'Smart shoes' seen as part of new wave of medical wear

One of my all-time favorite interview subjects, athenahealth Chairman and CEO Jonathan Bush, once compared expensive, feature-laden EMRs to "plutonium shoes" in an interview with me to illustrate how many physician practices need not overpay for systems that offer far more than they'll ever need.

That phrase popped into my head a few days ago when I saw the following headline in Healthcare IT News: "AT&T scientist develops 'smart shoes' for seniors."

The story talks about how Robert Miller, a researcher for the telecommunications giant, is applying technology used in the video game "Dance Dance Fever" to detect the type of motion or instability that could indicate a fall. (At last week's American Telemedicine Association annual meeting in San Antonio, Miller said that about one-third of falls by seniors require medical attention and 10 percent can be fatal, Healthcare IT News reports.)

In this spirit, Miller created an insole with sensors and an AT&T broadband connection. The "smart shoe" is now being tested at Texas Tech University with the help of a New York-based company called 24Eight that developed the underlying technology for keeping track of foot positions in dance games. "We can almost infallibly detect falls," according to Miller.

With the rule of unintended consequences clearly in mind, Miller worked long hours to make sure the device was as comfortable as any other insole, so as not to cause falls. (A story in today's FierceMobileHealthcare addresses the double-edged nature of mobile healthcare.) He envisions his shoes as part of a class of what he calls "medical jewelry"--clothing and accessories with built-in health monitors and communications equipment.

There's no word on what the smart shoes might cost, but I'm guessing they'll be a lot less expensive than plutonium. Safer, too. - Neil