A peek into the future of healthcare

Wait, is your phone or tablet going replace your doctor?  That notion might seem far fetched at the moment.


Philips PulseRelief health device

But wearable and portable health devices could soon take on a growing number of duties currently unnecessarily performed by clinicians. That in itself is not bad news considering that Kenya faces a biting shortage of medics.

Think of a smart watch that quietly monitors your heart rate, activity, blood pressure and sleep patterns to prevent chronic diseases.

Or a mobile phone-like device that uses a drop of your blood to produce about ten lab-quality results on the spot, and send that information to your doctor.

Experts predict that in the not-too-distant future medical advances will have us shaking our heads in wonder at how we ever survived without them – like, imagine how Kenyans survived without Mpesa.

Some of these devices are already turning science fiction into science fact. And it is happening closer home.

The new Philip’s Africa Innovation Hub in Nairobi has already churned out some consumer products and is leading research to customise health devices to meet the needs of the rising African middle class.

Some of these products were showcased at the recent Philips Africa Innovation Experience.

Technology today, allows us to understand and take control of our own health, for example through real-time biometrics and coaching,” says JJ van Dongen, CEO, Philips Africa.

Dongen says they are working with healthcare professionals to improve the healthcare system.

“To make healthcare more effective – economically and medically – we need integration and personalisation,” he says.

There is also money to be made in health-related wearables. According to ABI Research, a firm that monitors medical innovations, wearable wireless medical device sales will reach more than 100 million devices annually by 2017.

“A growing number of medical devices are becoming wearable, including glucose monitors, ECG monitors, pulse oximeters, and blood pressure monitors,” Theo Ahadome, senior analyst at IMS Research, says in the report.

Here are some out of the innovations to watch out for. Some of this stuff is here already, and the future is calling.

Philips PulseRelief

This is an app-enabled TENS (Trancutaneous Electronic Nerve Stimulation) device that helps users choose and control personal treatment to relieve pain without the use of drugs. The small patch, worn discreetly near the shoulder, allows pain suffers to control their pain relief device, choose their treatment and keep track of their treatments in a diary. It can be used in specific parts of their body like the back, shoulder, elbow, arms and legs.


Low back pain is rapidly becoming a major common work-related injury in Kenya. The Philips Bluetouch is a strap worn around the back and uses blue LED light to stimulate the natural healing of the body and reduce pain without medication. It uses blue light therapy to help relieve muscular back pain with a dual effect: delivering warmth and stimulating the release of the body’s own nitric oxide. The result is locally increased blood flow that supports the body’s natural recovery processes.

VISIQ Ultrasound

Imagine seeing a high quality image of your unborn baby, whether you live in Nairobi or a remote village in Tana River.

This Visiq portable transducer-plus-tablet system delivers high-quality ultrasound images without the need for large ultrasound machines. It looks like a small tablet and a mouse. It was launched in Kenya in June last year and is hoped to help reduce maternal deaths by 40 per cent. At least 7,000 women in Kenya die from pregnancy related complications every year, according to the ministry of health.

The manufacturer said the gadget performs two-and-a-half hours of continuous scanning on one battery charge. During its development, five generations of mock-ups were tested extensively with customers in Kenya, US, Uganda, India, China, Germany, and Indonesia.

The device will retail at Sh1.4 million. Currently, 53 Kenyan healthcare professionals have been trained on how to use the gadget and they are set to train other 120 others.

Minicare Acute

In the emergency room, this device helps you to make quick decisions when your patients are potentially suffering from acute cardiac distress. The minicare acute blood test gives lab-quality results on the spot and within minutes.

Although it’s still in development in Europe, the hand-held gadget, which looks like a small ETR machine, will come in handy for local dispensaries without laboratories, where blood test results can take days to come through.

The device only requires a drop of blood to get accurate and quick results at the point of care, such as emergency departments, critical care centres and ambulances.

Philip charm

The Children Automated Respiration Monitor will be released next year to help improve the diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia in developing countries.

Pneumonia is the leading killer of Kenyan children under five, according to the Ministry of Health.

One important aspect in diagnosing pneumonia is monitoring a child’s breathing rate. Usually, community health workers manually count how many breaths a child takes in the span of one minute. But the Charm converts chest movements detected by accelerometers into accurate breathing counts, using standard algorithms to diagnose fast breathing rates, tailored to the way children’s chests move during breathing.

Accurate diagnosis ensures that children with pneumonia receive the antibiotics they need, potentially preventing many of the deaths. It’s worn as a band across the child’s chest.

Personal Health Programme

The company also illustrated a range of devices that are all Bluetooth enabled, connecting wirelessly to an health app, so users can conveniently track their measurements over time. These include the health watch. This watch uses the optical heart rate sensor and accelerometer for lifestyle tracking. It continuously and automatically measures a wide range of health biometrics (including heart rate, activity, and sleep patterns). It is being designed as a medical device to help prevent or mitigate lifestyle-induced chronic conditions.