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Wearables Makers Pitching Health Trackers For Babies

Posted on November 9, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

When my older son was born, we relied on a low-tech “sense of hearing” solution to track crying alerts from his crib at the other end of the hallway.

But were he born today, my son would never have settled for such pedestrian technology. Today’s discriminating newborn expects his parents to collect a wide array of data points and conduct advanced analytics on them to optimize his health.

You think this is ridiculous? Wipe that smile off of your face, you slackers. Ever sensitive to the expanding needs of today’s modern baby, wearables manufacturers have begun testing health trackers designed to monitor their tiny bodies, according to an article appearing on the CNN.com site.

In fact, there are already dozens of wearables for babies on the market, CNN found, including devices that monitor their heart rate, smart socks that track oxygen levels and a baby monitor button that snaps onto the child’s clothes. Any of these could cost a few hundred dollars. But there’s also smart thermometers and pacifiers, such as Vick’s or Blue Maestro’s Pacif-i, which start around $20 and go up from there, the site reports.

The CNN article also shares the tale of Crystal King, an Atlanta mom who’s monitoring her six-month son Avery using one of these emerging trackers.

The piece describes how using her cell phone, King can check her baby’s temperature on her cell phone and get app-driven alerts when it’s time for Avery’s next bottle feeding.

Meanwhile, if King picks up her tablet, she can also monitor her son’s breathing, body position, skin temperature and sleeping schedule. (Back in the Stone Age, I had to settle for keeping his body in position with pillow wedges and tracking his sleeping schedule using a little trick known as “staying awake.”)

As part of his work with CNN, Avery has been testing a number of different wearable devices. He seems to be a tough critic. On the one hand, he seemed pretty comfy wearing a biometric-tracking onesie while playing on his mat, but kept spitting out the smart pacifier, which was apparently a nonstarter.

Of course, we don’t actually know what Avery thinks about these devices, but his mom has developed some ideas. For example, King told CNN she thinks it would be good to help parents control the number of notifications they get from baby-monitoring apps and technologies.

If nothing else, equipping their baby with a health tracker may offer parents a little extra reassurance that their child is safe. He might still erupt in deafening screams at 3AM now and again, but if he’s wearing a health tracker, you might at least know why.

WearDuino Shows That Open Source Devices Are a Key Plank in Personal Health

Posted on August 13, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O’Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space.

Andy also writes often for O’Reilly’s Radar site (http://oreilly.com/) and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O’Reilly’s Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

New devices are democratizing health. We see it not only in the array or wearable fitness gear that an estimated 21 percent of Americans own (and that some actually wear), but also in innovative uses for mobile phones (such as testing vision in regions that lack doctors or checking athletes for concussions) and now in low-cost devices that are often open source hardware and software. Recent examples of the latter include the eyeSelfie, which lets a non-professional take an image of his retina, and the WearDuino, a general-purpose personal device that is the focus of this article.

WearDuino is the brainchild of Mark Leavitt, a medical internist who turned to technology (as have so many doctors pursuing visions of radical reform in health care). I ran into Leavitt at the 2015 Open Source convention, where he also described his work briefly in a video interview.

Leavitt’s goal is to produce a useful platform that satisfies two key criteria for innovation: low-cost and open. Although some of the functions of the WearDuino resembles devices on the market, you can take apart the WearDuino, muck with it, and enhance it in ways those closed platforms don’t allow.

Traits and Uses of WearDuino
Technically, the device has simple components found everywhere, but is primed for expansion. A small Bluetooth radio module provides the processing, and as the device’s name indicates, it supports the Arduino programming language. To keep power consumption low there’s no WiFi, and the device can run on a cheap coin cell battery for several months under normal use.

Out of the box, the WearDuino could be an excellent fitness device. Whereas most commercial fitness wearables collect their data through an accelerometer, the WearDuino has an accelerometer (which can measure motion), a gyroscope (which is useful for more complex measurements as people twist and turn), and a magnetometer (which acts as a compass). This kind of three-part device is often called a “9-degree of freedom sensor,” because each of those three measurements is taken in three dimensions.

When you want more from the device, such as measuring heartbeat, muscle activity, joint flexing, or eye motion, a board can be added to one of the Arduino’s 7 digital I/O pins. Leavitt said that one user experimented with a device that lets a parent know when to change a baby’s diaper, through an added moisture detector.

Benefits of an Open Architecture
Proprietary device manufacturers often cite safety reasons for keeping their devices closed. But Leavitt believes that openness is quite safe through most phases of data use in health. Throughout the stages of collecting data, visualizing the relationships, and drawing insights, Leavitt believes people should be trusted with any technologies they want. (I am not sure these activities are so benign–if one comes up with an incorrect insight it could lead you to dangerous behavior.) It is only when you get to giving drugs or other medical treatments that the normal restrictions to professional clinicians makes sense.

Whatever safety may adhere to keeping devices closed, there can be no justification on the side of the user for keeping the data closed. And yet proprietary device manufacturers play games with the user’s data (and not just games for health). Leavitt, for instance, who wears a fitness monitor, says he can programmatically download a daily summary of his footsteps, but not the exact amounts taken at different parts of the day.

The game is that device manufacturers cannot recoup the costs of making and selling the devices through the price of the device alone. Therefore, they keep hold of users’ data and monetize it through marketing, special services, and other uses.

Leavitt doesn’t have a business plan yet. Instead, in classic open source practice, he is building community. Where he lives in Portland, Oregon a number of programmers and medical personnel have shown interest. The key to the WearDuino project is not the features of the device, but whether it succeeds in encouraging an ecosystem of useful personal monitors around it.

Consumers Are Ready For Wearable Tech

Posted on January 15, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Though they’re pretty, interesting and fun, I’ve never taken wearable devices that seriously as a force that could have impact on healthcare delivery in the here and now.  Well, it seems that I was wrong.  While it’s not certain that the health system can afford these devices — they don’t exactly come in at an easy consumer price point — it seems consumers are ready to use them if given the chance.

According to a new study by Accenture, more than half of consumers “are interested in buying wearable technologies such as fitness monitors for tracking physical activity in managing their personal health,” according to a report in Health IT Outcomes.

According to Accenture, consumers were primarily interested in devices like smart watches and wearable smart glasses such as Google Glass, even though these devices are not yet available commercially.  Consumers were also very interested in phablets, an emerging device category combining smart phone and tablet PC functions.

I can’t help think that this is a very positive trend.  For one thing, consumer wearables can be an important gateway to remote patient monitoring, something that’s less likely with devices that are used and put aside, like wired glucose monitors, pulse oximeters and blood pressure cuffs.

What’s more, wearables can fit into a healthcare ecosystem in which devices talk to one another and other wireless systems (such as their desktop, laptop or smart phone), whereas the other smart devices I’ve mentioned have less flexibility in that arena.

So, who pays for the wearables?  At least at first, it will probably make more sense for providers to invest in these devices and use them to conduct tests of remote patient monitoring and its impact on care.

But as consumers pick up the wearables themselves, providers might want to focus on building a network which seamlessly integrate these devices, as it seems almost a given that consumers will buy them when they’re available and affordable.  It will take years to get that right, so now it’s probably time to start. Get prepared for the Internet of everything!