Saving lives and delivering innovative care: when mobility and health care intersect

This feature is courtesy of Driven, the story of how the Detroit region is leading the world in next-generation mobility.
The mobility industry has seen major growth in recent years as a variety of stakeholders have begun to realize the potential of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV). Now the health care industry is undergoing a similar transformation, and intersections between the two sectors stand to truly change – and save – lives.

"Health care is now becoming the same way that mobility was: more open to other ideas from other industries," says Jonathan So, senior director of health care initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber. "There's a cultural overlap between the two."

Jonathan So, senior director of healthcare initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber, says opportunities for intersections of mobility and health care will grow as the two industries connect.

The implications for intersections between the two industries are wide-ranging. Perhaps most obvious is the effect CAV deployment could have on the occurrence of car accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration counted 37,641 deaths from car accidents in 2016, and it also finds that 94 percent of car crashes are caused by human error.

"We know we can't go on killing people at this rate, and we know we can't spend this much money trying to repair the people that are injured," says Philip Hessburg, an ophthalmologist at Henry Ford Health System and a member of the planning committee for The Eye, the Brain, and the Auto, an upcoming world research congress in Detroit that will focus on mobility's impact on healthcare. He adds that if CAV could eliminate the high percentage of deaths caused by human error, "that allows people to spend an awful lot more money studying cancer or trying to cure blindness or doing an awful lot of other things in medicine."

But the interactions between health care and mobility could also be far more specialized and sophisticated. So raises the possibility of using autonomous vehicles not only to transport the elderly and people without a car to medical facilities, but also to transport medications to patients' homes.

"Mobility is not just about bringing people to places," he says. "It's about bringing goods and services to people. So as we think about that standpoint, the question is: can we bring care closer to the patient in every setting?"

Philip Hessburg is an ophthalmologist at Henry Ford Health System and is planning The Eye, the Brain, and the Auto world research congress in Detroit.

Using mobility innovation to bring care to the patient

That's the question Shadi Mere is seeking to answer with his Ann Arbor-based mobility company, Bedestrian, which is currently developing an autonomous vehicle for prescription delivery, among other functions. Bedestrian is currently testing the vehicle for use within a single hospital campus, where prescription transport is currently accomplished using costly, antiquated vacuum tube systems that break down frequently.

"If you have a robotic system that actually transfers this, it's secure, it's fast, and it's reliable," Mere says. "There's really a lot of potential inside the hospitals."

But Mere is also envisioning a variety of other possibilities for Bedestrian's technology once it's tested. Bedestrian vehicles could deliver prescriptions directly to patients' homes, or pick up old prescriptions from patients' homes for safe disposal. Mere says he became interested in combining mobility and health after working on other projects in the health care sector and realizing the numerous needs mobility could fill in the industry.

"It started becoming very clear to us that the two not only intersect, but they have a lot of value that's still really unexplored," he says.

Shadi Mere's Ann Arbor-based Bedestrian uses mobility to disrupt the way health care is delivered to patients.

Health your car?

At the next level of intersection between mobility and health, sensors within a vehicle's cabin could measure and react to a variety of biometric signatures from the driver – such as analyzing the driver's breath for alcohol content.

"We could test for more acute things, like this person's about to have a seizure or a heart attack and we need to pull this vehicle over," So says. "Or it could be more subtle, over time, and chronic, like we notice your blood pressure is getting high as you hold on to the steering wheel. We want to get you alerted to this and maybe we'll contact your physician."

Hessburg notes that there are still numerous legal issues to consider in determining the way information would be collected and shared through such technology, which is still largely in its infancy. But it's certainly not a far-fetched concept. Plymouth-based car seat manufacturer Adient is considering adapting the sensors it uses for its seat comfort adjustment system to measure drivers' vital signs.

So from the Detroit Regional Chamber says the opportunities for intersections between mobility and health care are "limited only by the idea that these two industries aren't talking to each other as much as they should be." But even that is beginning to change in a major way here in Detroit, as exemplified by the upcoming international gathering of representatives from both industries at The Eye, the Brain, and the Auto.

This will be the eighth iteration of the research congress, which was previously focused more specifically on the relationship between visual impairments and driving. But Hessburg says issues of intersection between the emerging mobility industry and the broader health care industry became impossible to ignore.

"We are way ahead of the game in that we don't know any other health care institution in the United States – or in Europe, for that matter – that has started to think about how a disruptive technology, autonomous mobility, is going to affect health care," Hessburg says.
Larry Burns is the former vice president of research and development for General Motors and a keynote speaker at The Eye, the Brain, and the Auto.
Larry Burns is the former vice president of research and development for General Motors and a keynote speaker at The Eye, the Brain, and the Auto. He says the research congress is one key early sign that Detroit could be the focal point for collaboration between the health and mobility industries.

"Usually these things happen because you get an ecosystem of common interest, a critical mass of know-how that becomes the magnet for work in a particular area," Burns says. "You attract the best minds to the best universities and the best companies working in this space, and the next thing you know you become a hub. So just the fact that these questions are being asked now suggests it's an opportunity for the Detroit area."

Hessburg takes that one step further, asserting that Detroit is "the perfect city" to facilitate connections between the health and mobility sectors – and the time to build those connections is now.

"A lot people think this is Star Wars stuff," he says. "Well, it isn't Star Wars stuff anymore. We're putting devices in the brain. We're measuring the chemical ingredients of breath at a level we've never done before. So these things are all today. They're not six years from now or 20 years from now."

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer and the managing editor of Concentrate.

Photos by Nick Hagen, except where otherwise indicated.

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