Medical Sensors Design Conference Insider Interviews: A Pre-Con Preview, Part One

The premier Medical Sensors Design Conference in Boston is shaping up into a formidable event. It is quite apparent that anyone involved with sensor applications will benefit greatly by attending. That’s because medical applications draw upon sensors of every type, from the most common such as temperature, pressure, and motion sensors to esoteric devices that will drive networking, machine learning, automation, and the plethora of emerging IoT apps.

Similar to Sensors Expo West and Mid-West, there will be speakers from various medical sectors providing expert insight to the most vital and critical sensor applications related to personal health, diagnostic, and patient treatment and care. To give our readers and attendees, as well as other speakers and exhibitors, a quick pre-conference preview, we will be presenting several Q&A sessions with some of our esteemed and respected presenters.

In this first part of a series, I spoke with David Putrino, PhD, Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. David is a physical therapist with a PhD in Neuroscience. His research is well known, being featured on ABC news, in Sport’s Illustrated, the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, the BBC, Time, Wired and the LA Times for starts.

David was kind enough to answer some questions based on the interests and concerns of sensor OEMs and engineers in the field, i.e., our readers. Here we go.

Mat Dirjish (MD): The Internet of Things (IoT), whereby almost everyone and everything will be connected to the Internet, is vastly becoming a reality. The medical community stands to be as one of the most impacted by this, with more patient monitoring devices also connecting to web and being controlled by smartphones and applications. This also aligns with the popular, and not particularly safe, practice of people self-diagnosing their symptoms using various medical websites. What do you foresee as being the most difficult challenges facing doctors and other frontline medical practitioners as a result of these phenomena?

David Putrino (DP): I agree that the IoT is rapidly becoming a prominent game-changer in many different fields. The digital health market is no different in terms of its potential for disruptive change, but the difference lies in our responsibility to ensure the highest possible standards of data security and user safety. The vast majority of digital health startups tend to fail, because although they are developed based on a sound premise, they fail to prepare adequately for the highly regulatory marketplace that they are entering. Currently, the road to a successful digital health product is a long and uncertain one: clinicians simply will not use most digital health products, even if they add value, if they are unable to reimburse their time whilst using them. Alternately, products that are marketed directly to the public - bypassing the healthcare system - must demonstrate value to the consumer, whilst being incredibly careful about navigating regulatory, safety and legal standards.

I like to take a hopeful view of the future of medicine as the IoT enters the digital health domain. When it comes to the current practice of “googling” symptoms, things are (hopefully) just about as bad as they can get: subjective symptoms being entered into a machine that is optimized, not for objectivity, but to actually lead the person inputting the data (thanks to predictive entry algorithms). My hope is that the influx of devices that are helping individuals generate accurate biometric data in an unsupervised environment will improve the quality of non-expert and expert advice that can be offered to someone in need of rapid consultation.

MD: What technological developments occurring now or are in the research stage that you feel will be most beneficial to patients? For example heart monitoring sensors for remote diagnostics, or other emerging technologies.

DP: This is a really exciting time for digital health, and there are so many emerging technologies that I think have a lot of promise. In terms of technologies that have been rapidly adopted into the healthcare world and are making a real difference, I love the advances that are being made in 3D scanning, modeling and printing – these are imminently useful technologies that are being rapidly adopted by leaders in prosthesis development, surgical intervention and tissue engineering and improving quality of life and patient survivability all over the world.

In terms of future technologies, I'm a massive nerd when it comes to motion capture technologies. As a physical therapist, I'm extremely excited to see devices such as the Microsoft Kinect and Leap Motion Controller starting to become low cost and accessible. We're not quite there yet in terms of the technology but as devices such as these continue to improve, I'm excited for the potential of these devices to allow us to guide physical rehabilitation in a home environment, rather than outpatients having to go to the hassle and expense of traveling to a rehabilitation appointment. I know that there are companies that have begun building businesses like this, but we are really only scratching the surface of what is possible once the right technology becomes scalable and accessible.

MD: What technological developments occurring now or are in the research stage that you feel will make doctors and other diagnosticians’ jobs easier and enable faster and more accurate diagnostics and other procedures?

DP: I'm very excited for symptom monitoring applications that tackle chronic disease management. Poorly controlled chronic conditions such as Congestive Heart Failure, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Diabetes and Alzheimer's Disease, to name just a few, introduce enormous burden into the healthcare system every year, and are set to increase precipitously as the US population continues its rate of unprecedented aging. I feel as though we are rapidly approaching a “tipping point” where the average cell phone has reached the level of sensitivity and sophistication necessary to track symptoms meaningfully, and alert healthcare providers when a user's biometric data is looking questionable or worrying.

MD: As a speaker and moderator at Medical Sensors & Design Conference, what is the most important concept you want to impart to the medical/engineering/sensor-centric attendees?

DP:  Innovation cannot happen without collaboration across a deeply multi-disciplinary team. As a coach, mentor, adviser and consultant to many different digital health and biotechnology startups, I cannot stress the importance of designing for a specific clinical problem rather than the ability to collect a specific biometric. For instance: don't put a team together just to build some gadget that measures blood sugar more accurately. Rather, put a team together because you have identified an inefficiency/pain-point in the way that blood sugar is currently being collected, and if you solve that problem, several million clinicians worldwide will thank you!

Once you have identified your clinical problem that you want to solve, verify with as many clinicians as you can get your hands on (preferably from a highly diverse group of clinicians in different clinical settings) that it is, in fact, a problem worth solving. Only then should you start designing your product. We have way too many devices that have been built that are looking for a problem to solve.

If you agree, disagree, and/or have had a revelation, be sure to attend Dr. Putrino’s speaking events at the conference. On Monday, May 8 at 9:15am, he will be speaking about Using Sensors to Identify and Track Concussions and on Tuesday, May 9 at 11:15am he will moderate a session focusing on Using Advanced Biometric Sensors in the Field: Perks, Pitfalls and Lessons Learned from the Trenches.

Now the best thing for your health will be to attend. You can register for the Medical Sensors Design Conference by CLICKING HERE. ~MD

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