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Medicine Input Devices Wii Games

Wii Balance Board Gives $18,000 Medical Device a Run For Its Money 422

Posted by timothy
from the hat-tip-to-tim-o-reilly dept.
Gizmodo highlights a very cool repurposing effort for the Wii's Balance Board accessory. Rather than the specialized force platforms used to quantify patients' ability to balance after a trauma like stroke, doctors at the University of Melbourne thought that a Balance Board might serve as well. Says the article: "When doctors disassembled the board, they found the accelerometers and strain gauges to be of 'excellent' quality. 'I was shocked given the price: it was an extremely impressive strain gauge set-up.'" Games controllers you'd expect to be durable and at least fairly accurate; what's surprising is just how much comparable, purpose-built devices cost. In this case, the Balance Board (just under $100) was compared favorably with a test platform that costs just a shade less than $18,000.
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Wii Balance Board Gives $18,000 Medical Device a Run For Its Money

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2010 @05:54PM (#30801594)

    Actually, you're forgetting the "there's only 2 companies on the planet that build this particular specialist piece of equipment so we're going to charge you through the nose for it" surcharge. Let's face it, medical appliances are outrageously expensive because they can get away with it, not because they actually "cost" that much.

  • Price-gouging (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @05:55PM (#30801598)

    Is it due to the Wii's balance board being terribly cheap or is it due to the the price of the "medical-grade" device being extremely over-inflated? Some of the prices practised by medical equipment and even drug distributors are insane and they always hide behind the mysterious "it's fantastic, medical-grade stuff" and that quite possibly is plain bullshit to increase their profit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2010 @05:56PM (#30801614)

    With price comes respectability. That's why Christian Science practitioners always make a point of charging for their prayers roughly as much as a real doctor would charge for treatment: They know that something given away will not be percieved as effective.

    Same thing here. Stick a patient on a wii board, and they'll regard it as quack rubbish. Stick them on an $18,000 purpose-built and impressive piece of diagnostic equipment with the logo of a respected medical equipment manufacturer (ie, not nintendo) and they'll feel far more confident, even if they do exactly the same thing equally well.

    Customers who feel they arn't being given an expensive enough service are more likely to sue the hospital.

  • by chuckymonkey (1059244) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `notrub.d.selrahc'> on Sunday January 17, 2010 @06:02PM (#30801674) Journal
    Video games: Why waste good technology on science and medicine? Kidding aside, I think that it's a good thing that these machines are being re-purposed. I wish that we could do it for a lot more equipment and drive down the cost of health care a little.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2010 @06:02PM (#30801678)

    I had been prescribed a medical device to assist in night time breathing... after asking the clinic person to show me an itemized list of parts and costs, I was shocked at the bill - over $2,200 (USD). She was annoyed that I wanted this list printed out because my insurance was "going to pay for it anyway..."

    A few months later, my insurance no longer wishes to pay the rental costs - so I have to return it or pay $250/month. Found online for $700 new and delivered with three years of support.

    Only when you put medical care in a truly competitive market is when you'll actually see competitive prices.

  • Re:No wonder (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2010 @06:17PM (#30801836)

    Oh ,there is much more to it than that...

    A friend of mine recently had to wear a device that helps bones knit faster by using electromagnetic fields. The device cost (his insurance) $5000. I am an electrical engineer, so I couldn't resist tearing it apart to see what it was. Maybe, maybe, $20 worth of electronics. More likely $5 when manufactured with coolie labor in China.

    And the reason my friend was willing to let me tear it apart? It can only be used once! It is designed to permanently disable itself after one period of treatment.

    What a waste of time and resources. What a gouge to the medical consumer. You wanna talk about controlling health cost? Start here.

  • Eyetoy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2010 @06:18PM (#30801844)

    The eyetoy from the PS3 is also de best camera in the market and it costs less than 40€. It has 75 degree wide lenses and can reach 125 fps. This is much more than what most cameras do. Even the 200€ ones.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2010 @06:26PM (#30801916)

    Not really, demand is a curve, not a point. The difference is that the demand curve for medical devices is fairly steep relative to consumer electronics - the change in price needed to cause an appreciable change in demand is fairly drastic since the amount hospitals want is fairly fixed, where a small price changes would cause large changes in demand for consumer electronics. It thus makes more sense to move further "right" along the demand curve (p = D(x) - price at which x units are demanded) and make up the smaller profit margin with larger volume. You also have a market that warrants mass production rather than small scale - think handcrafted furniture vs IKEA.

  • Re:No wonder (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @06:29PM (#30801942)

    Medical malpractice lawsuits are tort cases... and we know how much testing is only done because of fear of the lawsuits. Limit the liability, and there would be much less wasted medicine being practiced.

    Hasn't seemed to make much difference in Texas - the state with so much tort reform that the Governor likes to brag that malpractice insurance rates have come down - but no metric that measure the quality of healthcare has improved, for example:

    • The percentage of uninsured people in Texas has increased, remaining the highest in the country with a quarter of Texans now uninsured;
    • The cost of health insurance in the state has more than doubled;
    • The cost of health care in Texas (measured by per patient Medicare reimbursements) has increased at nearly double the national average; and
    • Spending increases for diagnostic testing (measured by per patient Medicare reimbursements) have far exceeded the national average.

    Even worse - most of the malpractice savings have gone to the insurance companies, because malpractice payments have gone 67% but malpractice insurance premiums have only gone down 27%.

    Public Citizen, Dec 17th, 2009 [citizen.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2010 @06:43PM (#30802036)

    Not really. I think what's happening with consumer gear becoming more and more complex and "agile" is that the whole concept of expensive custom hardware is becoming obsolete.

    While some devices (MRIs, x-rays machines, ultrasound imagers) are legitimately expensive, other gear, such as the one in the article, are being revealed to be extremely simple devices that are simple marked up due to the OEM knowing that their target market has deep pockets.

    In some ways, it's analogous to the software movement in the late 80s where software engineers and their tools were in such shortage that they were only found in high budget corporate and government settings. The commodification of computers led to computer programmers becoming commonplace, allowing the development of cheap software development on consumer grade computers and paving the way for the open source movement where programmers' time is in such supply that they can afford to give it away for free(tm).

    The mass production and wide availability of advanced components such as accelerometers, GPS chips, DSPs and other previously prohibitively expensive items are bringing highly sophisticated applications into the realms of the consumer where novel ideas are being explored and old expensive ideas are being redone with a Made In China label on them.

    Finally, I could maybe buy the insurance line if we were talking perhaps even a few multiples, but a $100 device to $18k? That's one hell of an insurance policy.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @08:01PM (#30802694)

    What you fail to see, and what the GP identified successfully, is risk. Now, with average consumer equipment the risk is very close to zero. If it doesn't work, no biggie. Get the customer to return it and 2-4 weeks later he'll get a replacement. If he gets hurt in the process of using it, no biggie either. We just told him we're not responsible for any dumb accident he might run into. If that can't be excluded, the price goes up.

    I hate car analogies like anyone, but in this case it's one of the things where liability is part of the price. Faulty cars can result in incredible cost, and that is reflected in the price. You get the same with dangerous work and the compensation you get for it. And illegal drugs are not really expensive due to high manufacturing costs either, or an insane demand compared to the supply (you'd be surprised how high the supply for some drugs really is...). It's the risk involved.

    You can actually get medical equipment very cheaply, provided you declare that you will not use it for human use. What else you could use a heart monitor for is beyond me, but when they can strip liability from the price tag, the price goes down. Considerably down. Think 1/10th of the "all warranties included" price tag. It's probably easier to see for the everyday user with consumables. Syringes can be used for more than injecting something into a living body, thus you can get the same syringes with or without "medical" quality. Both kinds are essentially the same syringes. One kind is "certified" and thus with all liability and warranty attached, one isn't. Both are equally sterile, simply because the manufacturing process is the same, they roll off the same presses. Now compare the price.

  • by JWW (79176) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @08:28PM (#30802888)

    Risk makes health care expensive? I though that including malpractice reform in health care reform wouldn't really matter with respect to cost......

    Note as shown very directly by this article, the cost of malpractice insurance at every level of healthcare is a major driver of the enormous cost and leaving tort reform out of the current health care "reform" was unacceptable.

  • by Civil_Disobedient (261825) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @08:41PM (#30802970)

    I believe you are confusing the words "price" and "cost." It would be laughable to suggest the cost of such an item was anywhere near $18,000.

    But the price of something has very little to do with its cost. The price of something--anything--is very quickly and easily determined using the following formula:

    Whatever someone will pay.

    If someone wants to have their wallet fleeced to the tune of ~$17,500, I sure as hell wouldn't try to stop them.

  • by germansausage (682057) on Sunday January 17, 2010 @11:37PM (#30804138)
    Here's another example. Back a long time ago (late 70s) when I was at university we had a professor doing "Aids for the Blind". He was working on a computer system that could synthesize human speech. He had about $50,000 of DEC minicomputers plus another $20,000 of hand-built D-A converter boards in the lab, and was able to successfully read individual words from text files and convert them to almost recognizable speech. That summer TI released the Speak and Spell, which did better speech synthesis for $29.
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Monday January 18, 2010 @12:04AM (#30804322)

    And people are telling me elsewhere that tort reform and health care are not the same thing. I disagree with that. If hospitals were allowed to post a sign saying "We'll do our best to help you, but if we fail or make it worse we're not responsible." then health care would cost a whole lot less.

  • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@jws[ ]he.com ['myt' in gap]> on Monday January 18, 2010 @12:44AM (#30804578) Homepage Journal

        There are different levels of IR.

        The IR that most people are familiar with is just below the visible spectrum, which lets stuff like the Sony camera shoot in the dark, with an IR emitter. Basically, a light that it can see by.

        Thermal imaging IR is "long IR", which shows heat. Anyone above 0 degrees kelvin puts off light at very low frequencies that we can't see. And no, there's no such animal as a $500 thermal imaging camera. You're looking at a starting price of about $3K. If Sony, or anyone else, were to produce a camera that retails at $500, they'd definitely do it. It's not a privacy concern that keeps the price high, it's the simple fact that the components are still very expensive.

        Seeing through walls is pure scifi. You'd see the temperature of the wall. You may (just may) see something through a wall, if it's hot or cold enough to change the temperature of the wall. Like, you could see the general shape of a fire through a wall, because it's heating the wall. In scifi it works through "suspension of reality". You believe what you're shown, because it's necessary to the plot. Some people don't understand an impossible technology used in a movie, so they assume that it's real.

        You'd be able to see through a glass window though, assuming nothing pesky like blinds are in the way. So, a couple having sex in a dark room, seen through an open window, is perfectly possible. Either IR would work, but that isn't quite what was suggested.

  • by King_TJ (85913) on Monday January 18, 2010 @11:58AM (#30808600) Journal

    Yes, but all of what you just said further illustrates why govt. bureaucracy is causing our medical expenses to spiral out of control. It's not sustainable. The only people who really "win" in this mess are the attorneys, and all the talk of medical reform in the USA right now conveniently skips changes in THAT area.

    Not long ago, I was reading about a heart surgeon in India who among other things, got tired of the high cost of medical sutures. Apparently, the only supplier of the ones he needed was the Johnson & Johnson company, and they kept increasing prices each year. He finally got some investors together, who opened their OWN manufacturing facility to produce the sutures in India at a far lower cost, so he can now buy from them and cut at least 35% off of his annual expenses for them. (Since he's running huge clinics doing nothing but heart surgeries there, he benefits more than most would from "economy of scale".)

    It seems to me, that's exactly the type of change the medical field needs to see. Unfortunately, government legislation often seems to stand in the way of progress here in America. (A doctor my friend knows heard this story about the medical sutures and angrily protested, "But I'm not even legally ALLOWED to invest in such a thing as a surgeon in the US!")

    As it stands now, doesn't it bother you at least a LITTLE bit that you had to fork out upwards of $250,000 in *lawyer fees* just to prove that it was ok for a hospital to start using what's really just a touch-screen PC in a hardened metal frame?

  • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday January 18, 2010 @01:42PM (#30809978) Homepage Journal

    Any health reform that does not change this won't contain costs. What you are wrong about is the idea that a one-payer system can't change this. It may not - I can think of several plausible national health care systems that wouldn't - but some in Europe do.

    Agreed. I was speaking primarily of the approaches being bandied about for the US, all of which would strongly favor low or no-deductible coverage and trivial co-pays.

    That said, I am not in favor of a national health care system.

    A systen where deductibles were $10,000 minimum with 50-90% of costs (depending on price etc) were covered after that, would do wonders for keeping costs down and improving medical tech (that last bit national health care tends to be rather poor at)

    T

    $10K is a bit higher than I would go, especially if the deductible resets annually. For many people a $10,000 bill is a financial catastrophe. I'd start it at half that, maybe a little less. Although I'm generally quite libertarian, in this case I think I'd also like to see forced health care savings. The collection process could be handled similar to social security, with the (very important!) difference that the funds are deposited in an account owned by the individual. So any employed (or self-employed) individual would begin building a health savings account from the first day they start collecting a paycheck. Since people are generally healthy in their younger years, that should ensure that by the time they start experiencing significant medical expenses they CAN afford a $10K deductible. At retirement, any money in the health care savings account should convert to a traditional IRA. Funds withdrawn and spend on health care should be tax deductible, other withdrawals should be taxed as income.

    Similarly, in order to ensure that insurers can spread risks across the broadest possible pool, I would suggest that at least a basic level of high-deductible insurance be mandatory for everyone who is employed. I'd leave it to private insurers to compete for the business, but every employed person would be required to purchase medical insurance meeting the mandated minimum standards for catastrophic coverage. Setting the standards low and requiring everyone to buy should allow premiums to be very reasonable. Making coverage mandatory would also allow us to legislate that insurers cannot decline to cover an individual without worry that it would encourage the healthy to opt out.

    It should also be mandatory to purchase coverage for your dependents.

    All that "mandatory" stuff really goes against my principles, but I think it's impractical to allow people opt out -- because we're too soft-hearted to TRULY allow them to opt out. As long as we don't feel comfortable refusing emergency treatment to those who can't pay, we need to focus instead on ensuring that everyone can pay because they're full participants in the system.

    Even requiring everyone who is employed (and their dependents) doesn't fully resolve the issue. There are still people who are unemployed, and there are people who do get very sick while still too young to have built up significant health savings. We need to make it easy for relatives and charities to help out, and we probably need government intervention to arrange for coverage when that fails. It should be handled at the state level, though, not federal, to allow us to explore a variety of options and figure out what works well.

    That's how I'd set it up, if I were in charge :) You're probably glad I'm not.

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