A combination of disposable wireless sensors and smartphones is about to make health care more personal, immediate, and affordable. New solutions are emerging that harvest real-time health data and respond with on-the-spot warnings or suggestions. This technology will not only produce better outcomes, it will help extend the benefits of modern health care to people in developing countries and keep consumers everywhere better informed about the latest health products and practices.
The disposable wireless sensors being developed and commercialized by Gentag, Inc. are a good example. The sensors are intended for use by consumers and come packaged as either skin patches or specimen dipsticks. Gentag believes there is a huge global market for sensors that can be mass-produced, are easy to use, and work with popular smartphones and tablet computers.
Unlike telemedicine, which was conceived to conquer distance, Gentag's technology is mainly about immediacy. Consumers can use skin patches and dipsticks at their convenience in their homes and workplaces. Smartphone apps provide instant feedback and can automatically forward results to caregivers. Problems can be spotted in their earliest, most treatable stages and therapy can begin at once.
Disposable sensors offer significant savings over traditional solutions. Most of the sensor designs lend themselves to high-volume mass production. They work with smartphones that consumers already have or are expected to have in the near future. And disposable wireless sensors avoid the costs associated with traveling to and using outpatient labs.
Gentag's skin patch sensors typically consist of printable chemical strips and near field communications (NFC) chips. The chemical strips can test and measure parameters such as body temperature, skin moisture, and (with the aid of microneedles) blood glucose. NFC makes collecting the results as simple as a waving a mobile phone over the skin patch. (NFC sensors don't require batteries because the phone provides the power.) Using NFC to read a sensor also helps avoid human error. Dipstick sensors can test specimens such as urine for pregnancy, prostate cancer, and other conditions.
The disposable wireless sensor-smartphone combination can be used to manage serious medical conditions. A smartphone app for managing diabetes can collect blood glucose readings from a skin patch containing microneedles and send commands to an implanted insulin pump. The app can determine when insulin is needed and whether a delivered dose was sufficient. The app can also take into account time of day, food consumed, and the patient's past responses. Gentag hopes that skin patches with microneedles will free children with Type 1 diabetes from having to stick themselves several times per day. (continued...)