Wearable Sensors – the New Affordable Health Care Option

In the run-up to President Obama’s healthcare reform plan, any time you heard about the major new
reforms planned, you just thought of how it was going to be a huge step up for big government. That
seems like a lot more paperwork, a lot many more government departments, and more bureaucracy to strangle everything. There has been another trend though, a quieter one this time, that helps counter all the concentration of authority in one place that the health-care reform brings in. Most of it comes about through new high-tech home diagnostic solutions – diagnostic sensors available to individuals, all  Internet-connected to make healthcare providers aware of all that goes on with your health. Not only does this make for more control in the hands of the individual, it makes for affordable health care because it cuts down on hospital visits, the number of doctors needed, and it removes a lot of the responsibility for monitoring, treatment and many kinds of diagnoses to primary care doctors, and sometimes to the patient.

When patients have the means to diagnose and monitor their conditions themselves, it becomes possible to catch many health problems before they turn serious. And if you already have a chronic ailment, managing it becomes much easier. They call this the medical home initiative. Getting this plan off the ground though is not going to be easy. To begin with, there will be all those new devices to buy, the process of giving them to  patients, and the setting up of a system to maintain them. Since these machines will be monitoring your health 24/7, it’s going to  know when you aren’t following the doctor’s advice, and when you won’t exercise. And this kind of  intrusiveness is going to be pretty unpopular. And yet healthcare providers were pretty enthusiastic about  what the picture looks like long-term – affordable health care for the patient, and even more affordable healthcare for them.

One of the first kinds of diseases these are in use for has to do with sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment. People with sleep apnea stop breathing in their sleep, and sometimes die of this. It happens because of the  way their throats are formed. A piece of tissue can block the air way to their lungs. And this condition when present likes to often contribute to other problems such as diabetes, obesity, chronic high blood pressure and depression. Doctors even believe that the tiredness people feel from not sleeping well enough from  apnea, leads to car accidents. Diagnosing this disease in people costs $4000 today, and most people are so reluctant to spend what it takes, they put it off until something serious happens. The new home-diagnosis device for sleep apnea by Watermark Medical is a curious-looking thing. It is a headband that you wear, and it holds a little testing device in place close to the top of your head. It has sensors and a little inbuilt computer (powered by the same Intel processor you find in your netbook). It continuously measures the oxygen in your blood, the airflow as you breathe, your pulse, your snoring, and it gives you a voice warning if you are in danger. And this is an example of how it makes for affordable health care. Testing with this device only costs $250.

Certainly, doctors would prefer the traditional sleep lab approach that would cost thousands of dollars.
The pursuit of medicine however is basically philanthropic. And no doctor would want pursue it purely for profit – if more affordable health care options existed.