Health Tech News This Week – October 1, 2022

What happened in health care technology this week, and why it’s important.

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The Tech That Will Push VR to the Limits of the Human Eye

Ed Gent in Singularity Hub reports that researchers from Samsung and Stanford University say emerging technologies could soon get us close to the theoretical limit of pixel density, ushering in powerful new VR headsets. The most likely near-term innovation in displays, say the authors, exploits a quirk of human biology. The eye can only distinguish 60 PPD in the central region of the retina, known as the fovea, with significantly lower sensitivity on the periphery. If eye movements can be accurately tracked, then you only need to render the highest definition in the particular section of the display that the user is looking at. While the required improvements in eye and head tracking add extra complexity to designs, the authors say this is probably the innovation that will happen soonest.

Why it’s important – One of the most significant limitations is current display technology. In a VR headset, screens sit just a few centimeters in front of our eyes, so they need to pack a huge number of pixels into a very small space to approach the definition you might expect from the latest 4K TV. It’s important to remember that there are a host of issues other than just better displays that will need to be solved if VR is to become widely commercialized. In particular, powering these headsets raises complicated challenges around battery capacity and the ability to dissipate heat from onboard electronics. While more immersive virtual experiences are likely still some way off, the road map to get us there is well in place.

Infographics of the week – Another great infographic from Dr. Tazeen Rizvi. Patients’ expectations in healthcare continue to increase as users become more involved in their health. New health tech tools, virtual care, and digital wearables meet a critical healthcare need as they transform clinical care by bridging the gap between #clinical recommendations and patient actions. Incorporating emergent technologies into clinical practice may bridge the gaps between patients’ behavior change and healthcarepractices, but are systems meeting the patient’s needs and expectations? He created this infographic to help organizations assess whether they are hitting the mark.

Infographic Credit: Copyright Dr. Tazeen Rizvi

This week’s second infographic comes from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). It presents the results of their latest COVID-19 survey on whether they know if the new bivalent vaccine is recommended for them.

Image Credit: Kaiser Family Foundation survey

And a third infographic this week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that healthcare services and college tuition and books represented the highest costs of goods and services based on price changes from January 2000 to June 2022.

Image Credit: AEI, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Garmin introduces its first smart blood pressure monitor

Garmin now has an FDA-cleared (not to be confused with FDA-approved) smart blood pressure monitor to accompany its other health-focused wearables. Jess Weatherbed brings us the story on The The Garmin Index BPM Smart Blood Pressure Monitor allows users to measure systolic and diastolic blood pressure and syncs that data with the Garmin Connect mobile app that also syncs with Garmin devices like smartwatches, chest straps, smart scales, and bike computers. Users can set reminders to take their blood pressure, with readings available to view in 7-day, 4-week, and 1-year reports, which can be exported as a PDF if you need to share them with a health care provider. Up to 16 users can use the Index to track their individual readings and sync to their own Garmin Connect accounts, and the cuff is adjustable to fit arm sizes from 9-17 inches in circumference.

Image Credit: Garmin

Why it’s important – The Index BPM is FDA-cleared, meaning that the manufacturer can demonstrate that the product is “substantially equivalent” to a similar and legal market device with either FDA clearance or the gold standard FDA approval. Contextually, rival health company Withings announced its first blood pressure monitor capable of connecting to an iPhone back in 2011. Several other models of smart blood pressure monitors have since been released by Withings, such as the similarly FDA-cleared Withings BPM Connect. So, while this is Garmin’s first attempt at a dedicated smart BPM device, it’s not blazing any trails.

Virtual Children Will Be Commonplace In 50 Yrs & May ‘Help Combat Overpopulation’

This article in anonymous gets the prize for weirdness this week. “BabyX” is an experiment by New Zealand-based company Soul Machines. The project aims to humanize AI to make it more appealing for the public to interact with. Rair Foundation reports: In AI by Design: A Plan For Living With Artificial Intelligence, Ms. Campbell argues that concerns about overpopulation will prompt society to embrace digital children. It is a demographic transformation that she has nicknamed the “Tamagotchi generation.” Ms. Campbell said that, through CGI and advanced machine learning, digital children would have photo-realistic faces and bodies, and they would be able to recognize and respond to their parents using facial tracking and voice analysis. They will be capable of speech and simulated emotional responses encompassing a baby’s coo, a child’s giggle, and a teenager’s backchat. Their parents will be able to interact with them in their chosen digital environments, such as a sitting room, park, or swimming pool. They will also be able to choose how quickly their digital children grow up, if at all.

Why it’s important – I’ve written on MetaHuman research in an earlier blog post and featured some of the work being done by Soul Machines. I understand the points that proponents are making about how they might reduce loneliness in the elderly. Japan has extensively researched this area, and their programs proved effective, especially during the pandemic. But I’m having real difficulty with the idea of virtual children. I’ve made it no secret that I think that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, and his idea of the metaverse represent an existential threat to society. Unless we’re cautious, people who are having trouble dealing with the current reality will immerse themselves in their own alternate reality that feeds their biases and reinforces their beliefs to the extent that will damage our social and societal fabric beyond repair.

Monitoring gait at home with radio waves in Parkinson’s disease: A marker of severity, progression, and medication response

An excellent research paper published in Science Translational Medicine outlining the development of a home device able to detect and analyze movements of individuals while performing day-to-day activities. The device emits radio waves and detects them after they bounce back off the people’s bodies, inferring gait speed. Cross-sectional data analysis shows that at-home gait speed strongly correlates with gold-standard PD assessments, as evaluated by the Movement Disorder Society-Sponsored Revision of the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (MDS-UPDRS) part III subscore and total score.

Image Credit: Yingcheng Liu,, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Why it’s important – Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects about 1 to 2% of people aged 65 and older and is the fastest growing neurological disorder globally. It is the prototypic degenerative movement disorder, characterized by a combination of slowness, stiffness, tremor, and postural instability, that results in gait dysfunction. Tracking the progression of Parkinson’s disease (PD) requires extended visits to the clinic and is subjected to several biases. At-home gait speed also provides a more sensitive marker for tracking disease progression over time than the widely used MDS-UPDRS. Further, the monitored gait speed captured symptom fluctuations in response to medications and their impact on the patient’s daily functioning. This study shows the feasibility of continuous, objective, sensitive, and passive assessment of PD at home and hence has the potential to improve clinical care and drug clinical trials. For a comprehensive review of how technology can support patients with Parkinson’s disease, see my earlier post on the topic.

Zoom’s impact on intercontinental startup investment

An INVEST Digital Health panel discussion on investment beyond the traditional hubs of venture capital investment touched on the role of Zoom in making it easier to maintain relationships with startups across the country in places like Indiana, Utah, Colorado, and beyond. Stephanie Baum reports on the conference in her article In MedCity News. When it comes to investment, including healthcare and biotech, companies in the Bay area, Boston, and New York tend to get the lion’s share of venture capital. But in recent years, there’s been greater attention to investment in companies beyond those regions. The Covid-19 pandemic also played a significant role, as people were forced to limit travel and use Zoom to connect.

Why it’s important – The panel offered a window into how investors find companies that match their investment theses, even in states that are not thought of as startup hubs. Zoom has “flattened the world” of investment opportunities to a large extent and provides startups anywhere in the world greater visibility to the investment community at large. That’s good news for both sides of the equation.

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