Health & Science Tech Digest: January 2023

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Dear Readers, 

There are some things more profound than mere conversation, and that is true connection. Technology, nowadays, has morphed into an essential friend, connecting us during the pandemic, helping us celebrate events though miles apart, and even revolutionizing our work-from-home lives. This month prepares you for better connection, whether it be through haptic touch, facial recognition technology, or dopamine in the time of dating apps. We hope you enjoy this second installation of Health & Science Tech Digest, with updated news, research, and app-building resources.

Warmest regards,
DeAnne Canieso, PhD
Communications Manager

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News Stories


Research & Discussion


A Review of Facial-Recognition-Based Applications in Disease Diagnosis

This review of facial recognition technologies (FRT) outlines the application of FRT in the diagnosis of diseases. Though most diseases manifest internally, some outward facial characteristics are unique biomarkers that can help in the diagnosis of endocrine, metabolic, genetic, neuromuscular, and rare disorders. 

Surprisingly, some AI-based FRT have superior performance in diagnosis, even exceeding that of a provider! But this is primarily because some conditions are so rarely seen among patients that it is difficult to detect for many doctors. I am willing to bet that when it comes to some diseases, the benefits of FRT could very well outweigh the cost because of its potential to diagnose patients earlier than many doctors are able, and from anywhere in the world. The Face2Gene application suite, for example, can match facial phenotypes to ultra-rare genetic conditions, facilitating more precise genetic assessments for doctors. 

According to the review, what makes FRT possible is the advancement of algorithms and technologies that make the application of FRT viable. Three-dimensional photography, mobile devices, and maturing facial recognition software make it possible to capture patients during the medical visit and at home. Advancements in machine learning, deep learning, and convolutional neural networks have improved the accuracy of FRTs’ capability in feature extraction.

What is very exciting here is the ability to improve health outcomes by earlier detection of difficult-to-diagnose conditions just from facial phenotypes, but there are some ethical aspects to consider. For example, how much privacy should our human faces have, given it is such a public feature? And to what degree can facial characteristics become an acceptable medical record? What does this mean for HIPAA? There are many questions yet to answer as the use of FRT becomes more prevalent in healthcare. 

Facilitating Self-monitored Physical Rehabilitation with Virtual Reality and Haptic Feedback

Critical to recovery after joint replacement operation is physical rehabilitation. Currently, physical rehab requires in-house treatment supervised by therapists, and sadly self-monitored rehabilitation is not easily available. Part of the problem is that existing computer-assisted systems lack portability features. For example, much of the work on self-monitoring rehab systems utilized traditional screen displays, which were found to be hard to move when performing motion exercises. 

This study highlights exciting possibilities in rehabilitation. The use of VR with supplemental haptic motion guidance could fill the gap, giving patients the opportunity to receive rehabilitation at home. Researchers conducted focus group surveys and observed total knee arthroplasty (TKA) therapy sessions to come up with design recommendations for the VR  and haptic mechanisms, and then carried out the feedback in the application of a self-monitored VR rehab and haptic guidance system called VReHab. 

Semi-structured interviews validated the system’s effectiveness with patients. Users found the haptic feedback subtle with no discomfort, and perceived the vibrations as helpful. While the participants preferred exercising with their therapists in general, they were willing to use the VReHab when clinical sessions were not an option. 

This is a key point in the discussion. While the care and guidance of a medical provider is the best kind of care available, what we also know is that barriers in access to therapy pervade our healthcare system. Many patients face a lack of transportation, or feel too sick to travel to receive the therapy they need. This is especially relevant in rural areas where the closest specialist may be hours away, or in urban areas where there are too few specialists to meet the demands of a city. Under these circumstances, immersive tech has the potential and promise to fill a need. What are your thoughts? How can we use VR to deliver much-needed care?

The Year of the “Virtual Date”: Reimagining Dating Apps During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In the past decade or so, dating apps have been instrumental in forging connections. Yet, the need to ensure safety from transmission during COVID-19, required the makers of the apps to reimagine the new normal of dating or face a crisis of relevance. Researchers in this study examined how eight dating apps were repurposed during the pandemic by analyzing app features, functionalities, interfaces, as well as corporate and promotional materials.

Findings show a clear pivot in the industry from facilitating in-person encounters to promoting non-physical, emotional interactions. The change required a shift in marketing alongside technological features that improved synchronous digital connections and encouraged virtual dating. Interestingly, researchers discovered that marketing messages began to disassociate from any suggestions towards certain behaviors (like the use of the app to meet others for casual sex). Instead, curated stories were shared suggesting lack of physical contact would generate deeper emotional bonds.

To facilitate dating in digital, audio and video communication platforms were integrated in the apps, which allowed the user to establish the authenticity of a potential partner. Additional authentication methods were added with in-app social verification features to ensure safety. Some apps went so far as to import data from social media friend networks to confirm accurate representation. 

COVID-19 is here to stay, so are we all set to virtually date the rest of our lives? I think that may be a personal question. Though, a really interesting thought I got from this is that repurposing technology to maintain relevance, to redefine the relations we have – that is the new normal in business. What were once exciting new innovations, is currently how we, as humans, are adapting in an ever-changing world. It’s hard to imagine a time without email, social media, and video conferencing, which revolutionized the landscape of work and life connections. Now, these tools undergo their own form of Darwinism, having to evolve in response to crises. What do you think? Is the new type of Darwinism, Digital Darwinism? 

App Building Resources


Do you have thoughts about the topics in our digest? Feel free to contact me with your impression and ideas, and be a part of the conversation in our next Health & Science Tech Digest. 

Get Our Health & Science Tech Digest Sent to you Monthly

Subscribe to our Health & Science Tech Huddle newsletter to get this curated list of relevant news, research, and resources sent to your inbox each month. Plus get additional resources designed to empower health & science innovators.