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The Evolving Role of the Consumer Electronic Show: A Technology Forum for Healthcare & Pain Medicine Innovation

The Evolving Role of the Consumer Electronic Show: A Technology Forum for Healthcare & Pain Medicine Innovation

Colleague David Cassius, MD, a Seattle-based pain doctor and technology enthusiast, glowingly called the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) “a true treasure trove of technology with serious implications for the medical field and pain management,” citing consumer-based neuromodulation, virtual reality (VR) devices, and the emergence of 5G as just a few examples of breakthrough, disruptive technologies promising to revolutionize patient care in the future.

Addressing the all-important national opioid crisis, the 2019 conference held from January 8th to 11th in Las Vegas, NV, featured a Digital Health Summit, focused on how technology may artfully help to address chronic pain challenges, opioid dependency, and other chronic disease states. The advent of wearable technology allowing real-time monitoring of vital signs and other physiologic data, for example, may facilitate optimal tracking of patients on opioid therapy as well as those tapering off opioids. Below are a few highlights.


CES Press ImageCES 2019 Las Vegas

Neuromodulation and Opioid-Weaning Technology

The use of electricity in the neuromodulation of pain has great potential as an opioid-sparing intervention. There are several major disadvantages such as cost, a requirement for greater research validation, and the need for interventional surgical placement. The availability of a newer generation of less invasive, drug-free devices which act at the periphery (essentially shutting down pain impulses before they reach the spinal cord) have now been FDA-approved.

Virtual Reality (VR)

Advances in VR promise to help patients wean off opioids using distraction techniques, specifically by providing a visual and aural experience that focuses the patient’s attention and limits the nervous system’s ability to process pain signals. The use of both audio and video (eg, music) in the VR space may promote relaxation among patients with chronic pain. Gaming that includes the use of VR may also be useful to improve behavioral, cognitive, and neurologic function.


Working to optimize and monitor vital function, wearable sensing technology is targeting broader chronic conditions. Certain parameters in pain patients (eg, heart rate, respiration rate), as well as prescription compliance, will ensure that this “sensing technology” is moving beyond diabetic glucose tracking to allow for better provider-patient communication in regards to peripheral neuropathy and pain.

In addition, motion-analysis devices designed for sports biomechanics may aid in injury-induced pain prevention, and fitness tracking may even help patients to avoid injury using smart fabrics that monitor vital signs.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Pain management and the point-of-service ability of AI software technology to interpret camera images of patients experiencing pain based on physiognomic parameters, for example, is now possible. Robotics may be used to detect and monitor pain through facial recognition as well.

Handheld Ultrasounds

A handheld diagnostic ultrasound probe from Butterfly Network (New York) attached to a Smartphone may help interventional specialists perform guided injections, specifically for musculoskeletal pain conditions.

5G and Wireless Devices

The next generation of cellular mobile technology, 5G, may soon offer clinicians the advantage of higher bandwidth, lower latency, and increased data transmission rates. For a spine specialist requiring stat images from a radiology facility, for instance, 5G can provide swifter data transmission at 20 gigs per second. Wireless devices and their subsequent services allow physician communication to reach new speeds and efficiency.

NanoScent (Israel)

A startup specializing in technology for scent recognition, this device holds the potential to selectively detect the presence of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in ambient air emanating from respiratory exhalations. By combining the power of AI, sensor technology, and proprietary elements, the device may prove to be a revolutionary breakthrough in pain and addiction medicine. For example, clinicians seeking to conduct a toxicology prescreen can detect the ambient presence of substances (prescribed or otherwise) such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cocaine, barbiturates, suboxone, opioids, etc.

Other Relevant Devices Seen at the Show

  • 3D Printing: Prototypes are being built to create more customizable prosthetic devices.
  • Accessibility: Technology has adapted to become more accessible to patients with disabling conditions. For example, Windows and iOS both offer built-in support for eye control, potentially allowing pain patients with crippling hand and arm arthritis to bypass the use of a typical computer mouse. This, in turn, may open the gates to enhanced learning, communication, and mobility, improving quality of life for those with pain-related disabilities.
  • Pediatric Devices: Gadgets aimed at engaging, monitoring, and entertaining pediatric pain patients, such as strollers with GPS and pulse oximetry, are being developed.
  • Drones: Drones have the potential to be useful in monitoring patient mobility and functionality in real-time.
  • Self-Driving Technology: Self-driving cars may change the lives of individuals living with paralysis and may also assist those with limited mobility to park and avoid collisions.
  • Sleep Aid Technology: For those suffering from pain and insomnia or sleep disturbance, there are new ways to enhance the bedtime experience. Devices such as Smart Sleep from Philips (Amsterdam), a new wearable chest strap that deepens the quality of sleep by measuring snoring and providing a subtle vibratory stimulus to change positions, can be useful for fibromyalgia and other pain patients facing sleep deprivation.
  • Smart Home Devices: For elderly patients, these devices provide security and can control appliances including lighting, windows, and entertainment.
  • Watergen (Israel): Awarded the 2019 CES Best Innovation Prize: Maintaining proper hydration is essential to all aspects of medical care, but especially to individuals under pain management. Watergen purifies water extracted from a dehumidifier into potable drinking water that may be consumed in pain management clinics and other hospital settings.

Overall, the age-old art and science of medicine and the practice of pain management, in particular, has the potential to be dramatically transformed and optimized through the adoption of modern and emerging consumer technology. Advances in digital medicine and mHealth apps often have their origins in disruptive developments and breakthroughs showcased at consumer meetings such as CES. Novel solutions for diagnosing, monitoring, and treating pain-related illnesses are emerging, including drug delivery. Advanced progress being made in the consumer technology arena promises to enhance quality of life in patients facing chronic, disabling conditions.

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