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IEEE-NIH 2016 Special Topics Conference on Healthcare Innovations and Point-of-Care Technologies

September 26, 2016, by Paul C. Pearlman, PhD – Conference Co-Chair

The upcoming IEEE-NIH 2016 Special Topics Conference on Healthcare Innovations and Point-of-Care Technologies will be held in Cancun, Mexico from November 9th to 11th.

An Open Letter from the Conference Co-Chair

As we approach the upcoming Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)-NIH 2016 Special Topics Conference on Healthcare Innovations and Point-of-Care Technologies to be held in Cancun, Mexico November 9th to 11th, it's a good opportunity to reflect on what it is we’re trying to accomplish here and why individuals should attend.

As advertised, ‘the conference will provide a forum for all stakeholders in healthcare to elucidate the barriers and challenges in the broad delivery of quality, accurate, and affordable health care. Features include discussions on the role of point-of-care diagnostic systems in quality global healthcare from the perspectives of all stakeholders, especially in underserved and under-resourced populations; and barriers and challenges to adoption and mechanisms by which innovative technologies can be collectively addressed and overcome by collaboration across all stakeholders for quality global healthcare.’

The NIH’s partner in this effort is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest technical professional society. More specifically, we have partnered with the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS), who are, incidentally, the world’s largest international society of biomedical engineers. EMBS has 11,000 members across 97 countries.

Due to barriers to healthcare access and the particular challenges posed in building health systems infrastructure for cancer control, there is substantial hype around the development and translation of technologies to address global oncology. As a result, a fantastic research question is posed… How do we detect, diagnose, and treat cancer at the point-of-care in low- and middle-income countries to get around these barriers? Recent advances in a diverse host of fields, including advanced manufacturing, microfluidics, mobile communications, and nanotechnology, have ushered in a new generation of in-vitro molecular diagnostics, portable imaging modalities, and point-of-care treatments, all with the potential of positively changing cancer outcomes in low resource settings.

The issue is that there’s nuance here… Addressing the cancer burden in a country is as much about health systems strengthening as it is anything else. While some technologies may offer leap-frog potential and provide countries with new options enabling them to avoid investment in the costly systems adopted by high income countries, others may simply be adjuncts to a standard of care that must first be in place. Still others may be distractions, tools that seem revolutionary and exciting, but just end up gathering dust on the shelf after the papers are published. The practical, ethical, technical, and clinical challenges posed in developing a successful ‘global health technology’ are simply staggering. It’s hard to know where to start.

Douglas Adams has been quoted saying that “We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.” The question is this… What is it that will ‘work’ exactly? That is to say, what are the design characteristics and key features of resource-appropriate leap-frog or adjunct technologies that will allow them to increase access to care for those living in low-resource settings? Conferences such at the IEEE-NIH Special Topics Conference on Healthcare Innovations and Point-of-Care Technologies begin to really get at this question. Through the convening power of the IEEE-EMBS and the NIH, key stakeholders from academia, business, government, and the clinic will come together to explore possible collaborations and help influence a path forward for this emerging field.

There’s still time to register for this important meeting.

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