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Toward a Tricorder Future

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, February 13, 2013
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This article appears in the January/February 2013 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

While the healthcare industry acquires bits and pieces of the functions of Dr. Leonard McCoy's Star Trek tricorder, a $10 million bet says it will arrive by April 2015.

Quoting from the X Prize Tricorder website, the device "will be a tool capable of capturing key health metrics and diagnosing a set of 15 health conditions and five key vital signs. Metrics for health could include such elements as blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature. Ultimately, this tool will collect large volumes of data from ongoing measurement of health states through a combination of connected and wireless sensors, imaging technologies, and portable, non-invasive laboratory replacements."

By December 2012, more than 255 teams had preregistered to enter the competition, says Mark Winter, senior prize director at the X Prize Foundation. Official registration opened last month. A companion competition, the Nokia Sensing X Challenge, is aimed at developing biosensors that will support mobile health technology.

Although the tricorder device will be aimed at consumers and could end up being nothing more exotic than a specially configured mobile phone, physicians are involved in the judging and are watching the competition with intense interest.

"The ultimate tricorder will be in the patient's hands," says Jonathan Perlin, MD, CMO and president of the clinical and physician services group at Nashville-based HCA. "Imagine how a diabetic's glucometer/smartphone can link to his personal health record and healthcare providers, not only ensuring the tools for good care but also placing the necessary tools for good health in the hands of the patient,"

Winter clarifies that the X Prize tricorder will not be a purely diagnostic device. "This is not a clinical device. It does not intend to make consumers clinicians or diagnosticians," he says. "It's designed to bridge a gap that exists today between that moment in time when a consumer experiences a significant health problem, or even a minor one, and their unfortunate tendency to oftentimes run to an emergency room, sometimes unnecessarily and at great cost to the health system."

The device should be able to provide a better framework for responding to a health condition and communicating with their physician more coherently, so that they can get a better quality of care than they do today, Winter says.


This article appears in the January/February 2013 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.


Scott Mace is senior technology editor at HealthLeaders Media.
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