By Marina Evans
Just how much do you trust WebMD or other online medical resources when you’ve got a health issue? More and more, people are checking their symptoms online prior to consulting with a doctor, despite the site’s clear stipulation that the content of its pages is “for informational purposes only.” But rising health care costs, together with the advent of increasingly advanced portable technologies, may mean that a digital doctor is a fast-coming reality.
Last January, the technology company Qualcomm announced the Qualcomm Tricorder X PRIZE: a global competition to create a wireless, handheld device that assesses, evaluates and diagnoses your health conditions without requiring you to visit a doctor, or even leave your home. The goal is to create a device that integrates diagnostic and mobile technology seamlessly. The winning device – whose creator takes home a $10 million prize – will accurately diagnose a set of diseases without the assistance of a health care professional or facility.
For the purposes of this competition, the device is envisioned to be one that can capture and diagnose important health metrics for a set of 15 specific diseases. The device should be able to capture such information as blood pressure, temperature and heart rate, and refine its diagnoses as more data is collected over time. In addition to medical accuracy, user experience is also an important factor in the evaluation of the entrants: while the technology behind it is quite complex, the actual utility of the product must be intuitive. The idea is to reduce the bottlenecks that are occurring at health care facilities across the United States by empowering individuals to monitor their health conditions safely, accurately, and independently – at home.
At the moment, the competition’s committee has received over 200 registrants from 27 countries. Don Jones, Vice President of Wireless Health, Global Strategy and Market Development at Qualcomm, is excited to begin the evaluation process and to see what the teams come up with. “Devices offered as a service will be key in the next generation of healthcare solutions,” he writes. “Globally, these challenges are bringing people together to transform the future of healthcare. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to see it emerge as reality.” We’re excited too – but some consumers may be more than a little wary. Putting serious health diagnoses, driven by data and software, into the patient’s hands without the mediation of an actual doctor may turn out to be a bit of a liability issue.