U.S. operator AT&T said it is displaying two products intended to help fight the opioid epidemic, AccendoWave and VerteCore Lift, at its booth at the Digital Health Summit, which takes place in Las Vegas from 7–10 January.
AccendoWave is an opioid alternative, and VerteCoreLift is a smart version of a spinal brace developed several years ago by U.S.-based medical technology developer VerteCore. AT&T said it recently worked with VerteCore at the AT&T Foundry in Houston to develop a prototype smart spinal brace.
The operator said it is supporting these products against the background of concern about opioid addiction in the U.S. AccendoWave is a headband that monitors brainwaves to detect pain and distract the patient using content on a tablet, such as game-show extracts or videos of puppies. The tablet lights up based on brainwaves and uses machine learning to tell which type of video helps the body to relax and feel less anxious.
VerteCore Lift, AT&T said, is the first connected mobile spinal decompression device. It has an adjustable brace that decompresses the intervertebral discs, thus reducing pressure on the spinal column. This helps the body heal without surgery or pain medication, the operator said. Patients can wear it under clothing and continue normal daily routines. The device uses sensors to measure pounds of pressure and track the patient’s usage. It transmits data to medical staff to help them prescribe treatment plans and track the patient’s progress remotely.
AT&T points out that back pain is a leading cause of opioids being prescribed. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, between 49 and 70 percent of adults will suffer back pain at some time in their life.
With the opioid crisis dominating headlines in the U.S., it is commendable that a major telecom operator such as AT&T is engaging in outside-the-box thinking about how it can deploy its huge resources to try and make a difference. Of course, opioid addiction is a medical and pharmacological issue, but AT&T project indicates that today, as MNOs search for ways to diversify their businesses and increase their relevance, in theory no area of human endeavor is off-limits.
Both of the solutions AT&T has announced essentially fall under the Internet of Things category. But while they have that in common, they are actually quite different. While AccendoWave has a certain “Rube Goldberg” quality about it, the idea of using mobile connectivity to monitor pain and accordingly dispense some kind of input that reduces pain or the impact of pain is certainly a valid one. Using a tablet to show sufferers game shows or cute pet videos may do something to mitigate pain, but it seems to us that a more sophisticated approach could in the future yield even more effective interventions, ones that would more directly affect the brain’s pain centers. For the moment, though, at least AccendoWave receives feedback from the patient as to its effectiveness and engages in machine learning to get better at what it does.
The smart version of VerteCore Lift is yet another example of the kinds of partnerships that operators are engaging in with technology partners to deliver value-added services to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. It seems that the main element that AT&T brings to the equation is the ability of the device to transmit its data in real time to medical professionals who will then be able to monitor the situation more closely and therefore make the best possible interventions at the appropriate times. The hope is that such close monitoring coupled with decompression of the spine will keep the patient’s pain below the level at which opioid drugs would be needed.
Of course, the opioid crisis has complex causes, but AT&T’s use of its network, its research dollars, and its creativity could ultimately prevent more people from getting addicted to painkillers, even if it may not be able to do much for those who already are addicted. In any case, for a major operator to create such solutions has the potential to bring in revenue, but perhaps more importantly, to show that the company is seriously concerned about matters that affect the lives of so many people.