February 05 2016By Charlotte Knight
Digital healthcare has been under the spotlight lately. With average GP waiting times hitting two weeks in 2015 in the UK, the general public, increasingly used to accessing a range of services through their laptops and smartphones, has been calling for a more modern approach to health.
This is something we’ve seen reflected across the projects we looked at when selecting the 2015 NT100, new approaches that are utilising digital technologies to deliver better, more efficient healthcare solutions. In fact, 31 projects showcased in our 2015 NT100 are doing just that. We’ve been inspired by the stories of the founders, researchers and scientists who, while working on a wide range of very diverse projects, are all developing and applying technology to help us live healthier lives.
With millions of people suffering and dying each year from preventable diseases, it has never been more important - or more achievable - to put tools in the hands of people to help track and monitor their own health more effectively. Projects such as Air Quality Egg and the chemical analysis tool Scio, bring monitoring tools and sensors to our phones and computers, empowering us to make decisions to protect our own, and our loved ones’, health. These tools feed information into databases that track trends on macro levels, democratising preventative healthcare, an approach only made possible by the advances in digital technology.
Many of us use Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to share news with friends and ask for advice and introductions, we’ve seen many projects apply this approach to health, especially when it comes to support with mental healthcare. Linking us up are ventures such as peer-to-peer youth mental health service TalkLife, which has created a support network and safe environment for people to talk and connect in ways previously impossible. 7 Cups of Tea is another great example of how the internet enables us to safely connect online to provide each other with support – anyone can train to become a ‘listener’ to help others talk through and address their social and mental health problems.
A common theme that emerged in our 2015 NT100 projects is the innovative use of smartphones in remote areas. Many rural communities, particularly in Africa and India, skipped a generation of technology, jumping straight to mobile devices and their powerful potential for social enterprise and care. SolarDX analyses DNA, sending the results directly to a smartphone app, enabling early diagnosis of HIV in areas lacking traditional healthcare. VitalHerd’s e-pill is helping to ensure safety in our food supply by reducing antibiotic usage in our livestock - a problem that otherwise often goes undetected.
INSPIRE measures a newborn’s vital stats and sends them over Bluetooth or GSM to a doctor’s device - keeping babies safe and mothers secure in the knowledge that their baby’s health is looked after even when they can’t access a healthcare professional in-person.
Image courtesy of MOM
In fact, early infancy and neonatal care is another area where we’ve seen a large number of inspiring tech projects. GiftedMom, mCARE, the MOM incubator, Tap4life and Totohealth are all examples of initiatives that seek to enhance infant survival rates and provide platforms that link mother and baby with doctors and nurses. GiftedMom, for example, enables mothers to receive key health advice via text messages, while mCARE is a network of new mothers and health workers in rural India. Tap4life is a smartphone app that allows midwives to measure a newborn’s heart rate, while Totohealth allows mothers to track and monitor their unborn and newborn baby’s progress via text messaging.
Image courtesy of Andiamo
3D printing is an industry set to explode with opportunity, and a number of our 2015 NT100 projects are at the very forefront of research and development in health applications using this cutting edge technology. Andiamo creates 3D printed orthotics which are made-to-measure using 3D body scanning, vastly cheaper than current options and - most importantly, when it comes to a growing child - much quicker to produce. Open Bionics produce bionic hands for amputees, the prosthetic limb responds to sensors that pick up muscle movements from the wearer’s skin, allowing users to control the opening and closing of their hand. And the team behind exVive3D is building functional human tissue that enables drug and other trial data to be safely captured in controlled environments.
Many of the health tech projects we celebrated in the 2015 NT100 are examples of simple, yet innovative applications of commonly used and understood technologies such as SMS text messaging. Others apply advanced, cutting edge technology, including robotics and 3D printing, but we have found each and every one of these innovations hugely inspiring. It’s clear that in the near future we will see dramatic improvements in healthcare thanks to the technology already available to us.