by Terri Ottosen, Consumer Health Coordinator, NN/LM, SE/A and Andrew Youngkin, Emerging Technologies/Evaluation Coordinator, NN/LM, SE/A
Last month in Las Vegas, the 44th annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) — dubbed “the world’s largest consumer technology show” — allowed companies to announce new products and showcase exciting and innovative new products, devices, and technologies. It also offered consumers, retailers, and industry insiders a birds-eye view of emerging tech trends to come. Of particular significance to health care consumers, the 2012 CES included the first Digital Health Summit to promote and facilitate conversation surrounding the growing volume and increased presence of mobile health or “mHealth,” and the overall trend of emerging consumer-focused technologies designed to monitor, assess, and communicate about various areas of our health and well-being.
Healthcare consumers are experiencing a revolution in technology and unprecedented information access that empowers them to incorporate new mHealth tools into their daily lives. The fact that the largest consumer electronics show added a digital health summit for the first time this year points to the wave of the future. Companies are focusing on creating new products, apps, and devices that enhance health and give patients access to appropriate care that improves outcomes while helping to manage escalating costs. These new products focus on prevention and wellness and raised the level of excitement among the conference attendees and the public at large. Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Health delivered two keynote presentations at the conference. He spoke about personalized medicine and the idea that a newer, more precise method of characterizing the genetic qualities of individual patients for diagnosis and treatment is at odds with the century old population-based practice of medicine. “Wireless medicine is not some sort of far-fetched science fiction dream – it’s real and it’s here right now.” He believes that none of these things will happen, however, unless consumers become informed about these new technologies and lead the revolution. 
Personalized medicine through the genomic revolution is one of the most intriguing ideas in healthcare today. One of the most talked about products at the summit was the Life Technologies Ion Proton Genetic Sequencer. Dan Costa of PC Mag called it “the coolest thing I saw at CES 2012.”  A full genome sequence can be completed in one day using this machine, which costs about the same as an MRI machine. What used to cost approximately $10,000 now can be done for $1000 per sequence. And as the technology continues to improve, the cost of the machine and the time and cost to do the analysis will continue to drop. There are still many unknowns when it comes to using genomic data in healthcare, but machines like this are going to make it possible for medicine to find new ways to use this data for good, including personalizing medications tailored to an individual’s genetic makeup.
Many other products were also featured at the show and included robotic aids, tele-health systems, remote monitoring devices for the home, electronic medical records, and therapeutic and diagnostic medical devices. The opportunities are endless when it comes to these technologies which can eliminate distance and borders and be preventive in their approaches. Apps, including games, can reinforce healthy behaviors and help people monitor vital information to take more control of their own health. There were over 20,000 new products launched at this year’s convention, so it can be a bit overwhelming. However, some products could make an even bigger splash this year. One such buzzed about product is the Doctor in Your Car, which is to be developed by Ford and Microsoft this spring as a method of monitoring the health and wellness of drivers. Inventors say the idea for this technology stemmed from a Pew Research study that found 93% of people say they search online health information because of its convenience. The study also found that 83% seek online health information because they get more information from the Internet than their own doctor.  The goal for the developers is to determine how to noninvasively extend health management into the personal vehicle using wearable devices that will monitor health data such as blood pressure, heart rates, glucose levels, and behavioral data.
There’s no question that we, as health consumers, will be exposed to these new technologies and that they will change our lives. There are still hurdles to overcome, but we are at an exciting junction. We are delicately poised on the edge of the revolution and are indeed living in interesting times. The following link is to a video available on the challenges of mHealth, made at the Digital Health Summit, and provides further insight into these technologies and their challenges: http://healthworkscollective.com/node/27831
From the daily lives of consumers to the daily practices of healthcare providers, to medical school classrooms and health sciences libraries, technology has made and will continue to make consumer healthcare more mobile, more visible, more accessible, and more personal.