Learn How New Tech Innovations in Healthcare Can Help Prevent and Diagnose Illness Before It’s Too Late

by Harry Glorikian

Star Trek was ahead of its time in many ways. Many tech writers credit the future-looking sci-fi franchise with anticipating and even inspiring countless modern technologies, including iPads, Bluetooth headsets and chatbots like Siri. But of the show’s many imagined technologies, one device has remained a kind of holy grail in the minds of real-life Trekkies and techies alike: the medical tricorder, which allows doctors to diagnose and record all of a patient’s health issues with just one quick scan.

While some things like the Star Trek transporter room are still the stuff of fiction, some devices, like the tricorder, are swiftly becoming a reality. Think I’m exaggerating? How many people do you know with an Apple Watch or Fitbit? Their capabilities are a lot closer to the future than you might think. Not that long ago, I downloaded the Cardiogram app, which monitors your heart-rate activity using data from an Apple Watch or Fitbit. Both wrist devices have a sensor that can record your heart rate continuously and track sleep and exercise, before feeding this information back to Cardiogram for analysis. I hadn’t been using Cardiogram for more than a few months when the app flashed a message: “Do you have sleep apnea?” Sleep apnea, which can cause your airway to close at night, increasing the risk of heart problems and neurological disease, affects millions of Americans—including me. My smartwatch and the Cardiogram app had crunched my data, compared it to the information from hundreds of thousands of other users, and determined that I was likely to have the sleep disorder.

My experience was no anomaly. Since its launch in 2016, Cardiogram has been credited with alerting users to heart irregularities that can cause stroke and other fatal events with 97 percent accuracy. The trifecta of AI technology, big data, and predictive analytics which allowed Cardiogram to diagnose my apnea may not yet be quite as all-encompassing as the tricorder, but it’s getting closer with each passing year.

Personal devices with sensors that can track and even diagnose medical conditions have been around for more than a decade. Hardware and AI have advanced so rapidly, however, that devices and their connected sensors can now accomplish feats that were inconceivable just a few short years ago. Moreover, as data archives expand, software manufacturers are better able to hone the accuracy of offerings and sensors that can monitor, diagnose, and treat people in amazing, new ways, and there’s even more on the horizon.

What exactly can your smartphone or wearable do for your health today? Here are a few common examples:

Prevent a heart attack

By capturing all the heart rate data from an individual and then comparing it to what is considered “normal” or “abnormal,” AI systems can learn to identify patterns of atrial fibrillation, dropped heartbeats or other heart rhythm problems, and then alert the patient to see a doctor. A woman in Alabama, for example, credits her smartwatch with alerting her that her heart wasn’t beating properly—even though she felt fine. Days later, she underwent open-heart surgery.

Diagnose melanoma

According to research, apps like SkinVision may be better at diagnosing skin cancer than dermatologists. The AI-enabled app, which analyzes a selfie of the suspicious spot for melanoma risk, has a 95 percent accuracy rate, beating the 61 to 66 percent sensitivity of general practitioners and 75 to 92 percent sensitivity of dermatologists.

Lessen the frequency of asthma attacks

Most people with asthma don’t use their inhalers properly, increasing the risk of attacks and hospitalizations. Propeller Health eradicates these issues by using a sensor that attaches to an inhaler, letting you and your doctor know exactly when and how well you use the device. The app also monitors weather, pollution, and allergens in your area to alert you to know when you’re at greater risk for breathing difficulties.

Monitor your blood sugar 24/7

Smartphone apps like Dexcom help diabetics stay safe while eradicating the trouble of traditional blood glucose meters. Instead of using needles, Dexcom relies on a small sensor placed just under the skin that monitors blood glucose continuously, providing up to 288 readings in 24 hours.

Treat insomnia without drugs

Pear Therapeutics’ prescription Somryst app helps patients with chronic insomnia overcome the condition with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can be difficult to find in some areas of the country. Those who receive the digital treatment are able to fall asleep faster and stay there without relying on prescription hypnotics like Ambien, which can cause dependency and serious side effects.

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