The power of wearables and data to save lives

2002 was the worst year of Eric Dolan’s life. The then-ten year old contracted a flesh eating disease in his leg, and his mother, who suffered from epilepsy, had open-back surgery, further complicating her ailment.

“When I tell that to most people the highlight of the story is, ‘oh wow, a flesh eating disease, that must have been the hardest part,’ but really I only had to deal with it for about six months to a year, and today I’m fine,” said Dolan. “Something that might be overlooked like epilepsy or another chronic disease affects people like my mom every day.”

When Eric and his brother Alex entered the Hack the North hackathon event in Waterloo in September of 2014, they sought to provide a solution for those suffering from the sudden and potentially life-threatening seizures caused by epilepsy. During the 36-hour event they built a prototype of what would eventually become Neutun, a software application for wearable devices like the Pebble and Apple Watch.

The application uses the device’s sensors and accelerometer when it detects the user experiencing epileptic symptoms.

“If we start detecting epileptic-like movements we’ll send a notification to your wrist,” said Dolan. “It starts a countdown of about 20 seconds and a notification saying, “hey, something might be wrong. Just in case, you have 20 seconds to turn off this alarm.”

Dolan explains that if the user is able to turn off the alarm, they are likely not experiencing a seizure. If they fail to deactivate the alarm, however, the application sends a notification to caregivers informing them of the users’ symptoms and location.

Soon after the hackathon Dolan began receiving emails from epileptic sufferers and caregivers around the world, saying that the application has the potential to change their lives.

“It’s a constant stress. It’s something where you’re always wondering if they’re okay or not,” he said. “You’re constantly afraid of what might happen, because you love them.”

A couple of months after the hackathon Dolan quit his full time job, and along with his brother released Neutun to the public in March of 2015. The application is available for pebble devices and will soon be available for the Apple Watch and Android Wear as well.

Neutun is just one of the many companies that have found significant health-care applications for wearable technologies. While hospitals have had access to similar technologies that track epileptic patients, never before has the technology been so widely available to the public.

The information provided by the application is also helping medical staff treat and track patients suffering from epilepsy.

“It’s really taking away a lot of the guess work and the prediction going forward, making it a lot easier on the clinical side,” said Dolan, who believes such technologies will have enormous implications for the healthcare industry moving forward. “I really think the seeds are being sown right now. The feasibility of something like this has only happened in the last few months.”

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Jared Lindzon
Jared Lindzon
Jared Lindzon is a freelance journalist based in Toronto writing about technology, business, entrepreneurship, and much more. He is a regular contributor to top tier publications in Canada and around the world, including the Globe and Mail, Fast Company, The Guardian and Fortune Magazine.

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