“Having tested the monitoring devices first for Navy SEALs and currently in the sports arena, we are fine-tuning this for healthcare,” said Paul Costello, the divisional vice president for Zephyr Technology’s mHealth operations.
Last month, Zephyr said it secured a new round of investment in the company by 3M New Ventures (focus on health), Motorola, Alsop Louie Partners (focus on data), and iGlobe Partners (focus on wireless technology). It’s set to provide more details on the new monitoring device this fall.
Starting with athletes
Zephyr developed a wireless sensor to monitor heart rate, core body temperature and movement such as acceleration and posture. The small, round sensors are held in a body harness. Initial applications were for the military, but the Annapolis, Maryland-based company recently collaborated with Under Armour and the NFL. Its sensor was used in Under Armour’s E39 shirts to evaluate athletes’ performances at the NFL Combine.
Costello said the body sensor is also being evaluated to address safety concerns for athletes, particularly concussions. Data collected by the sensor can be used as a baseline for subsequent performance and to identify potential problems.
“We are working with several prominent researchers from sports universities as well as some well-known researchers in medicine to more accurately detect concussions and monitor concussive effects over time to let athletes know when it’s appropriate to resume their activity,” Costello said.
Although he could not offer much detail, Costello said the sensor could track posture and movement, and use this to determine the potential effect of a hit on an athlete and to set criteria for identifying symptoms of a concussion.
Expanding to people with heart problems
Although military and athletic customers continue to represent important markets, Zephyr is targeting healthcare for significant growth, particularly in the area of wireless monitoring.
One example is monitoring people in extreme and remote environments. Navajo Indians living with chronic heart problems on reservations in Arizona have been using the sensors in partnership with doctors at Flagstaff Medical Center. The company sees opportunities for other chronic illnesses to flag potential health problems early to avoid unnecessary costs. It can also be used to identify comorbidities that could affect a patient’s recovery.
For all the benefits the technology offers in highlighting safety concerns on the playing field, it also has the potential to create some thorny ethical issues. Since it can show who is performing to the best of their abilities and who is not, it could be used to evaluate all performances within the NFL, not just prospects. That information could lead to reduced sign-on bonuses or potentially losing a contract altogether. How that data is used and who owns it are shaping up to be a contentious issue not only for the NFL, but for other sports and people with chronic illnesses as well.