Biological Virus Detection with Your Smartphone & More News

Biological Virus Detection with Your Smartphone

Global estimates for deaths from seasonal influenza-related respiratory illnesses have increased, making flu prevention an important priority. In an effort to combat viruses like the flu, Yoshihiro Minagawa, a researcher from Tokyo, has created a tool that detects viruses with a smartphone. The device is about the size of a brick and smaller than conventional options. It detects viruses more quickly than a fluorescence microscope and is estimated to be 100 times as sensitive as a rapid flu test kit. To use the device, a smartphone is placed in a space at the top of the scanner so that it’s camera faces a small lens. Users download an app that allows them to visualize the viruses present in a sample.

Minagawa’s goal was to create a tool that can be used in inaccessible and impoverished communities to combat diseases like the flu globally. This virus scanner is one of many smartphone diagnostic tools that utilizes advanced cameras, motion sensors, facial recognition, natural language algorithms and/or artificial intelligence. The development of diagnostic tools for smartphones has the potential to improve access to care and health worldwide.

Smart Wearables are Key Disruptors in Health Care

Once regarded as simple calorie and step trackers for the fitness-conscious, wearables have transcended the sports category and are being used by clinical researchers. Smart wearables’ potential for advancing health outcomes has been explored by giants like Apple. In 2017’s Apple Heart Study, Apple Watches were utilized to collect and track heart health data, highlighting the role wearables are beginning to play in personalized health monitoring. Other players offering wearables for health tracking include Fossil, whose next smartwatch will use neural network technology to detect various heart conditions and Google Fit, who is diversifying its wearable technology by updating its software to integrate sleep tracking.

According to data provided by Circle Square's June 2019 Digital Trends Report, smart wearables have significant implications for the future of remote patient monitoring in the field of digital health. As health care moves towards a value-based system, with an emphasis on patient-centered care, smart wearables are becoming an efficient monitoring tool to deliver more precise care. 

Making Health History More Accessible

An unfortunate product of the siloed health systems in the U.S. is that it is difficult for patients to attain their health information. To tackle this issue, representatives from Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, health insurers, and hospitals met in Washington D.C. to announce plans to provide consumers with easier access to their medical information. They will begin testing a set of technical specifications for sharing claims data, which are medical bills sent to a patient’s health insurance company. A broad overview of patients' health is often difficult to access because information is held within a specific hospital or clinic where they received care. Claims data offers this overview, irrespective of where they were treated.

In recent years, the government has pushed for claims information to be made available to Medicare beneficiaries. However, it is not routinely shared with individuals who receive their health insurance through their employer or a commercial payer. Apple, Google and Microsoft have developed tools that make it easier for consumers to access their health information, but they have had mixed success. For example, Apple requires each individual hospital or clinic to register with its service, which limits the information available. The new specifications for sharing claims data will benefit health data service providers and ultimately, may disrupt health care silos. Increased accessibility to health information can help patients track their medical bills, choose health plans, and tackle fraud.