With healthcare across the world creaking under the strain of growing problems including dementia and obesity, the hunt is on for ways to relieve the pressure. Could technology be such a way? Here’s three examples which seem to be proving their worth in healthcare.
Fitbit creates wireless wearable health devices that generally resemble a watch or bracelet. Their devices track heart rate, exercise, sleep, restlessness – all things that previously would require clunky equipment to track, now it all fits on your wrist or in your phone.
The impact of this is significant. Fitbit devices (and other similar ‘wearables’) save time, money and effort – making it easier than ever before for people to track things that affect their health, allowing them to make more informed decisions. Individuals are armed with information: they can get early indications something might be wrong and they can take information to healthcare practitioners if necessary. Habits are demystified, trackable, enabling you to do more about them.
Possibly the most exciting application for 3D printing might be in the field of prosthetics. Engineers and physicians are now able to create prosthetics which are now fully customised to the individual meaning they’re lighter, more comfortable and have more movement.
Using a 3D modelling program and computer-aided design (CAD) the prosthetic can be built virtually, before being 3D printed printer where it is built layer by layer until the finished product is ready to use.
Before 3D printing producing prosthetics was expensive, complicated and time-consuming. 3D printers can ensure that a prosthetic limb is ready within a day rather than the weeks, or sometimes even months, that it took before. They also come at a fraction of the cost of other prosthetics, costing just few hundred pounds or dollars compared to thousands. They can be modified to suit individual requirements and can be redesigned and reprinted time and time again for younger patients who are still growing.
3D printing is also opening up who can produce prosthetics – a group of volunteers, known as e-NABLE, recently created 3D printed prosthetic hand which cost just $50. The group are now looking to develop open-source design files for printing, making it even easier for people to create prosthetics in their own homes.
Livi is a medication appliance which dispenses medication to patients in their own homes.
It uses a cloud-based application which allows scheduling and monitoring of medication. The device remembers the user’s medication history and adherence data which can then be shared with physicians and carers.
Here’s how it works. You enter your medication order into the app through a phone or the internet. Once the order is received you pour the contents of your pill bottle into the dispenser – Livi’s container adapts to fit the size and shape of the pill. The clever device can then dispense your medication according to your dosage. It can dispense a 90-day supply of medication of up to 15 different pills and supplements and it even prompts you when and how to take their medication and will text or email if you miss a dose.
Cloud-based tech like Livi liberates people from the difficult and time-consuming process of managing medication. Theoretically it’s less fallible than humans too, ensuring accurate and timely doses of medication. But it also raises plenty of questions: could it be tampered with? Who is responsible when something goes wrong? What about older people who might need medication help the most, but understand technology the least?