The 511 / November 11, 2020
For information in the 20th century, we called 411. The 511 includes:
- a handful of paragraphs about health tech or some other science-y thing
- 1 sentence for reflection (and maybe a laugh), and
- 1 track I’ve currently got in heavy rotation.
Take care of your heart! No pressure
As a DIY bike mechanic, I like to fix things that are broken. I even like to fix things that aren’t broken. Luckily, our doctors don’t tend to our health the way I tend to my bikes. And, for every check-up during my lifetime, two technologies remain unbroken: the stethoscope and the blood pressure cuff. If the blood pressure cuff is not broken, though, it’s not exactly comfortable either, and it’s been that way since 1881. (Thank you, Samuel Siegfried Karl von Basch.) In fact, it can be painful for kids, grown-ups, and seniors alike.
There is, as you might have guessed, another and considerably better way to measure blood pressure. At Blumio, a medtech start-up led by Oliver Shay and Catherine Liao, they are developing new wearable technologies based on a novel and brilliant idea:
Let’s unpack that last phrase first. Applanation tonometry is about accuracy and sensitivity. It’s a test that measures the amount of pressure necessary to flatten a portion of your cornea, which allows your doctor to monitor your eyes for glaucoma. Blumio’s “pressure-less sensing modality” offers continuous monitoring of your blood pressure using a radar-based sensor. With precision medicine all the rage, along with too many Americans consumed by rage (do you really see that changing in 2021?), Blumio’s wearable sensor represents a major tech breakthrough to help Americans with their hypertension (1 in 3 adults) and cardiovascular disease (1 in 4 deaths: the leading cause of death in the US). Blumio provides real-time monitoring of the impact of alcohol, smoking, drugs, exercise and diet (finally!) on blood pressure.
“This contextualized information will ultimately provide insights into how behaviors, medicines, and other drugs impact blood pressure”: from the abstract of Blumio’s 2018 award from the NIH.
Dear reader: do you think that will be enough, say, to reverse the downward trend on American life expectancy? American life expectancy peaked in 2014, while the golden years of friendly neighbors to the north — and just about every other country where we have military personnel — continue to grow and grow.
To be clear: I don’t expect the lovely folks at Blumio to be solely responsible for this task, for it’s clear who is responsible: we the people. As I write, of course, we as a country are less than a week removed from the calling of the 2020 election. Liberals, as well as members of Trump’s inner circle, have breathed a sigh of relief. Despite the administration’s constant assault on evidence-based protocols, science will rise again from the ashes.
Science, though, only thrives if its audience is paying attention. Yes, we’re all caught up in the distraction machine, but we also face duress due to policies — combined with market forces — that no longer work on behalf of millions of Americans. “Almost a third of working Americans currently have some kind of medical debt,” according to a recent report by Salary Report for NBC. “And about 28% of those who have an outstanding balance owe $10,000 or more on their bills.” That financial stress leads Americans to ration their healthcare. A full 33% of uninsured Americans — and even 8% of people with private health insurance — take their medicine on a drawn out schedule, rather than as prescribed.
With the expansion of the gig economy, and industry contraction during the pandemic, life for millions of Americans lacks the anchors of steady work, affordable insurance, and strong public education. “The infinite promise of American youth — a promise elaborately articulated by movies and advertisements and university prospectuses — has been an empty lie for so long,” notes novelist Zadie Smith, “that I notice my students joking about it with a black humor more appropriate to old men, to the veterans of wars.”
Her students, Smith notes, cling to their “writing style,” for they have so little else to fall back on. Does that same sense of being adrift characterize the political investments of adult Americans, too? Do we cling to our candidates and parties because everything else — including healthcare, especially — is fraught with contingency?
Should a Biden administration expand the reach of the Affordable Care Act and, in turn, reverse the curve of American life expectancy, maybe our next presidential election — and our politics in general — tax our cardiovascular health at a lower rate.
5(1)1 — On life from the vantage point of bike saddle
51(1) — In rotation: Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still”
“Feel It Still” celebrates 1966, a great year for rock’n’roll, and 1986, a great year for post-punk pop. My daughter has requested a household moratorium on this tune, but I can still share it with you. Enjoy!
If you have a favorite remix of this tune, let me know!
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System and method for cardiovascular health monitoring. Patent application # US20190282106A1, United States. https://patents.google.com/patent/US20190282106A1/en.
“32% of American workers have medical debt—and over half have defaulted on it.” CNBC. February 13, 2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/13/one-third-of-american-workers-have-medical-debt-and-most-default.html
FEASIBILITY STUDY OF A NOVEL NONINVASIVE RF SENSOR FOR BLOOD PRESSURE MEASUREMENTS. NIH RePORT. 2018. https://projectreporter.nih.gov/project_info_description.cfm?aid=9679554&icde=0
“The Trump Administration Has Attacked Science 100 Times … and Counting,” Scientific American, May 29, 2019. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-trump-administration-has-attacked-science-100-times-and-counting/ .
“How does U.S. life expectancy compare to other countries?” KFF. https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/u-s-life-expectancy-compare-countries/.