As part of ZE’s continuing commitment to stay abreast of new Information System trends, Yi-Jeng recently attended Wavefront’s mPower M2M conference, Feb 7, 2012. The goal of this conference was to explore how wireless technology is revolutionizing machine to machine (M2M) communications, data acquisition and data management beyond smartphones, and the impact of this growing trend in an increasingly machine-crowded world.

Average world life expectancy has increased over the last half a century from 50 years to 70 years, an impressive growth by any measure (World Bank). For developing nations, this growth is driven by an increase in the standard of living due to improvements in food production, widespread public hygiene and modest healthcare investments. During this same period, life expectancies of the Western developed nations increased by a full decade (from 70 to 80 years). Yet, this extra golden decade is driven not by high living standards and excess food production (which Western nations already enjoy), but by significant advancements in medical science. Therefore, it’s not surprising that there has been a long term trend to use the efficiencies gained from IT and data management developments to deliver more healthcare with fewer resources.

In this context, I attended a panel discussion headed by Tim Beasley (KPMG) to explore the question of how M2M technology could improve healthcare. On the panel were several industry experts including Merek representative Cristina Rabasquinho, UBC Emergency Medicine professor Dr. Kendall Ho, and two wireless operator representatives from Sierra Wireless and KPN. To this panel, I asked a ZE relevant question:

What are the big data challenges in the Health Science field and how would M2M technologies address that?

Of course I was alluding to the advent of ‘personalized healthcare’, a data intensive future facilitated by third generation DNA sequencers capable of affordably unlocking our personal genomes (at the cost of a few thousand dollars). And whenever big data is generated, efficient data management is required, which is where ZE comes in.

Pharmaceutical giant Merek, was the only major healthcare corporation present, which gives you an idea of their current level of interest in M2M. Cristina Rabasquinho admitted that Merek’s only foray into healthcare data management systems is a personal healthcare records software. This software is unconnected to any government health systems and is  maintained strictly by patients and validated by their family doctors; not an M2M technology at all. I believe Merek views M2M as the means to cross-promote their current line of drugs in the IT field, rather than an opportunity to change healthcare in any significant fashion.

Photo: Tiny, implantable M2M medical device from Stanford School of Engineering

Dr. Kendall Ho, UBC Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine , as befitting his expertise, understood the direction of my question. For the M2M audience, he stated that hospitals in British Columbia have already deployed wireless data systems. BC ambulances for example, use M2M telemetry systems to beam patient medical data straight to destination hospitals to provide seamless care for patients during the first crucial hour. This data is used by hospitals strictly for medical purposes, and is protected under patient confidentiality. Personalized medicine is still in its infancy, he notes, but data mining from future personalized genome sequences will have to be balanced against patient ethics. Since Dr. Ho heads the Technology Enabled Knowledge Translation Investigative Center (TEKTIC), he will be looking for data management collaborators.

ZE for one, plans to be there to collect data when the expected explosion of information resulting from personalized medicine finally occurs ( Ethically of course.

In the meantime, impatient members of the audience may watch this neat Stanford Engineering M2M prototype capable of swimming through the bloodstream without wires nor batteries. Here’s the full article and here’s the video: Wirelessly Powered, Self-Propelled Medical Device