Sep 292014

By Suzanna Brooks

The greatest improvements in medicine in the last few decades have been made possible by advances in technology. Today new personal and mobile technologies are just beginning to allow us to take charge of our own health and medicine. Smartphone apps compile data and provide solutions, and wearable technology such as fitness bands track movement, heart rate, and more. But this is just the start of a new wave of tech gadgets and apps that will revolutionize how we care for our bodies.

The sophistication and widespread availability of mobile technology for all aspects of healthcare are about to take off, and this advanced tech will help us to take responsibility for our own health. Mobile apps that help you count calories, lose weight, get fit, quit smoking, track your alcohol intake, or manage a specific health condition are already available and in use.

Babylon welcome screenshot

Babylon consult screenshot Images via Babylon on Google Play

Health apps of the very near future will include the likes of Babylon, an app that books virtual appointments, tracks symptoms, and receives your prescriptions with no wait time. Or you might use WellDoc, which could be prescribed by your doctor to support chronic disease management “by integrating clinical, behavioral, and motivational applications with everyday technologies, like the internet and cell phone, to engage patients and healthcare providers in ways that dramatically improve outcomes and significantly reduce healthcare costs.”

“During the next five years, health apps will empower consumers to make improved and informed lifestyle choices leading to better health and reducing the risk of chronic disease,” says Damon Lightley, managing director at Genetic Apps, an app developer for the health, sports, medical, and pharma markets. “They’ll also enable healthcare professionals to detect diseases earlier and reduce care costs.”

Current wearable technology for healthcare includes fitness bands that track steps like Jawbone UP and Fitbit Flex, the Withings Pulse O2 which combines a pedometer with a heart rate and blood oxygen monitor, and Google Glass—which, among its myriad of uses, helps doctors to see more patient data in real time, hands free, and allows surgeons to better perform minimally invasive operations requiring reliance on imagery.

Some of the new and upcoming wearable technologies that are focused on improving health sound strange, but are currently under development: a shirt that detects irregular blood sugar levels, contact lenses that monitor changes in the retina, and intelligent fibers in clothing that keep track of your pulse, breathing, and heart rate. Other developments on the way include a smart sock that keeps track of people with Alzheimer’s disease, a skin patch that provides hypodermic injections throughout the day, and Digitsole—an insole that connects to a mobile device allowing you to adjust the temperature of your shoes, track activity, and also help adjust your posture.

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Nov 052013

couple demonstrates effectiveness of activated carbon

Some call them a marriage saver, others a step forward for common decency. Whatever your opinion, it’s hard to deny the appeal of Shreddies, a line of underwear designed to nullify the unpleasant odors associated with human flatulence. These playful underpants incorporate an activated carbon layer which absorbs odors, but breathes. Although there are no sexy apps related to this product and the under cover nature of its service makes broadcasting difficult, Shreddies’s promises of comfort and discreet coverage have attracted attention. The brand was even awarded the ‘Look Good Feel Good award’ from the Association for Continence Advice in 2009.

Shreddies technology

the activated carbon layer filters out unpleasant odors

Their marketing is playful and cool. The products are geared for a self-aware audience eager to prank their partners with a gag gift—even if they’re crossing their fingers that the new pair of Shreddies will be put to use. (Any interested readers can beat the Black Friday rush and snag their own odor-defying Shreddies for just over $30 per pair!) Flatulence is not the only bodily malady Shreddies hopes to address in their stylish and fun campaign. The website also features products for incontinence in adults and children.

Most young consumers aren’t used to seeing their bodily functions mentioned in any clothing advertisement that isn’t for athletic gear. There is a legacy of discomfort in recognizing the functions of bodies besides serving as clothes racks and intricate vessels for transporting our brains. It can, thus, be difficult to advertise such function, especially for a product that is meant to be hidden and is hence robbed of much of its signaling potential (Barnard). For some, the Shreddies branding may be interpreted as distasteful. For many who struggle to conceal or manage medical conditions that result in excessive flatulence, however, the trendy advertising may help bring visibility to their plight. After all, Shreddies is marketed with the subtitle “Healthcare Underwear.”

From the Shreddies FAQ: “Shreddies can be worn by anyone but they offer a perfect solution for sufferers of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), gastritis, Crohn’s disease, Dyspepsia and Colitis as well as food intolerance’s [sic] and many other bowel and digestive disorders.” It’s possible that the attention garnered by this playfully marketed product will encourage other manufacturers, designers, and marketers to be more bold in addressing health concerns in fashion.

Surprisingly, this technology isn’t new. An entire subset of the population has been craftily disguising flatulence and more for years! Carbon activated fabric has used by hunters since as early as 1992 to inhibit their human scents so as not to ward off prey. Reviews including an editorial in the Sportsman’s Guide note that scent coverage is imperfect. Most recommend a complementary program of odor control. Because cleaning for these activated carbon garments differs from normal clothes washing, user error is hard to rule out.

Buyer be not afraid, however! White tail deer have as many as 297 million olfactory receptors, while humans have a measly 5 million. While a fart alone in the forest may still make a smell, your own dear probably won’t be the wiser.