Since the first crop of fitness trackers and wearables launched some years ago, the quantified self movement has continued to grow apace. Today, the latest edition of the Apple Watch integrates such an array of advanced health functions - most notably a heart rate tracker - that it actually qualifies as an FDA-approved medical device. Right now, all this portable health tech is targeted towards healthy, fitness conscious consumers, but will its primary function in future be monitoring health conditions?
Medopad, a fast-growing UK medical startup recently announced the development of mobile technology for measuring Parkinson's Disease symptoms in patients, delivered only via a smartphone.
The patient simply has to film themselves moving on their smartphone, and an automated system will analyse the video to gauge the severity of symptoms. "Based on that, they get categorised and get one of the scores between zero to three depending on their condition status," says Medopad CEO Dan Vahdat.
The mobile tech is ideally suited to chronically ill patients who spend 95 percent of their time outside the hospital, but who are required to come in for assessments which can take up to 30 minutes and must generally be conducted by a senior doctor.
Despite these check ins, it is most likely that deterioration of the patient's condition occurs outside the hospital walls.
"We are trying to solve that problem by introducing mobile applications and connected devices that capture the patient's condition when they are outside of the hospital and pass it to the clinical teams to make the right decisions and intervene at the right time," says Vahdat. "That's the core of our business."
Right now, the company is conducting a scientific trial of the technology for Parkinson's in a clinical setting, in partnership with King's College London.
This tech is a product of a collaboration between Medopad and vast Chinese conglomerate Tencent, which involved constructing an AI lab in China. The two companies hope to deliver similarly innovative technology for a range of diseases, seeing potential applications for this type of technology for all chronic, long-term health problems in patients who live at home.
While at present, the technology for Parkinson's patients simply analyses the video input, Vahdat foresees it as being more powerful in future.
"Slowly, as we're covering more and more diseases, we are trying to add intelligence layers on top of different disease monitoring so that we can predict these complications," he says. "We can predict this deterioration and inform the clinical team so they can intervene even faster."
The company also recently announced the launch of the Medopad Platform Programme, which aims to bring together medical startups and provide them with resources and visibility. Around 10 have been brought on board already. Among them are Tissue Analytics, which transforms a smartphone into a 3D imaging service that can monitor the state of an open wound, and FibriCheck, which takes advantage of in-built photoplethysmorgraphic (PPG) smartphone sensors to detect abnormalities in heart rhythm.
To Vahdat, the benefits of leveraging mobile technology for good are indisputable.
"This cohort, they always have the disease and the only way you can help them and support them is by having a solution that's always with them," he says. "Mobiles are one of the devices that we always carry and more and more, mobiles are becoming smarter and more powerful."