Tuesday, 20 March 2012

 Medical technology is expected to continue to develop at a fast pace over the next few years, fueled in large part by demands for better, more comprehensive data collection software which can run on reliable mobile devices.
Paul Brody, Global Electronics Industry Leader, IBM Global Business Services, and Pierre-Henri Clouin, Program Director, Business Process & Decision Management Strategy, IBM Software Group were kind enough to address Electronic Products’ questions about the future of medical technology, and also discuss IBM’s recent involvement in helping develop the software for the BodyMedia Armband.
Medical Technology
Electronic Products: While most medical devices / services take years to receive approval from the FDA, it seems like doctors and consumers are comfortable trying out new health-related technologies and services right away. Why do you think everyone is so quick to adopt a new product when it comes to health and well-being?
Paul Brody: Consumers today expect the products they use to easily integrate into their lives, work in more personal ways, and to adapt to their individual needs. This change in expectation is bringing the era of the one-size-fits-all product to an end. Consumers are much more able and willing to adopt new technologies and services before enterprises or governments have fully understood them.
Also, people in their 20s and 30s are used to working with experimental products — ones that are in beta mode — and they’re comfortable with technology.
Electronic Products: According to a recent survey in Europe, a quarter of all doctors use tablets in the workplace. Do you foresee their American counterparts following this trend as well?
Paul Brody: I suspect they’re already there or close behind. Doctors have long been quick adopters of technology — I can remember my father, who is a cardiologist, buying a Palm Pilot because it had good medical reference databases available.
Electronic Products: How do smartphones fit into the equation? It’s clear that they’ll never be a go-to, primary device for medical reference, but do you foresee them eventually becoming an accepted form of complementary technology?
Paul Brody: I think we’ll see a blurring of the line between phones, tablets, and PCs. We’re already seeing that with Samsung’s successful Galaxy Note — a 5-in phone that’s almost as big as some tablets. Smartphones and tablets are running the same software, and so we’ll see people pull out the device with the screen size that suits their needs. Cramped spaces and on-the-go applications may go for phones or smaller tablets while office and hospital environments will go for tablets or even PCs.
Electronic Products: It was reported that in this year’s Super Bowl, New England Patriots’ BenJarvis Green-Ellis wore an impact-sensing chin strap designed to turn red if the sensor indicates a concussion. Head-related injuries are a hot topic in all four major sports now — where do you think the technology is today?
Paul Brody: While I can’t speculate on this specific technology application, what I do know is that sensors are everywhere and we’re putting them to more use. My smartphone can act like a pedometer telling me how much exercise I’m getting (though it will drain the battery). The same capability might be used to tell someone who’s recovering from an operation that based on the motion detected, maybe they’re overdoing and should take it easy.
In the case of concussions and sports injuries, we may also see more and more use of sensors, and it may soon become standard practice for them to become embedded in helmets and other gear. For instance, you could see info going to smartphones in the hands of coaches telling them things like which player needs a rest or who’s had too many hard knocks.
Electronic Products: What do you think still needs to be worked on in order for the technology to be considered a reliable source of information?
Paul Brody: Better sensors will always be good, but sometimes we’re already at “good enough.” The key question is — when do we need to be 100% accurate and when will 75% do? If you’re a business consultant trying to get fit, counting steps and workouts during the day, 75% is fine. If you’re an Olympic athlete getting ready for London, then maybe you need something much more accurate to break any records.
IBM’s Decision Management Software and BodyMedia ArmBand
Electronic Products: IBM’s software has been incorporated into BodyMedia armbands. Could you give a brief overview on how these two technologies work together? What differentiates the data that IBM is able to collect from that provided by other fitness tracking programs? Furthermore, could you elaborate on how IBM is using data-driven analytics to monitor a user’s physical performance?
Pierre-Henri Clouin: Software has become pervasive. From traditional computing devices to shipping ports and automobiles, software is showing up in places you never imagined, and has emerged as a key differentiator for many companies looking to distinguish their products in the marketplace.
Working with IBM, BodyMedia, a leader in wearable body monitors designed for health and wellness, is helping consumers more easily achieve their weight loss goals. Just like most companies today, BodyMedia was faced with the challenge of harnessing all of the information their armbands were producing. They wanted to take the next step in fitness and help their clients leverage all of this data to make intelligent decisions about their health.
Using the analytics inherent in IBM’s decision management software, the new personalized feedback capabilities in the BodyMedia FIT body monitoring system now provides users with their own fitness coach. This is a capability that no other company in this space can offer.
As a leader in analytics, IBM is working with BodyMedia to help clients make sense of all the fitness data they track for their clients. Just to clarify, it is BodyMedia’s system that gathers the 5,000 data points per minute through four sensors in the armband. And it is IBM’s analytics software that is providing the individualized fitness recommendations based on this data. The system takes medical knowledge on diet and fitness, such as from the FDA, and makes it actionable as personalized recommendations, based on the user’s specific goals and recent activity. So now, in addition to keeping track of this data (calorie intake, calories burned, sleep, activity, etc.), consumers can turn it into actionable results for weight loss.
Looking beyond this example, IBM is helping clients tackle information related challenges with analytics in virtually every industry.
Electronic Products: Fitness devices that track data have been around forever, but never before has there been a program that offers a user next-step advice. Could you please go into more specific detail as to how it does this and how this much information can benefit users?
Pierre-Henri Clouin: BodyMedia FIT Armbands have tracked calorie burn for hundreds of thousands of people trying to lose weight, but they wanted to also help consumers understand how all of this data could impact their fitness goals.
BodyMedia teamed up with Pittsburgh, Pa.-based IBM Business Partner Summa to develop the new FIT Coach Component. By applying IBM WebSphere Operational Decision Management software to the millions of data points collected by BodyMedia on-body Armbands, Summa was able to create the business rules required to run the system.
Through four sensors, the BodyMedia FIT CORE Armband is able to capture more than 5,000 readings every minute as users move through their day. Those data points are uploaded to the cloud where they are categorized, analyzed, and delivered to users in an easy-to-understand way.
What’s unique about the BodyMedia FIT CORE Armband is its new personal feedback system that uses IBM technology to provide fitness advice tailored to the individual user. Now, in addition to tracking all of their fitness data, users can also receive feedback on what type of activity they must do in order to meet their weight loss goals based on medical knowledge on diet and fitness. This is especially valuable in the fitness world, where most people don’t know how to apply the data they are tracking towards their weight loss goals.
For instance, if a user slept too little, was not active enough, and ate several meals that are high in fat, the device will offer tips and advice on what types of activities must be done to still meet their weight loss target. (i.e.: “Hop on the treadmill and walk for about 1 hour at a speed of 4 mph and you can hit your calorie burn goal today.”)
Analytics has become commonplace among big businesses, too. Technology can tell you a lot of great information, but people can get lost in what to do next with the insights. IBM software is helping companies like BodyMedia “make sense” of all the data they are capturing and turn it into actionable insights.
Electronic Products: How long did it take the company to develop this software?
Pierre-Henri Clouin: In 2008, IBM announced the acquisition of ILOG, a leader in Business Rule Management Systems, optimization, visualization and supply chain solutions. Then in 2009, IBM built on this acquisition, acquiring Lombardi, a leading provider of Business Process Management software and services. These are the underpinnings of the software being used by BodyMedia.
I believe it took BodyMedia just a few months to build their initial solution and that it is updated regularly.
Electronic Products: With the proliferation of fitness technology we’re seeing in the consumer market today, it’s clear that consumers are attracted to technology that can provide them with insight into how their body performs. What do you think has caused the market to go from buying the latest infomercial solution to better fitness, to being so keen on analyzing, understanding, and adjusting their body’s behavior?
Paul Brody: We’re swimming in data everyday — whether it is the stock market, company information, or all the unstructured data in our social channels (YouTube, emails, Facebook, for example). I think that in this data-driven world consumers are finding it informative and rewarding to be able to work with their very own personal data — it gives them a sense of “digital empowerment.”

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