Medication reminders that know when you're eating and 4 other Google digital health patents

By Jonah Comstock
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Google has filed another interesting healthcare-related patent, a mechanism that could detect when a patient is eating and issue a contextual reminder to take a medication. 

Israel-based patent authors Asaf Zomet and Michael Shynar describe the patented invention as one that uses some mechanism to detect when the user is eating, confirms that this is the case, and then delivers “a reminder to consume at least one particular ingestible substance, such as a medication”.

The accompanying illustration shows a smartwatch-like device, which could be the means for both detecting the user is eating (based on unique wrist or arm movements) and delivering the reminder. But the reminder could also come via text or email and, as VentureBeat points out, the detection could rely variously on blood sugar, time, location, or video or audio cues to determine that the user is eating. The patent doesn’t specify.

One thing it could be related to is Lift Labs, a company Google bought last year that produces tremor-cancelling eating utensils for people with Parkinson’s disease. Verily (formerly Google X Life Sciences) could be planning to add medication reminders to future versions of Liftware.

Patents, especially from large companies like Google, don’t always amount to anything, it’s important to note. Below is a roundup of a few other health-related Google patents that garnered some attention in the press over the years.

Needle-free blood draw patent

Last month, the USPTO published a Google patent for a needle-free blood drawing device. It could be in the form of a wrist wearable or a handheld device, and it would attract a small amount of blood (enough, notably, for a blood glucose test) by piercing the skin with a microparticle. This could be related to Verily’s partnership with DexcomIt could certainly play into Dexcom’s stated intention of getting into the Type 2 diabetes market.

Smart contact lens patent

This is the rare patent where it’s pretty clear that it is related to an existing product — the glucose-sensing contact lens Google is developing with Novartis subsidiary Alcon. But the patent application, published in September, gave us some new insights into how the device might be powered and packaged, and suggested some additional applications for smart contact lenses beyond diabetes and presbyopia.

Cancer-fighting smartwatch

In May, Google filed a patent not with the USPTO, but with the World Intellectual Property Organization. The patent was for a wrist-worn device that would “selectively bind to targets in the blood that have adverse health effects” allowing “the targets to be selectively modified or destroyed by energy from outside the body such that the adverse health effects are reduced or eliminated”. 

It may sound far-fetched, but it’s not too different from the nanoparticle work that Verily is already doing with its “cancer pill”.

Lie-detecting e-tattoo

This one was spotted by The Atlantic in 2013 buried in a patent application about using an electronic tattoo on the throat to make it easier to have phone calls in noisy rooms. Further down, the application suggests that the tattoo could also sense galvanic skin response — something that could have applications for lie detecting, as well as, potentially, for health monitoring.