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Have you heard about this? A Stanford medical researcher recently discovered that, contrary to common belief, HF frequencies actually transmit quite well within the human body. This realization prompted her to develop a micro-sized antenna which she then used to power an RF device capable of ‘swimming’ within a person’s bloodstream. (See original article here.) On one hand, this discovery borders on being disconcertingly sci-fi, and conjures thoughts of Isaac Asimov’s ‘Fantastic Voyage.’ At the same time, an intravascular RF device is an exciting development that could eventually open a new world of possibilities for medical treatment and research, although such applications are a long way from becoming reality. Still, we believe this concept holds tremendous promise, as it could provide significant, undeniable value to all healthcare stakeholders—including the patient.
Using RFID in the human body and healthcare is not a new concept. Sub-dermal tracking transponders have been around for a long time, medical device implants monitoring is gaining traction, and there have been a number of R&D projects pertaining to RF-enabled medication administration. Companies such as Versus Technology and Awarepoint offer patient monitoring systems, while Censis Technologies and Clearcount provide surgical tool tracking solutions (because nobody wants to find a forceps or sponge left inside of them post-operation). However, this particular innovation is different, as it could eventually enable internalized, personal care giving. Not only would an intravascular device be capable of performing all of the aforementioned applications, it would also provide a physician unprecedented visibility into a patient’s body and make a number of medical procedures less invasive.
Several weeks ago we wrote about a recent NFC-in-healthcare event held at MIT. The majority of the solutions presented at that conference, as well as those we’ve heard about in our recent research, are intended for patient (as opposed to doctor/medical professional) use, and generally involve some kind of monitoring and/or tracking functionality. Our main criticism of these solutions is that they offer a weak value proposition to the person responsible for making sure they're used—the patient. Of course health insurance companies and doctors would love to monitor your blood pressure or adherence to a prescribed course of medicine in real-time; however, the key question is, how does using a solution that provides such visibility benefit the patient—the person ultimately determining whether it is used at all? If there is not a clear-cut, undeniable benefit, we think it is unlikely many patients will remember—or be willing—to use these solutions.
In the case of an intravenous RF device, the benefits for all stakeholders are readily apparent. Healthcare providers would have a new, versatile and valuable weapon in the battle against various ailments, while health insurance companies could potentially reduce payouts if this solution reduced the need for more traditional and complex procedures. Patients stand to be the greatest beneficiaries of all, as this technology could enable the precise treatment of ailments that were formerly addressable only by indirect or highly invasive methods.