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Learn How New Tech Innovations in Healthcare Can Help Prevent and Diagnose Illness Before It’s Too Late

My Apple watch diagnosed me with sleep apnea.


Photo: Shutterstock

Star Trek was ahead of its time in many ways. Many tech writers credit the future-looking sci-fi franchise with anticipating and even inspiring countless modern technologies, including iPads, Bluetooth headsets and chatbots like Siri. But of the show’s many imagined technologies, one device has remained a kind of holy grail in the minds of real-life Trekkies and techies alike: the medical tricorder, which allows doctors to diagnose and record all of a patient’s health issues with just one quick scan.

While some things like the Star Trek transporter room are still the stuff of fiction, some devices, like the tricorder, are swiftly becoming a reality. Think I’m exaggerating? How many people do you know with an Apple Watch or Fitbit? Their capabilities are a lot closer to the future than you might think. Not that long ago, I downloaded the Cardiogram app, which monitors your heart-rate activity using data from an Apple Watch or Fitbit. Both wrist devices have a sensor that can record your heart rate continuously and track sleep and exercise, before feeding this information back to Cardiogram for analysis. I hadn’t been using Cardiogram for more than a few months when the app flashed a message: “Do you have sleep apnea?” Sleep apnea, which can cause your airway to close at night, increasing the risk of heart problems and neurological disease, affects millions of Americans—including me. My smartwatch and the Cardiogram app had crunched my data, compared it to the information from hundreds of thousands of other users, and determined that I was likely to have the sleep disorder.

My experience was no anomaly. Since its launch in 2016, Cardiogram has been credited with alerting users to heart irregularities that can cause stroke and other fatal events with 97 percent accuracy. The trifecta of AI technology, big data, and predictive analytics which allowed Cardiogram to diagnose my apnea may not yet be quite as all-encompassing as the tricorder, but it’s getting closer with each passing year.

Personal devices with sensors that can track and even diagnose medical conditions have been around for more than a decade. Hardware and AI have advanced so rapidly, however, that devices and their connected sensors can now accomplish feats that were inconceivable just a few short years ago. Moreover, as data archives expand, software manufacturers are better able to hone the accuracy of offerings and sensors that can monitor, diagnose, and treat people in amazing, new ways, and there’s even more on the horizon. 

What exactly can your smartphone or wearable do for your health today? Here are a few common examples:

Prevent a heart attack

By capturing all the heart rate data from an individual and then comparing it to what is considered “normal” or “abnormal,” AI systems can learn to identify patterns of atrial fibrillation, dropped heartbeats or other heart rhythm problems, and then alert the patient to see a doctor. A woman in Alabama, for example, credits her smartwatch with alerting her that her heart wasn’t beating properly—even though she felt fine. Days later, she underwent open-heart surgery.

Diagnose melanoma

According to research, apps like SkinVision may be better at diagnosing skin cancer than dermatologists. The AI-enabled app, which analyzes a selfie of the suspicious spot for melanoma risk, has a 95 percent accuracy rate, beating the 61 to 66 percent sensitivity of general practitioners and 75 to 92 percent sensitivity of dermatologists.

Lessen the frequency of asthma attacks

Most people with asthma don’t use their inhalers properly, increasing the risk of attacks and hospitalizations. Propeller Health eradicates these issues by using a sensor that attaches to an inhaler, letting you and your doctor know exactly when and how well you use the device. The app also monitors weather, pollution, and allergens in your area to alert you to know when you’re at greater risk for breathing difficulties.

Monitor your blood sugar 24/7

Smartphone apps like Dexcom help diabetics stay safe while eradicating the trouble of traditional blood glucose meters. Instead of using needles, Dexcom relies on a small sensor placed just under the skin that monitors blood glucose continuously, providing up to 288 readings in 24 hours.

Treat insomnia without drugs

Pear Therapeutics’ prescription Somryst app helps patients with chronic insomnia overcome the condition with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can be difficult to find in some areas of the country. Those who receive the digital treatment are able to fall asleep faster and stay there without relying on prescription hypnotics like Ambien, which can cause dependency and serious side effects.

In short, AI-enabled technologies are democratizing medicine in ways we’ve never seen before—an idea first touted by the eminent cardiologist Eric Topol, M.D., in his 2014 book The Patient Will See You Now. This is not to say smart devices will replace doctors. While apps abound to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, fertility, sleep, and even brain-wave activity, not all apps are intended to diagnose, nor are they all FDA approved—that is, clinically tested to meet FDA guidelines as a medical device. But it does mean that, as these technologies and the infrastructure to support them continue to develop, anyone who has a smart device can potentially access quality healthcare, no matter where they live—whether in a big city with access to excellent hospitals and specialists, or in rural or low-resource areas where healthcare can be hard to come by.

Can you imagine a future where an app can diagnose you with the same accuracy as your primary care provider—the virtual equivalent of having an on-call physician with you at all times. Earache? Let the AI-enabled app, combined with access to a telehealth provider, distinguish between something that needs an office visit in the next day or two, a simple prescription with advice to follow up in a week, or a recommendation to head to the emergency room or urgent care right away. Looking further ahead, you can expect to see innovations like electronic tattoos and smart clothing, which allow collection of more accurate data than today’s wearables, implantable tech that can do everything from monitoring blood sugar to dispensing medications. We’ll also see smart lenses that provide information, hearables that serve as a computer in your ear, and more.

If you’re still feeling skeptical about allowing AI-enabled tech into your life, consider this: You’re probably already doing it. According to a Gallup poll, 85 percent of Americans use AI technology regularly, even though many don’t realize it or have any idea what it is. For example, the navigation app you use every day on your phone to help you avoid traffic? Enabled by AI. The smart thermostat you use to control your home’s environment from your phone? Powered by AI.

Do these technologies sound intimidating? We’ve learned how to text, use smartphones, wired our homes for internet-connected appliances, and embraced FaceTime and Zoom—why should healthcare be any different? As a patient and healthcare consumer, you can try to avoid or ignore the dramatic changes that are happening—or you can learn as much as you can about these developments, so that you know how to navigate them and can take advantage of what the new technology has to offer.

About The Author
Harry Glorikian

Harry is a global business expert, healthcare entrepreneur, podcaster, and author of The Future You: How Artificial Intelligence Can Help You Get Healthier, Stress Less, and Live Longer. For more than three decades, Harry built a breadth of successful ventures in the healthcare space, and he is well known for being at the forefront of helping invest in and grow innovative healthcare companies that are tackling ground-breaking areas of healthcare and biotechnology. A sought-after speaker, Harry is frequently quoted in the media and regularly asked to assess, influence, and be part of innovative concepts and trends. He also holds four U.S. patents in telecommunications and has others pending.

Harry currently serves as a general partner at Scientia Ventures , a VC firm focused on upleveling companies that have the potential to transform healthcare. Additionally, he serves on the boards of StageZero Life Sciences, a publicly traded healthcare technology business dedicated to the early detection of cancer and multiple disease states through whole blood, and Drumroll Health, which develops AI technologies to foster closer partnerships between patients, healthcare professionals and healthcare companies. Before joining Scientia Ventures, Harry was an entrepreneur. He grew and sold his own healthcare consulting company, Scientia Advisors. He is also the author of MoneyBall Medicine: Thriving in the New Data-Driven Healthcare Market and the diagnostics textbook Commercializing Novel IVDs: A Comprehensive Manual for Success, and is the host of The Harry Glorikian Show podcast series. Visit for more information.