and diagnose a person's health conditions. Given their tradition of technical expertise and proven ability to solve some of the most challenging technical problems, I hope that a new generation of entrepreneurial engineers will seize these opportunities to help make the world a better place.