How Digital Technologies Can Support Breast Cancer Awareness – Breast Cancer Awareness Month – October, 2022

“Please get your annual mammogram. I was six months late this time. I shudder to think what might have happened if I had put it off longer. But just as importantly, please find out if you need additional screening.”

Katie Couric, Journalist
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Katie Couric was diagnosed with breast cancer over the summer and subsequently underwent surgery and radiation treatments that finished this week. In the personal essay and on her essay and on Instagram, Couric, who is 65, shared information about the prevalence of breast cancer. “Every two minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States. On June 21st, I became one of them,” she wrote in a social media post shared Wednesday morning. “As we approach #BreastCancerAwarenessMonth, I wanted to share my personal story with you all and encourage you to get screened and understand that you may fall into a category of women who needs more than a mammogram.”

Today, there are more than 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, with 268,600 new cases expected to be diagnosed this year alone. With an estimated 89% of United States online and 72% owning smartphones, digital health technologies are uniquely situated to bridge the gap in breast cancer care through detection, intervention, and management. As we begin Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to dig deeper into the current developments and highlight some of the most promising digital health solutions to promote early detection and improve patient care for breast cancer patients and survivors.


Breast Cancer Apps – One of the most stabilizing things you can do with a breast cancer diagnosis is to get the correct information. In addition to your doctor, the right app can be a great place to find answers to all your questions. It can also offer access to a supportive community that understands what you’re navigating. Here are some of the most highly recommended apps based on their quality content, reliability, and user recommendations:

Breast Cancer Healthline – Those who are newly diagnosed, receiving treatment, or in remission will find support and camaraderie in the app’s one-on-one chats and group discussions. This is a place to find and receive advice, access current news and research, and connect with people who genuinely get it.

Cancer Therapy Advisor – An app designed for oncology professionals, Cancer Therapy Advisor compiles the latest in oncology news and trends, cancer treatment regimens, full-length features, slideshows, case studies, and drug information for various cancer types.

BELONG Beating Cancer Together – This free app helps get you access to the best care without a high cost of entry. You can directly communicate with researchers, experts, and other medical professionals who can give you quick, accurate responses to your pressing questions about breast cancer. You can also keep all your records within the app and share them with your doctor and your loved ones, too. You can browse and sign up for clinical trials and access leading oncologists, radiologists, researchers & nurses to answer your questions.

OWise Breast CancerOWise is an accredited mobile app and website that helps you regain control of your life from the first day of a breast cancer diagnosis. OWise provides safe, reliable, and credible information and practical support and guidance. You can monitor and share changes in your day-to-day well-being with your care team or other trusted individuals. This way, you can help your doctors to make timely and informed decisions on how to give you more personalized care.

Mammosphere – Life Image is the creator of Mammosphere. This breast imaging and cancer prevention application lets patients digitally transfer records to and from health care providers at the click of a button. 1 in 4 patients fails to gather their records promptly, skyrocketing the risk of being called back for additional testing or receiving a false positive. Life Image, based in Newton, MA, reduces the number of false positives for breast cancer by up to 60% and drives up patients’ chances of receiving an efficient and accurate diagnosis.

UntireUntire, founded by Door Vonk, is an app that provides cancer patients and survivors with the tools to cope with extreme fatigue. As a result of cancer, its medical treatments, and the emotional and social impact of such a severe illness causes patients to suffer from severe fatigue. Developed by psychologists with the contributions of patients and researchers, Untire uses scientifically proven theories and mindfulness-based techniques to increase cancer patients’ energy and improve their lives. With less fatigue, cancer patients can fight cancer without sacrificing their enjoyment of life.

Savor Health – By leveraging a team of oncology nutrition experts and the latest technology, Savor Health—founded by Susan Bratton—designs individually personalized nutrition solutions to meet the unique needs of cancer patients at every step along their journey. This innovative technology utilizes deep learning models to promote algorithm-driven meal, content recommendations and nutritional counseling through a team of oncology credentialed registered dietitians and nurses.


A.I. and Clinical Decision Support

PathAIPath AI, founded in Boston, MA, utilizes artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to improve the accuracy and speed of pathologist diagnoses and ensure patients get the correct diagnosis and the most effective treatment.

MIT Computer Science and AI LabMassachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab developed a new deep learning-based AI prediction model that can anticipate the development of breast cancer up to five years in advance. This innovative technology, trained on over 90,000 mammograms and 600,000 patient outcomes, can accurately predict over 30% of all cancer patients in the highest-risk category compared to the 18% detected by current models. In developing its technique, MIT sought to address disparities in detection inequality among minorities; Black women are more than 42% more likely than white women to die from breast cancer, a statistic primarily driven by the lack of minority representation in current early detection techniques.

Kheiron – London-based Kheiron has developed a machine learning platform dubbed Mia. Mia analyzes standard mammography images to help radiologists decide whether or not a woman requires further evaluation. The company says the software has already shown success in a multi-center clinical study

Google/Hologic – Global medical device company Hologic is another early adopter of the imaging suite. The company is using Google Cloud’s offering to strengthen its diagnostic platform that screens women for cervical cancer. Hologic will store its images using the suite, and it will develop an AI model with Google Cloud to improve diagnostic accuracy for those cancer images.


Digital technologies in breast health – Some critical ideas for scaling up from pilot programs to full-scale implementation:

  • Technology is an enabler, but feedback from the people at the forefront of providing care, particularly nurses, is essential to scaling up pilot projects.
  • Equally important is making sure that the people using the technology are properly trained.
  • Implement quality monitoring protocols
  • Set up public-private collaborations
  • Identify and scale-up high-potential solutions: who’s out there working on new ideas?
  • Find people who know how to analyse data.
  • Build into projects the questions that will help provide the answers to scaling up a project: who do we need to talk to; what data will be needed to convince governments, investors, organisations to participate?
  • Scale isn’t just about reach: it’s showing that the technology can be adapted to the local environment.
  • Scaling up successfully means being able to convince investors that the environment you’re working in is viable.
  • Understand the local digital regulatory environment.
  • And finally: never lose sight of the patient’s needs throughout the process of scaling up a pilot project.

Innovations in mobile health and social media applications are occurring across the cancer spectrum, from primary prevention to screening, early diagnosis, treatment, survivorship, and end-of-life care. Thousands of health-oriented mobile sites and apps have already been developed with the advantages of low- or no-cost, high scalability, self-tracking, tailored feedback functionalities, use of images and video for enhanced health literacy, broad reach, and data sharing for large-scale analytics. More and more research demonstrates that digital health interventions can support and improve patient experiences and outcomes. For breast cancer patients and survivors, digital health technology can ultimately increase their chances of a good quality of life and positive health outcomes.

Assistive Technologies – Improving the Quality of Life for Millions. But, Challenges Remain.

“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you from doing well and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.“

Steven Hawking. Theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Assistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities. Assistive technology helps people who have difficulty speaking, typing, writing, remembering, pointing, seeing, hearing, learning, walking, and many other things.

Assistive technology can also help those with disabilities to lead a more connected life. Globally, over 1 billion users currently need assistive technology. This figure will reach 2 billion by 2050 as the population ages, and consumer electronics and assistive products converge.

More than 40 million people in the United States have a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But even as majorities of these Americans report having certain technologies, the digital divide between those who have a disability and those who do not remain for some devices.

Image Credit: Pew Research Center Survey, 2021

Organizations like Cyber-Seniors train young people to be technology tutors for older adults. National efforts (like the OATS-AARP collaboration) will further attempt to make tech training available for older adults new to technology in 2022, hopefully reducing the digital divide further.


In the emerging assistive technology space, the most active domain is hearing, followed by mobility, vision, and communication. Assistive technology has traditionally been considered external to the human body and non-invasive. The field is now converging with medical technologies. Several emerging assistive products include implants and other products that would qualify as medical devices, with many of those moving beyond assistance towards augmentation or recovery of missing human functions.

The primary crossover disciplines in emerging assistive technologies are information technology, data science, materials science, and neuroscience. The overlaps with the consumer electronic goods market are mainly in communication, navigation, and gaming. The convergence between disciplines, domains, and markets increases the breadth of functionality of products for different user-profiles and boosts the pace of innovation in emerging assistive technology.

Segmenting the assistive technology market is a complex exercise that depends on how broadly one defines the space. I’ve found that this six-part segmentation model developed by Assistive Technology U.S. helps me frame conversations with startups looking to enter the market.

Image Credit: Assistive Technology U.S.

Using this framework, here are some of the key emerging development trends in each segment as identified by the World Intellectual Property Organization:

Mobility segment trends – Emerging products and devices introduce advanced versions of conventional assistive products, namely advanced walking aids (balancing aids and smart canes), advanced prosthetics (neuroprosthetics, smart and 3D printed prosthetics), advanced wheelchairs (including self-driving wheelchairs and wheelchair control) and exoskeletons (full-body exosuits, lower and upper body exoskeletons and control thereof).

Video Credit: Abby Marsh YouTube channel

Cognition segment trends – This is the largest area of growth within the conventional technology dataset, reflecting the recent recognition of the importance of assistive technology to support cognitive decline. This field includes memory support and medication dispensing devices, as well as timers. Researchers at Oslo Metropolitan University in Norway recently reviewed the scientific literature. They found that some standard technologies can support time orientation, memory, and safety in people with mild cognitive impairment/dementia. Technology can also help relieve a bit of the burden on caregivers. And AARP has compiled a list of promising technologies for families to consider.

Video Credit: iN2L YouTube channel

Communication segment trends – Technology companies are driving developments in software-based assistive technology in communication. Two-thirds of emerging communication patent filings relate to intelligent assistants. The 2022 versions of voice-first interfaces (like Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or Apple’s Siri) raise the bar on in-home tech experiences for the growing numbers of owners, now 48% of all households with Internet access. Areas of recent development with great potential are brain-computer interface-based control of devices and sensory substitution technology.

Video Credit: Blythedale Childrens Hospital YouTube channel

Hearing segment trends – Emerging assistive products include environment-controlling and mind-controlled hearing aids, with cochlear implants accounting for nearly half of the emerging filings. The hearing technology market is being disrupted by Blue-tooth connected hearables. Led by Apple, these dangling devices have legitimized a form factor of a visible device in the ear. The only requirement? A smartphone app for adjustment. 2021 saw more innovation in hearing aids that are higher function, lower cost, or more available through direct-to-consumer channels, self-configurable by the user. Most are still not reimbursed by insurance, and for those with mild-to-moderate hearing loss, hearables will suffice – and potentially attract those who don’t wear any hearing aid because of fear of stigma. With the introduction of Over-the-Counter Hearing aid sales (and recommended guidelines), coupled with the beginnings of insurance reimbursement, those with mild-to-moderate hearing loss are likely to benefit from many of these changes.

Video Credit: Southside Housing and Supportive Services YouTube channel

Self-care segment trends – Conventional assistive products in self-care include adaptive clothing, incontinence products, and adaptive eating devices. These same technologies form the basis for advanced products, such as smart diapers and feeding assistant robots. Wearable and non-wearable health- and emotion-monitoring devices (smart bands, clothing, insoles, smart mirrors, and carpets) account for over half of emerging self-care patent filings, reflecting an overall trend in digital health and wearables. These products support independent living, active aging, and telemedicine or smart nursing. Small and fast-growing areas are smart medication dispensing and management and smart diapers.

Vision segment trends – While most patent filings in conventional vision are related to glasses and tactile devices, such as tactile screens, small portfolios are growing fast, such as screen readers or phones with Braille. In the emerging vision assistive technology space, most filings relate to intraocular lenses (IOL) with several sensors and functionalities, including artificial silicon retina (ASR), smart eyewear, and augmented reality (AR) devices.

Video Credit: KSAT, San Antonio, Texas

Commercialization challenges – In some of the advisory work I do with startups looking to develop products and services for assistive technologies, the most challenging conversations we have usually revolve around the fact that they underestimate the commercialization timeline – often by a lot. Several factors may influence commercialization. Regulation and standards assure quality and safety but can present delays in or obstacles to commercialization, particularly when devices are classified as medical devices. And in my experience, most companies don’t understand the FDA submission process and how long that might take. These factors are particularly challenging for smaller companies and individual inventors, featuring prominently across several assistive technology areas. So a lot of the guidance is connecting them with an ecosystem of developers, academia, investors, and venture capitalists, to help them accelerate the commercialization process.

Another challenge to the widespread commercialization and adoption of assistive technologies is payment (no surprise here). Payment is spotty at best, and for specific technologies, non-existent. As of this writing, the payment landscape can be summarized as follows:

  • School systems pay for general, special education learning materials as well as technology specified in an IEP (Individualized Education Plan).
  • Government programs (Social Security, veteran’s benefits, or state Medicaid agencies) pay for specific assistive technology if a doctor prescribes it as a necessary medical device.
  • Private health insurance pays for specific assistive technology if a doctor prescribes it as a necessary medical or rehabilitative device.
  • Rehabilitation and job training programs, whether funded by government or private agencies, may pay for assistive technology and training to help people get jobs
  • Employers may pay for assistive technology that is a reasonable accommodation to enable an employee to perform essential job tasks.

The Assistive Technology Industry Association’s Funding Resources Guide, while somewhat dated, provides sources and resources to investigate as prospective options.

The future of assistive technologies is undoubtedly one of continued growth, relying on the convergence of multiple exponential technologies like AI, machine learning, affective computing, and brain-computer interfaces. The big challenge will involve Intellectual Property and licensing laws. AI, in particular, solicits debate over patentability requirements and inventorship, and, as other enabling technologies, such as brain-computer interface, develop further, similar or new IP-related questions may emerge. The unprecedented collection and use of data and the related insights it provides are essential to enabling technology. Still, they are not without challenges: data and privacy issues are more accentuated in assistive technology, given the more vulnerable groups involved.

Finally, we must address the issue of accessibility for all. The recognition of access to assistive technology as a human right, contributing to social and economic development objectives for persons with disabilities, should be an impetus for all policymakers in supporting the availability of assistive technology, while market-shaping approaches by different multi-stakeholder initiatives like non-profits and NGOs, and other partnerships could also contribute to increased availability. The demand is there. Now it’s up to us to make this a reality.

Some Straight Talk About Technologies That Support Aging In Place

“The Decade of Healthy Aging: A global collaboration, aligned with the last ten years of the Sustainable Development Goals, that brings together governments, civil society, international agencies, professionals, academia, the media, and the private sector to improve the lives of older people, their families, and the communities in which they live”

World Health Organization, 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Recently I received a book recommendation from a longtime reader of this blog who pointed out that they’ve enjoyed the “Straight Talk” series of posts but thought that I’d missed a big trend around an important topic that doesn’t get enough attention – age tech.

The book they recommended was The Age Tech Revolution: A Book About the Intersection of Technology and Aging by Keren Etkin. I immediately purchased and downloaded the book and couldn’t put it down. If you are interested in the intersection between demographic trends, global economies, and technology, this is a great read, helping understand the changes we are facing as a society and what role technology plays in all of this. A glimpse into our future from a passionate expert that has devoted her life to researching this topic but incorporating real-world experience as well, with a strong understanding of how technology is developed and scaled.

The book and her website, The Gerontechnologist, are the most comprehensive resources on age tech, the market, and the companies working in that space that I’ve found to date. If you are interested in this topic, do yourself a favor and buy the book, and bookmark her website. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s my take on where we stand today, the challenges and opportunities in the market, and the technologies that support the ability to allow an individual to age in place.


The challenges – By 2050, we’ll have two billion people over the age of sixty living on this planet—that’s twice what we had in 2017. In the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries, people over sixty-five are expected to be about 28 percent by 2050. On the other side of the equation, the “caregiver support ratio,” which is the number of potential caregivers aged forty-five to sixty-four for each person aged eighty and older—is declining. In 2010, every American over the age of eighty who needed care had seven potential family caregivers. By 2030, they will only have three (AARP Public Policy Institute, 2013). The US will face “a shortfall of over hundreds of thousands of direct care workers and several million unpaid family caregivers. This has real consequences for families, not only in America but also worldwide.

Image Credit: AARP The Longevity Economy® Outlook
Image Credit: AARP The Longevity Economy® Outlook

Costs are going up too. Genworth, who conducts and publishes an annual Cost of Care Survey, estimated in 2020 that the monthly median price for in-home care is expected to increase by approximately 30 percent by 2030. There will be a similar increase in the cost of assisted living and nursing homes, which are higher, to begin with. Currently, the cost of just two years of in-home care or assisted living could easily surpass $100,000, and many people require care for much longer than that.

Another challenge for the future is “the longevity factor.” Scientific breakthroughs will extend our lives by more than a year, for every year we are alive. This is called longevity escape velocity, and some experts think it’s only 12 to 15 years away. Of course, getting to that point is multidimensional. It means addressing health from all angles, with personal lifestyle choices, technology, and more.


The opportunities – AARP, the nonprofit, estimates there’s a $9 trillion economy all around us. It’s ripe for innovation. We have a unique opportunity within the next ten years to build better technology that will serve the needs and wants of the aging population and ultimately make us a more age-inclusive society. And, the 50-plus population has money to spend on products and services that make their lives easier, safer, and more productive. The 50-plus population is an economic engine in its own right, which helps drive the overall economy. Almost two-thirds of spending on financial services and insurance is attributable to the 50-plus age demographic for whom retirement and other financial planning needs are immediate and pressing. This spending provides an opportunity for industry leaders to make their companies more universally relevant by targeting the 50-plus cohort while simultaneously benefiting other generations.

Image Credit: AARP The Longevity Economy® Outlook

Foundational technologies that support aging-in-place – Few misconceptions are more pervasive than the notion that older adults are unenthusiastic about technology. The opposite is true. Numerous studies have shown that older Americans are embracing technology. Indeed, one survey in 2018 found that of the 50-plus population, more than 90% own a computer or laptop, 70% have a smartphone, and over 40% own a tablet. Moreover, older adults’ demand for technology goes beyond smartphones and apps. Their enthusiastic adoption of smart home assistants, strong interest in automobiles with computerized driving assistance, and enrollment in computer-based distance education suggests that business leaders in technology would do well to pay them greater attention. The problem lies not in an unwillingness to adopt but in being overlooked by the industry.

Image Credit: University of Michigan, Institute for Health Policy and Innovation, 2/9/2022

“AARP’s research has found a sharp increase in older adults purchasing and using technology during the pandemic, and many are interested in using technology to track health measures.”

Indira Venkat, Vice President, Consumer Insights, AARP

I believe that several “foundational” technologies will support the development of products and services to allow individuals to age in place. Remember that these will not be standalone use cases but will be combined with other technologies to create an exponential benefit for the user. Here they are in no particular order:

Voice technology – I’ve written here before on voice-enabled technology in health care. But I genuinely believe that this is one of the key foundational technologies that will support aging-in-place. Not only does the technology eliminate the need for complex user interfaces, but it can also be used in combination with AI and Machine Learning to determine a person’s state of mind, assess cognitive function and emotional health. Applications like Google’s Duplex allows Google Assistant to make calls for you and schedule appointments with local businesses and is currently being rolled out to select geographies and devices.

Robot assistance and companions – This is another technology I’ve covered before. Now that I’m older, I fully expect to have a live-in robot to help me with my ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) and household maintenance if I should require assistance. We could build home robots to handle household maintenance and help with ADLs.

Ambient technology solutions – We can develop ambient technology that’s embedded in our homes, able to anticipate our needs, and provide us with instant solutions. The idea of the “smart home” for seniors has been around for some time now. The phrase “Smart Home” means different things to different people. Any time a home gets some “intelligence” incorporated into some aspect of it, it gets a “smart home feature.” A smart home feature is any aspect of a home — usually involving some type of gadget or appliance — that incorporates some level of automation or programmable behavior. Smart home features also often include some aspect of “connectivity” — either to the outside world or other elements in the house.

An excellent way to think about smart home features is this. Various smart home features are suitable for the population at large. These include thermostats, automation of appliances, security systems (burglar alarms, video doorbells), and air quality. Then some specific smart home features might seem especially useful for subgroups of the population — including some who are “older adults.” These include things like a “smart device” which can connect wirelessly to a hearing aid, or some other type of personalized hearing gadget (e.g., headphone); a smart fridge that automatically reorders staples for you when they go low, and knows when you need to throw out old food; or a smart home gadget that replaces a conventional front door lock with a similar lock that can be opened either by a key or by a code entered into a set of buttons.

Since the smart home concept involves multiple technologies that need to be integrated, serviced, and supported, this creates an opportunity to create a business model around “The Smart Home as a Service.” This service would: help you pick the smart home features you need; teach you how to install the equipment or do it for you; provide ongoing monitoring and maintenance. And it would be easy to add a layer of extra services “enabled” by the smart home data, such as regular changing smoke alarm batteries and other routine preventative maintenance tasks. Over the last few years, we have seen several companies attempt to offer services like this.

Here’s a link to a recent Fast Company article on how Canadian communities are redesigning senior living.


Companies working in the AgeTech market space – As I mentioned earlier, the most comprehensive resource I’ve found is Keren Etkin’s website. She’s posted a terrific infographic with a list of companies developing technology solutions by market segment. I’ve included a copy below:

Image Credit: Karen Etkin, The Gerontechnologist website, accessed 2/9/2022

We have a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to impact the experience of living as an older adult in this world using technology. It’s a market that’s not getting the attention that it demands. But there’s hope on the horizon as more tech incubators focus their efforts on developing startups working in the space. Time to get moving, folks! I’m not getting any younger 😏