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The technology sector is becoming increasingly involved in healthcare. Recent strides forward in technological capabilities and the birth of the Internet of Things are lending themselves to taking healthcare out of the confines of hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, and innovations are being devised to prevent illness and monitor health at home.
Heart disease is the biggest cause of death for both men and women in the US, however, it is seen as being highly preventable. Factors that contribute to the likeliness of developing heart disease include diet, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol consumption, and obesity, all of which can be controlled. The problem is that, for those at risk of heart disease, making the required behavioral changes to their lifestyles to tackle these factors can be difficult. Lack of motivation and feedback can lead to healthcare plans being abandoned.
Google’s Optical Sensors
In January of this year, Google applied for a patent for a technology that is predicted to be a game-changer in the prevention and treatment of heart disease. A revolutionary system that will collect data at home to assess a person’s cardiovascular function, and aims to influence their behaviors to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Google propose using optical sensors to measure aspects of a patient’s physical appearance as well as to track those changes that are related to cardiovascular health. The sensor would, for example, be placed in a person’s mirror, so data could be collected and analyzed on a daily basis. Google also plan to integrate this data with that collected from other smart technologies, such as fitness trackers, to get a fuller picture of a person’s health. This data would then be shared with a healthcare professional if it was decided that further assessment was required.
The patent describes how the technology would convert light into electronic signals. The sensors would look for changes in skin color primarily, as this information can reflect hemodynamics, which are a marker of cardiovascular health. The technology proposed by Google would use skin color to identify peak blood-pressure flow and convert data collected at different points of the body on this measure to determine a pulse-wave velocity, which could then inform on cardio-health metrics like arterial stiffness and blood pressure. The sensors would also be able to track heart rate and respiration rate.
In addition to assessing markers of cardiovascular health and alerting healthcare professionals when action needs to be taken, the system also plans to have the capability to give some form of positive feedback when a person makes healthy lifestyle supporting behavioral changes, providing the necessary motivation to maintain efforts.
Google is changing the landscape of the future of disease treatment and prevention, not just for heart disease, but illness in general. It is leading the way in utilizing the IoT to improve healthcare and to change the perspective that we should only pay attention to our health at the point when something goes wrong. Google’s optical monitoring system will allow us to make positive, health affirming changes to our lifestyles before becoming unwell. It also provides the possibility of treatment options that can be monitored remotely, and more accurately, reducing healthcare costs and improving on outcomes.
The creation of Google’s optical sensors signals a shift in healthcare for tech companies. Along with other tech giants, Google is making the move to focus on developments that support the creation of a tech-based healthcare ecosystem for data collection, analysis, prediction, and feedback. The future of the healthcare sector will be shaped by the innovations coming out of these leaders in tech, and it will put the power in the hands of the individual to shape their own health and treatment outcomes.
Sources and Further Reading
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