Minding Your Own Medical Business

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Batman and James Bond, move over! Real-life guys have access to some pretty incredible gadgets and gizmos of their own, with medical devices being among the hottest of these “smart” products to hit the market.

Recent inventions run the gamut from whimsical and wacky to wise and wondrous. There are exercise and fitness trackers to monitor your daily steps and calculate calories burned. Some download the information onto special web sites that tabulate and calculate and offer advice. There are heart rate monitors, and teeth — a new high-tech eyeglasses that can remind people with memory problems of the names of friends and relatives, and smart bandages that help physicians figure out which particular bacterium is causing an infection.

Home, Sweet Smart Home

Perhaps the mother of all gadgets — for lack of a better word — is what Horwitz calls “the smart home.”

“Imagine your home being outfitted with equipment that [is] very friendly to you,” she says. “For example, a medical advisor you could talk to and say, ‘I don’t know whether I took the right pills today’ and you show it your pills and it’s able to tell you. Or you could ask it, ‘When was the last time I went to the doctor?’ or ‘How is my dream, she says. The technology for smart homes — and even a prototype — is already available. And soon it should be affordable.

“This is intended to be affordable. That is what our whole mission is about, to invent affordable technologies and products to help people stay healthy in their homes,” she says.

Clothes Make the Man (Healthier)

Simplicity, information, and affordability are also the driving forces behind Sundaresan Jayaraman’s research at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Jayaraman, PhD, a professor of textile engineering at Georgia Tech, has been working on the smart shirt. This item of clothing contains a plug-in sensor that unobtrusively monitors a person’s heart rate, ECG, respiration, temperature, and a host of vital functions, alerting the wearer or his physician if there is a problem.

One of the first applications for the product will be for babies at risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), Jayaraman says, and for patients who need around-the-clock monitoring, such as very ill geriatric and marketplace — or if they’ll end up gathering dust in Minneapolis, in the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices.