The Health Tech Revolution: The rise of gadgets and apps for patient wellbeing in 2015

By Kat Cooke / 01 Aug 2015

Aesthetics explores the latest technology that aims to help consumers protect their skin from sun damage, reduce the signs of ageing and improve overall wellbeing

A report recently published by the International Longevity Centre UK has claimed that tech innovation is vital to help us adapt to ageing and keep good skinhealth. It states that without new technology, future health costs in the UK could become higher than currently projected by the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) within the next decade. The report, Opportunity Knocks, argues that the government and technology designers must work together to break down the barriers to innovation, claiming there is significant potential for wearable technologies to respond to the challenges associated with ageing. As such, companies around the world are developing gadgets and applications that aim to help us take better care of our skin and inhibit ageing.

To look after your patients’ skin requires a conscious effort to find the best products, provide the most innovative treatments and acquire an abundance of knowledge – but could any of these new technologies help you do this and make a difference to patients’ skin health? And are they really a safe option? 

UV protection

Last year, consumer electronic company Netatamo launched an ultraviolet (UV)-monitoring bracelet named JUNE. The bracelet aims to help the wearer better manage their exposure to sun, whilst doubling up as a fashion accessory.
Boasting a ‘jewel’ containing UV sensors, it connects wirelessly to the wearer’s smartphone, where the companion app monitors UV exposure to provide tailored suncare information. The app then prompts the user to apply sunscreen, sit in the shade or wear a hat. It also tracks the total amount of exposure to the sun throughout the day and, depending on the user’s skin type, calculates the maximum recommended exposure for that individual.
Fred Potter, CEO and founder of Netatmo, said, “Our goal at Netatmo is to develop devices that measure the environment to help people better understand their surroundings, adapt their behaviour accordingly and improve their daily lives. JUNE was created with this vision.”
French swimsuit design company Spinali Design similarly launched a device in May of this year that also claims to help users monitor their sun exposure. The new technology, which aims to prevent sunburn and comes in the form of a bikini, alerts the wearer when it is time to re-apply sunscreen or seek shade. The swimwear is embedded with a two-centimetre UV sensor that can be connected to a smartphone, and, like JUNE, will recognise when a person has had too much sun and send an alert via the app.
Marie Spinali, CEO of the startup company, came up with the idea when she saw a girl with “skin like a lobster” and wondered why she hadn’t protected herself with sun cream. “It can only make a conscious person think about taking better care of their skin,” Spinali said. “It’s not a medical swimsuit – its aim is to make someone take care and pay attention.” The technology, dubbed Connected Bikini, also comes in the form of towels and children’s swimwear.
Continuing with the suncare technology trend, scientists at Klein Buendal, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of New Mexico developed a mobile app called sunZapp. The app, which is available for download in the UK, takes details of user’s skin type, location, environmental conditions, clothing and sunscreen to offer sun protection advice, while providing users with alerts when UV levels are high.
“We wanted sunZapp to give all the information you need to stay safe in the sun,” said Dr David Buller, senior scientist at Klein Buendel and lead investigator on the sunZapp project. “sunZapp can personalise advice for you and your family when and where you need it – whether you are sitting outside for lunch or on vacation at the beach.” There are a few apps on the market that aim to help you avoid too much UV exposure but one that is particularly noteworthy is the UV app created by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) in collaboration with the Met Office. The app provides daily UV forecasts for more than 10,000 locations worldwide. The forecast alerts the user to the peak strength of the UV radiation from the sun, suggests steps that should be taken to protect you and provides information about individual skin types. Dr Alexis Granite, a dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic in London, supports the use of UV apps, providing they are used alongside conventional suncare methods. She said, “There are a variety of new, innovative skin care technologies available to the public that provide users with information about local weather and UV conditions and send reminders based on skin type about sun protection. While these should not replace more traditional practices of avoiding sun at peak hours and regular application of a broad spectrum sunscreen, I do think these devices could be helpful as another tool for patients, especially ones at high risk of skin cancer, to stay skin safe outdoors.” 

“Technology alone is not a silver bullet for health and social care, but it is an enabler that should not be overlooked” - Karen Taylor, director of Deloitte’s Centre for Health Solutions


Monitoring

One key way in which technology, particularly in smartphones, is developing is through the use of apps that allow the user to track and monitor their health. SkinVision is a CE-certified melanoma app that allows the user to investigate skin issues. The user takes a picture of a spot or mole they may be particularly concerned about and the app will then analyse the indication and recommend what steps to take next; whether this is seeing a practitioner or seeking over-the-counter treatment. Users can also track how their moles evolve by taking a series of photographs over time. The app uses an online algorithm, which has taken two years to develop, to determine potentially unnatural growths of pigmented moles on the skin. A team of board- certified dermatologists developed the app in the US, before it was scientifically tested in Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Clinic in Munich, Germany. “SkinVision does not intend to provide medical advice or replace a dermatologist’s opinion,” said app developer Dr Kostas Konstantinos. He continued, “SkinVision offers tools that allow users to better understand and track their skin health, bring more fact-based information to their next GP or dermatologist visit and make healthy skin part of their day-to-day lifestyle.”3

“Any commercial mole- checking devices, particularly those as accessible as apps, must be scientifically evaluated before they can be considered safe” - Matt Gass, communications officer for the British Association of Dermatologists

Matt Gass, communications officer for the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) said anything that encourages people to examine their skin is welcome, but also warned that users should be cautious. “Apps purporting to provide a treatment or diagnosis should be looked at with a high degree of caution. There is a real danger that not only will unevaluated mole screening apps over-diagnose, but that they may also under-diagnose and falsely reassure the customer, who then does not seek referral for a changing mole,” he said. “Any commercial mole-checking devices, particularly those as accessible as apps, must be scientifically evaluated before they can be considered safe. The danger is that commercial incentives will get in the way of patient safety and good medicine.”
Another device that claims to cater for skin concerns is WAY, a small, doughnut-shaped device that monitors and recommends what the user needs for optimum skin health. Created by Korean startup company WayWearables, the device is aimed purely at women. Users touch the device onto their skin once a day and the biometric sensors in the device collect information about their skin and surrounding environment, before sending alerts to their smartphone. According to the company, WAY aims to be the watchdog of consumers’ skin; diagnosing and informing them of their skin condition, and suggesting products it thinks would improve skin health. For example, the device would highlight the fact that current humidity levels are low and a moisturiser should be applied. Although currently only available in Korea, the company hopes to extend the technology globally, including to the UK.

The future of digital healthcare

Connected Health, the latest report from the Deloitte UK Centre for Health Solutions, provides a current view of the ways in which digital technology could enhance health. It discovered that the UK adoption of digital health remains slow but found that technologies can empower patients and carers by giving them more control over their own health.4 Karen Taylor, director of Deloitte’s Centre for Health Solutions, said, “Technology alone is not a silver bullet for health and social care, but it is an enabler that should not be overlooked. Its success lies in the convergence of technology and human interaction. Effective adoption of technology-enabled care relies on developing partnerships that harness patient education, easy-to-use technology and the support of staff, aided by the protection of patient data. There is a real opportunity here for the UK that we cannot afford to miss.”5 Yet despite the advancements and effectiveness of many consumer-driven technologies, it remains imperative that your patients understand when it is time to see a medical professional and get face-to-face specialist advice. While gadgets and apps may be useful in prompting and reminding patients to take better care of themselves, it seems that the general consensus is that they can not represent a substitute for face-to-face consultation and practitioner expertise. 

References

  1. David Sinclair and Helen Creighton, Opportunity knocks: Designing solutions for an ageing society, (UK: International Longevity Centre, 2015) http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/index.php/publications/publication_details/opportunity_knocks_designing_solutions_for_an_ageing_society
  2. James Perdue, Anti-aging Market (Anti-wrinkle products, Hair Color, Hair restoration treatment, Breast augmentation and Radio frequency devices) Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast, 2013 – 2019 (US: Transparency Market Research, 2014) http://www.transparencymarketresearch.com/anti-aging-market.html
  3. Victoria Woollaston, Should you get that mole checked out? £2.99 dermatologist-designed app scans skin for signs of cancer - and does it with up to 90% accuracy (UK: MailOnline, 2014) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2831557/Should-mole-checked-2-99-dermatologist- designed-app-scans-skin-signs-cancer-does-90-accuracy.html
  4. Connected health: How digital technology is transforming health and social care (UK: Deloitte, 2015) http://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/life-sciences-and-healthcare/articles/connected-health.html
  5. Connected health: How digital technology is transforming health and social care (UK: Deloitte, 2015) http://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/life-sciences-and-healthcare/articles/connected-health.html

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