Medicine 2.0 Closing Keynote: Emerging technologies for mobile health

Richard R Fletcher from the MIT Media Lab gave a fascinating, if not a bit creepy, closing keynote. His topic was sensor technologies, both those that exist and those that are emerging and how they could apply to mobile health.

Dr Fletcher started out by describing that mobile health has a whole stack of technology from devices at the bottom, most distributed point, up to the cloud and centralized databases. He is only going to talk about the very bottom of the stack, the device that is in your hand, but I think his implication was that disruptive and shocking technology advances are happenning at every level of the stack.

He said that one of the biggest problems in delivering health to the developing world is simply identifying people. Has this kid been vaccinated? Has this person received their TB meds? Something as fundamental as patient identification is a barrier to effective healthcare in the developing countries. This was an area where technology can be applied.

He described the trouble of tracking 1,000s of pneumonia patients. They used a Gates grant to develop a patient identification system that used the veins pattern in the hand. This was relatively low tech. It required a special flashlight and a smart phone. It was a portable biometric system powered by a phone.

In another project they used RFID to track babies in order to keep them on their immunization schedule.

He described continuous, remote, skin conductance monitoring. Skin conductance is a way to measure stress, like in a lie detector, but it turns out that many biologic activities influence skin conductance.

Emotion tracking is being used for autism research as a way to track and predict meltdown behaviors.

The same technology is being used to track seizures. Unfortunately it is not yet able to predict seizures. The sensors are inexpensive and easy to deploy. They used them to monitor critically ill patients in a field hospital after the Haiti earthquakes.

He then described the capability of modern webcams.

He says this is really powerful for tracking newborns, as it allows them to be monitored without touching them. How many iatrogenic infections spread through nurseries from monitoring vital signs?

This is not just available for researchers, There’s an app for that:

Measuring HR and RR with an iPad

He says that one could use CCTV footage to measure the heart rate of an entire city.

He closed his talk by discussing about future possibilities: smart diapers to monitor for exclusive breast feeding.

Mobile devices that can measure household air quality. Fascinating talk.


Post written by Dr. Joel Topf, eAJKD Advisory Board member.

Check out all of eAJKD’s coverage of Medicine 2.0’13.

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