Visualizing Health IT: A holistic overview

O'Reilly report covers major trends and tries to connect the neurons

If visualization is key to comprehending data, the field of health IT calls for better visualization. I am not talking here of pretty charts and animations. I am talking, rather, of a holistic, unified understanding of the bustle taking place in different corners of health: the collection and analysis of genetic data, the design of slim medical devices that replace refrigerator-sized pieces of equipment, the data crunching at hospitals delving into demographic data to identify at-risk patients.

There is no dearth of health reformers offering their visions for patient engagement, information exchange, better public health, and disruptive change to health industries. But they often accept too freely the promise of technology, without grasping how difficult the technical implementations of their reforms would be. Furthermore, no document I have found pulls together the various trends in technology and explores their interrelationships.

I have tried to fill this gap with a recently released report: The Information Technology Fix for Health: Barriers and Pathways to the Use of Information Technology for Better Health Care. This posting describes some of the issues it covers.

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Internet of Things in celebration and provocation at MIT

IoTFest reveals exemplary applications as well as challenges

Last Saturday’s IoT Festival at MIT became a meeting ground for people connecting the physical world. Embedded systems developers, security experts, data scientists, and artists all joined in this event. Although it was called a festival, it had a typical conference format with speakers, slides, and question periods. Hallway discussions were intense.

However you define the Internet of Things (O’Reilly has its own take on it, in our Solid blog site and conference), a lot stands in the way of its promise. And these hurdles are more social than technical.

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How does the medical device tax affect innovation and the health/medical startup scene?

Comparative effectiveness research is key to reform

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed on a party line vote several years ago, it included a somewhat controversial provision to tax, at 2.3% starting in 2013, the sale of any medical device classified by the IRS as being taxable. The list of taxable devices includes a wide variety of products such as defibrillators, dental instruments, pacemakers, coronary stents, artificial hips, joints, and knees, surgical gloves, irradiation equipment, and advanced imaging technology. But it doesn’t stop there—patient monitoring, anesthesiology equipment, infusion pumps, and other hospital operating room digital devices are included in the IRS’s taxable device category. “Consumer” devices such as glucose monitors and potentially many upcoming “wearables” will likely also get taxed either now or soon. That’s where things get difficult for innovators and investors who want to offer next generation devices.

The medical device tax was levied partially to hinder the (over) prescription of medical devices. You and I are most familiar with devices like monitoring instruments or mobile phone sensors, but most dollars are spent on devices like stents, replacement knees, spinal fusion screws, proton beam accelerators, PET/CT scanners, etc. About $200 billion is spent on medical devices per year (about one-third the amount spent on pharmaceutical drugs). The idea behind the tax was twofold. One the one hand, Congress hoped to reduce health spending caused by the overuse of devices by taxing them. But in tandem, the influx of new patients into the health care system is expected to create more sales and revenue for device companies, allowing them to compensate for the excise the tax while bringing in more revenue for Uncle Sam.

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Sensor-laden glove brings medical examination to the masses

How a sensor glove can benefit the patient-doctor relationship.

Recently a group of three young entrepreneurs showed off a prototype of a glove that contained sensors useful for medical examinations. Their goals were not merely to make diagnosis easier, but to save the doctor/patient relationship from the alienation of modern technology. Medical student Andrew Bishara came into O’Reilly’s Cambridge studio to discuss the glove’s capabilities, how the creators were inspired to design it, and how they plan to productize it.

Here’s the full video from our discussion:

Highlights from the conversation include:

  • Introduction to the glove and its purpose in bringing touch back into medicine. [Discussed at the 0:31 mark]
  • Some of the purposes of the sensors. [Discussed at the 2:00 mark]
  • Software on the device and in the cloud. [Discussed at the 7:58 mark]
  • Creating a marketable product from the glove. [Discussed at the 9:54 mark]
  • Open hardware. [Discussed at the 13:39 mark]
  • How the developers were inspired by Singularity University. [Discussed at the 15:03 mark]

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Visualization of the Week: AntiMap

A mobile mapping app lets users capture and visualize their movements.

The DIY mapping tool AntiMap lets users capture their movements via their mobile devices, then visualize and analyze their movements.

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Could Medical Devices in the Field Help Prevent Fraud?

Evidence from devices could verify that a treatment was necessary, that it was administered, and that it was effective.

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Big health advances in small packages: report from the third annual Medical Device Connectivity conference

At some point, all of us are likely to owe our lives–or our quality of life–to a medical device. Yesterday I had the chance to attend the third annual Medical Device Connectivity conference, where manufacturers, doctors, and administrators discussed how to get all these monitors, pumps, and imaging machines to work together for better patient care.

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Medical device experts and their devices converse at Boston conference

The Medical Device Connectivity conference this week at Harvard Medical School covers interoperability, standards, regulations, wireless networks, and devices in practice.

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