By David Schafran
David Schafran is co-founder and CEO of EyeNetra, Inc. He mixes entrepreneurship, technology, and humanism to super-humanize the world.
Billions of people worldwide are walking around with sophisticated scientific measurement instruments in their pockets ― although they may not realize it. It's their mobile devices, and they have the potential to dramatically change health care economics by performing high-quality biometric testing without trained personnel or bulky, expensive equipment.
Closing the Testing Gap
Testing is the first step in diagnosing and treating health problems. And, in enhancing ourselves to "super-you" levels (the promise of the Quantified Self movement). But, because of various barriers, it often doesn't happen.
Consider eye care, for example. The barriers in the US are mostly regulatory or bureaucratic: you must get a new prescription every one to two years depending on the state, take the time to get to an optometrist, and pay at least $100 for an eye exam if you're like the two-thirds of Americans without vision insurance. In the developing world, the barriers are more fundamental: lack of access to trained eye care professionals, costly and immobile testing equipment, and disorganized and disconnected fulfillment chains. As a result, an estimated 2.4 billion people in the developing world who need glasses don't have them.
By replacing the over-engineered solutions of yesterday with simplified, user-oriented devices that run on or with consumer mobile devices, we can create diagnostics that empower patients to administer high-precision tests for eye care and many other conditions ― just as easily as they can use a thermometer or glucometer today.
A New Era of Direct-to-Consumer Testing
This opens up the promise of a new era of direct-to-consumer testing. Imagine the ability to take an ECG using a small device attached to your smartphone. Or to take an eye test at home or at the local pharmacy. Or to continually monitor blood chemistry for a diabetic condition or response to chemotherapy without going to the doctor's office.
3D printing and other technology advancements are dramatically improving hardware economics, enabling inventors to quickly design, test, refine and manufacture innovative scientific measurement devices that run on or with consumer mobile devices. Even more important: cloud computing, advanced analytics and software are enabling entrepreneurs to build new back-end ecosystems for these devices.
Linking tests with solutions ― with help from doctors ― will reduce costs and enable patients to access more solutions, less-expensive solutions and more personalized solutions. Doctors - in person or via telemedicine - will interpret the results of tests and help steer patients to the right solutions. Data that's collected can be analyzed to provide more customized care. Far from being replaced by mobile-based diagnostics, doctors will become more like coaches and less like technicians.
When applied to traditional health care delivery models, these new ecosystems could revolutionize the delivery of everything from primary care to chronic care.
For example: today eyeglass vendors go direct-to-consumer with eyeglasses; in the future, eyeglass vendors will be able to go direct-to-consumer with testing for precision measurements. When the two steps ― testing and fulfillment ― are linked, the direct-to-consumer health care transaction is completed. And the whole system has become a lot less costly because it no longer depends on sophisticated training and expensive equipment to administer testing.
Better Living Through Continual Testing
But the big win is not cost savings ― it's personalized medicine. Consumer-facing testing devices are the gateway to personalized medicine, because they can accrue data in a continual, contextual manner. We can aggregate data over the cloud to a supercomputer like IBM Watson to provide insights into not just your health but also your personal potential ― with the doctors of the near-future helping you reach that potential.
Initially, mobile-based devices will bring testing to the home or close to it (e.g., pharmacies, health clubs or grocery stores). Future devices will be designed with human behavior in mind, creating a simple experience that removes complications while engaging consumers more fully in the process of quantifying themselves. Most of the heavy lifting will be done in the background by software. For example, eye doctors will be able to track your eye health over your lifetime ― efficiently and economically. The eye exam ― which today takes place once or twice a year in your doctor's exam room under one unique visual environment ― will be replaced by an ongoing series of mobile-device-based tests taken as you go about your daily business. With precise, more-frequent data, your doctor will be able to deliver better solutions for you throughout your lifetime.
Direct-to-consumer testing with mobile consumer devices will eventually be the de facto way that we test. Everywhere. The impetus for change is clearly there ― and it's already being championed by the consumer.