Biosensors and digital health—transition from “what” to “so what”

By Keith Robinson

Digital health has been slowly evolving and attempting to unite patient information with the larger health care industry. This is seen most commonly with the implementation of Electronic Medical Records (EMR), and the massive number of personalized medical resources. These resources include everything from self-diagnosis with WebMD to fitness tracking with a myriad of apps readily available for smartphone users. In fact, there is an entire industry devoted to help individuals track themselves and compete with their peer group. Interestingly, because of the heavy presence of smartphone enabled solutions, health options have become more available to minority communities. In a recent article by Dr. Garth Graham, President of the Aetna Foundation, has noted that, “Cellphone users, who are Latino, African-American, or between the ages of 18-49, are more likely than other groups to gather health information from their phones.” This leads to tremendous amounts of data, and companies/resources that are attempting to better understand individual health.

Biosensor technology application

However, these innovations still rely on active user engagement and a level of personal commitment to health, not something that every person shares. Enter the realm of biosensors, personalized technology that can passively read and register everything from heart rate to electrolyte balance, and even help detect certain types of diseases. Biosensors are also involved in registering environmental conditions such as water toxicity. With the increased use of passive technologies, such as biosensors, digital health is approaching, if not past an inflection point. Mass consumers have ready access, in the form of smart bracelets, and even for those interested in something more than a fitness tracker, other options exist.

Drivers for biosensor development

One major question arising from this flood of personal technology options is what is driving the market for advanced digital health. While there are many answers to this question, a 2013 article by Forbes Magazine commented that the following represent the biggest current drivers. Incredible new personalized application of digital health technology, need to advance health care in the wake of the affordable health act, self-empowerment and ownership of health data, big data storage, and of course money are all major contributors to the digital health movement.

Therefore, it is no surprise that in an era where every piece of information is available through the device in your pocket, people want to utilize this device and others like it to take more control of their health.


Types of biosensors

The application of biosensors is wide ranging and has an impact on every facet of our lives. Medical and personal testing can monitor conditions within the body, and immunosensors, (immunochemical enzymatic sensors) can monitor individual cell performance and the impact of a variety of diseases.

Public safety is another arena that benefits from biosensor technology. Detection of illicit drugs and explosives as well as chemical detection using environmental sensors has proven to be vital to protect many nations. Environmental sensors have the ability to detect toxicity and even changes in hormone levels in the environment. The ability to track these changes is important because leeching of discarded prescription drugs and cosmetics are having long term effects on the ecosystem, and in some cases, altering the DNA of organisms.

Exciting new field—fitness tracking biosensors

One of the biggest applications, fitness tracking, has impacted the biggest brands in the industry unlocking an entire data stream of customer habit and practices. Products such as the Nike Fuel Band SE and Adidas miCoach are taking the accelerometer and turning data into performance results. Many people utilize the Fuel Band technology by competing against themselves for improved fitness gains, as well as joining communities focused on peer support. Adidas is doing this as well, but they have begun to make their case for the value these fitness trackers actually bring. Recent World Cup champions, Germany, utilized the miCoach system to track movement speed, physical output, and efficiency of their players during training. This allowed coaches to determine who was performing most efficiently as well as who may need special attention. While German success in the tournament was based on skill and other forms of training, there is no doubt that real time actionable data provided by the miCoach system contributed to their success.

According to and World Press, “The biosensor market as a whole represents upward of $18Billion, and the mobile health universe is predicted to hit $5.7Billion by 2015. Furthermore, upward of 100 million people are predicted to utilize some form of health tracking by 2018 representing an enormous opportunity for companies, device and digital alike, to capitalize and simultaneously improve our state of living.”

Future of biosensors

The future of fitness tracking and the personal biosensor industry appears to be on a positive trend. Important to the success of wearable biosensors is the development of non-invasive technologies that can act as more than Global Positioning System (GPS) and accelerometers. Biosensors can run into issues pertaining to continuous utilization. Yes, competitive features and award systems have some effect on consumers, but most individuals want to know how the gathered data will impact them. In many cases, the information can be displayed in graphical format, but most of us don’t need to know we had a bad night of sleep, we’re aware of it the moment we wake.

Therefore, the success of this industry will hinge on the development and utilization of big data. As the title of this article mentions, this will be the transition from simply gathering data to “so what,” are the implications of it.


Biosensor track at OR Bio 2014 Annual Conference

This year, at the 2014 Oregon Bioscience Association Symposium, attendees will be exposed to the fast growing field of biosensor technology. While the use of biosensors is nothing new, the application in health care has reached the point where easily accessible personalized medicine is available through digital health applications. Primary sponsors of the event include Intel Health, bringing superior technology to all available health platforms and Biotronik, a multinational biomedical technology firm specializing in heart rhythm and electrophysiology. Together these two companies show the demand for digital and device solutions. These demands could exist without the other; however, together, health care becomes more personal and accessible to both you and your health care providers.


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Keith Robinson.
B.A. Biology: Genetics and Ecology
MBA Portland State University: Finance and Marketing
Industry experience: Sales, Consulting, Marketing, Strategic Planning
— Contact Keith at


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