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e-Health revolution is here

Neil Oliver Accutronics, discusses the use of smartphones for medical uses and the considerations of battery life and reliablility

Sales of smartphones hit record highs in 2014 and the market continues to grow rapidly. Many have attributed this to the use of health and fitness monitoring apps by both consumers and patients.

Trials of Apple’s HealthKit monitoring platform are already underway to ascertain the benefits of transparency in patient data.

The total number of mobile phones sold globally reached 1.8bn in 2014, of which over 1.2bn consisted solely of smartphone sales. This is according to reports by research firm Gartner which also showed that Apple recently overtook Samsung to become the highest grossing mobile vendor in history.

It’s interesting then, to note that the next step in innovation has seen the global electronics giant target the medical sector with its HealthKit platform.

Specifically designed to provide better use of patient data, the app ecosystem will tap into the wealth of information generated from health monitoring apps on smartphones, smartwatches and wearable fitness devices.

This is an exciting time for the industry. So what is it that Apple, along with Google, IBM and Microsoft, all exploring their own health platforms, sees in the medical industry?

When we make a trip, to the doctor there is a finite amount of time available, to make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe effective medication or treatment plans.

Patients with long term chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease are already familiar with regular self-monitoring and treatment. Keeping food diaries, testing blood sugar levels, weighing yourself regularly and tracking the rise and fall of blood pressure throughout the day is now second nature for a large portion of the first world population.

However, until now there has been no concerted effort to bring about industry-wide standardisation across disciplines, departments and institutions.

Major improvements in the delivery of healthcare can be made by taking a proactive approach to identifying underlying conditions in otherwise healthy patients.

According to Reuters, 14 of the top 23 hospitals in the US have rolled out a pilot programme using Apple’s HealthKit service. The service acts as a repository for all the data generated by patients, including information like blood pressure, weight or heart rate. The service will eventually allow doctors, patients and healthcare professionals to remotely access patient data and use trends to anticipate early signs of trouble.

And by identifying underlying health conditions earlier, significant cost savings can be made. Cancer Research UK estimates that overall, treatment for stage three and four colon, rectal, lung and ovarian cancer costs the NHS nearly two and a half times the amount spent on stage one and two services.

The result of the healthcare revolution seems to be a healthier population and better cost savings, so what’s not to like? Despite the benefits of e-health, many experts have raised concerns about data privacy and the ethical challenges of commercialising patient information.

Protecting data privacy in the medical industry is especially important, but the wider adoption of e-health requires the decentralisation of patient data by moving it off-site into data centres and into the cloud for remote access, significantly raising the likelihood of hacking. Preventative security measures would incur significant infrastructure costs.

Data security aside, there is a larger debate here about the ethics underpinning the commercialisation of personal data.

Making medical records easily accessible empowers consumers to drive their own healthcare choices, from decisions on where and how to undergo procedures to the most cost effective treatment plans. Despite this, the reality is that private healthcare companies will be driven by their bottom line.

At Accutronics we have over 40 years’ experience of designing, developing and manufacturing batteries for the professional medical device sector.

Crucially, like most medical device specialists, we build equipment with a very long obsolescence cycle to match the needs of the industry. So, although good for investment in the sector, the advent of consumer electronics as pseudo-medical devices raises questions about the build quality, reliability and long term sustainability for medical use.

Product life cycles for consumer devices such as iPhones and Samsung gear fitness watches are typically 12 months, components are often selected with limited tolerances and batteries are embedded.

In contrast, medical device lifecycles are typically ten years and batteries are removable to make it easy to hot-swap multiple batteries and for easy replacement.

To overcome these challenges, we’ve developed a holistic design process to help medical device OEMs consider battery design at the concept stages of the product development process.

If a collaborative effort is made to overcome issues surrounding data privacy, commercial interests and product design, a truly rewarding e-Health system will provide better healthcare a


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