I covered the recent TSensors Summit previously, having attended for one of the three days. That day happened to be dedicated to healthcare, and there were a few interesting points worth noting.
First, I have to say, I was surprised at the number of people that said, “We have the best healthcare system anywhere, and I wouldn’t change it a bit,” followed by a litany of problems with our healthcare system. I don’t know if it was some patriotic thing or an anti-ACA statement or what; it just struck me as incongruous to say that everything is great and then list the things that suck, including facts indicating better outcomes in other countries.
Dr. Mark Zdeblick, of Proteus Digital Health, made an interesting observation: most of today’s electronic healthcare gadgets are for healthy people. These are the things that tell you how many miles you ran or how much of whatever else that only healthy people can do you did. We haven’t actually gotten to the point of improving healthcare yet; we’re mainly maintaining it (for the techno-savvy that can afford it [my editorial, not his]).
The kinds of longer-term items we’re talking about here are patches and ingestibles and such. This is where the daily patch measuring calories in/out to help reduce obesity, if taken by a billion people, gets a third of the way to a trillion yearly sensors. Of course, if it succeeds and we have no more obese people, then that goes against the desire to ship lots of sensors. So we’ll either need a new application or we’ll need to get people to lose some weight, but not enough to be healthy and drop the patch.
Microfluidic labs-on-chips were also a topic, and in particular, it was noted that there are no good design tools for these. Chips and connectors and MEMS have design tools to help, although chips obviously have the most evolved tools due to their complexity and volume. MEMS and other mechanical devices (like connectors) have tools, but abstraction is further behind there (and may not be needed for the simple things like connectors). No such abstraction exists for microfluidics. Opportunity for an EDA company?
Finally, as noted in the other piece, silicon will not be the answer. Part of that is cost – a big part – but part of it relates to putting things on or in the body. Silicon can be used, but sending something with sharp corners and edges through an artery sounds less than savory, so when used, they have to be encapsulated in ways that will be friendly to the body. Lots of work there for folks doing materials and packaging and connections – particularly wireless connectivity.
One quick afterthought: the only really uncomfortable moment in the day occurred when we had to look at that woman’s colon for far longer than seemed necessary. Um… yeah… Nuff said.