Sunday, 2 September 2012

Planes, Peahens and Pills that go Beep

As I mentioned in lasts weeks posting, instead of spending the Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK, I travelled to Sweden to present a paper at a nurse education conference. I was slightly annoyed that I had been asked to arrive at the airport 2 hours before my flight was due to leave. My tickets had been booked on-line, I had an online confirmation on my phone. At the airport, I placed my passport in a brightly coloured machine, which felt immediately able to address me, and the proceeded to ask me a few questions, I pressed a couple of touch buttons on the screen, and my two boarding cards were printed off. Card is possibly the wrong word, as they were printed on what felt like the toilet paper we had at School when I was a child – grey hard, thin, slippery and useless for the job in hand being my recollection.

I never travel with luggage that has to go in the hold, a consequence of reading every book Lee Child has written. Perhaps it was my Jack Reacher persona that allowed me to then slip through security in a whisper. Spookily the rules had changed yet again, and while my laptop had to come out, this time my iPad could stay nestled deep inside my rucksack. The security people took exception to my comb, and so in the end everything had to turned out and repacked. But some 12 minutes after arriving at the airport I was through all the hurdles and still had 108 minutes to wait before my flight was called. Clearly reality had not kept pace with technology.

I found the conference very interesting - the focus was on how student nurses were being prepared for practice though learning in practice. My long term friend and research partner Mikko was there and between us, drawing on opposite research paradigms we were able to provide backcloth that allowed for debate and challenge. Strangely the hotel I was staying at was still using the same type of toilet paper as I recalled using in my childhood, and what’s more, the same toilet paper was to be found at the conference venue, the Karolinska Institute at the Sophia Hemmet University.

However, the venue was well equipped with state of the art technology making the presentations and discussions a smooth and enjoyable process. The organisers had apparently forgotten I was a vegetarian. 
Fortunately, at the official Conference Dinner, a vegetarian option was available. The dinner was good, and the conversations interesting. The venue was one of the oldest buildings in Stockholm, with a commanding view of the sea and ports. Big cruise liners came and went as we ate. I was fascinated by the peahen who sat on one of the balcony railings. She didn’t move even when I got very close to photograph her. She just looked disdainfully in my direction. What I didn’t see at first was that she had laid 4  eggs in the corner of the balcony, and was clearly not going to move and abandon these. Although it’s a bit late in the year, I hope she is successful in hatching them.

Flying back, Stockholm Airport kindly allowed me to use their free wi fi system. All I had to do was send them my mobile phone number, and in a nano second, an activation code was texted back to me. Booking in was the same procedure coming home as going, so I had just under two hours to kill. As I had been asked to write a blog for the greater Manchester Academic Health Network website (see http://www.gmahsn.org/ ) (great video), I thought I would do some search for ideas. The all dancing singing, walking, talking pill was the first to attract my attention.

California -based Proteus Digital Health have developed the digital techongloy to embed tiny ingestible chips into pills for all kinds of conditions from the common cold to cancer that allows for tracking of whether a patent has taken their pill or not. The pill technology can allow carers to prompt patients to take their medication, or even ask patient sto take a walk if they have been inactive for too long.

Whilst some patients might not like their pill-taking being tracked the system can help manage patients' complicated medicine routines, such as diabetes or heart conditions. The swallowed sensor is linked to a skin patch worn on the patient's body, which captures the report sent by the sensor. About the size of a grain of salt, the sensor has no battery or antenna and is activated when it gets wet from stomach juices. That completes a circuit between coatings of copper and magnesium on either side, generating a tiny electric voltage for a few minutes. The skin patch records the digital message, along with the patient's heart rate, body angle and activity, and sends the data to a bluetooth-enabled device such as a phone or computer. The data is then uploaded to a computer network for viewing by patients, caregivers and physicians.

Of course some people might argue that this extends the clinical gaze in a totally unacceptable way, there are clear opportunities here to think very differently about how we begin to treat long term and chronic conditions. I just hope the same kind of different thinking can be applied to air travel.