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22nd April 2015

A parents’ dilemma

New gadgets allow you to check your kids’ vital signs without rushing to hospital

Have you ever been awoken in the middle of the night by your child’s cry? I know I have. They wake because they are hungry. Or need to be changed. Or just because.

But sometimes you know something is not right. They cry is different. More than once, I’ve arrived to the side of the cot to discover a fever, a rash, a racing heart rate.

At 4.00am, the world can seem a lonely place; the night is pitch dark and the street outside is silent and still.

You weigh whether to rush to hospital, call a doctor or just wait and see. All you’ve got is your instinct and your partner in parenting.

‘What do you think?’ I ask.

‘Google it?’ comes the response.

Beating helplessness

For Sam De Brouwer and her husband Walter, this feeling of frustration and helplessness is what inspired them to come up with a gadget that offers more information and guidance.

Their ‘Belgian-born’ start-up company – now based in the US – invented the ScanaduScout. Often compared to the Tricorder used in the sci-fi series, Star Trek, this little device measures your vital signs and sends this information to your smartphone via Bluetooth so you can understand your family’s health over time and know what is cause for concern.

‘For me, it all started when we had to spend some time at the hospital with one of our own kids. Parents can feel so powerless,’ says Sam.

‘We developed a device that measures your temperature, the amount of oxygen in your blood (Sp02), ECG, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respiratory rate and heart rate – the first things a doctor would measure in the emergency room.’

Simply by holding the user-friendly device against your head – or that of your child – you can get a more complete picture in just ten seconds, helping you to decide what to do next.

The ScanaduScout is not the only gadget in the race to build a real ‘tricorder’. A $10 million X Prize has helped to focus the minds of inventors on how sensors could work in home healthcare.

Texas-based Monebo is looking at using senor technology to measure and analyse information about our heart beat; inventor Eugene Chan’s universal blood sensor is just one of several ‘lab on a chip’ devices that could transform diagnostics; and MobiSante have come up with an ultrasound add-on for smartphones can bring medical imaging to your living room.

Handheld hospitals

All of this is just the beginning of a new wave of handheld medical technology. Sam De Brouwer says technology like this is changing healthcare, handing more power to patients.

It will not replace doctors, she notes, but allows people to play a more active role in partnership with health professionals.

In the future, Sam expects more high-tech tools to be available to people in their own homes. Not only will this empower all of us, it will cut down on unnecessary hospital visits, ensuring real emergencies get the prompt specialist care they need.

With people living longer and health systems under pressure, technologies that facilitate smarter use of health resources are a win-win, according to Sam.

‘My own Grandfather is 103 so I ask myself how old am I going to be? I better be healthy and healthy at home.’