The Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize posted the final guidelines, detailing how devices will be judged for the $10 million prize when evaluation begins in 2014. (Update: The group has since removed the final guidelines from its website and expects to officially release them when registration for the prize opens on January 8th.)
Sponsored by tech giant Qualcomm’s philanthropic arm, the Qualcomm Foundation, the X Prize offers $10 million to the teams that can create the best handheld health scanner, similar to the medical tricorders seen in the Star Trek television shows. X Prize has gone as far as to license the trademarked term from CBS and has used several Star Trek fan events as publicity platforms for the prize, even recruiting Brent Spiner (Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Data) as a spokesperson.
The contest guidelines
When the first round of judging happens in April 2014, devices will be assessed based on information submitted by the teams and a controlled demonstration. The assessment will include both a consumer experience evaluation and a health assessment, each comprising 45 percent of a team’s score (the remaining 10 percent will be based on efficacy or feasibility data the team submits).
The consumer experience segment includes the device’s appearance, simplicity, the design and ease of use of the interface, and “engagement,” a category that tests the degree to which the device coaxes the consumer to begin and continue using it.
The health assessment consists of 13 core diseases, 12 elective diseases, and five vital signs the device should be capable of constantly monitoring. To pass the qualifying round, a device must diagnose at least 13 conditions, including five core diseases, one elective disease and three vital signs. In the final round, however, scanners will need to detect the whole core set, all the vitals, and three of the 12 elective diseases.
In the final round, held in Q1 2015, the devices will be tested in a variety of ways, including clinical tests on sick patients and focus group-like feedback from physicians and consumer users. Consumer testers will try out the devices over the course of three months between January and March.
The device also has to weigh less than five pounds, and can’t rely on any input from medical professionals, like outsourcing to a medical call center. The winner will receive $7 million, the runner-up will get $2 million, and third place will get $1 million.
A supplement, not a replacement
X Prize director Mark Winter was clear that the X Prize team doesn’t see the eventual product as a replacement for doctors.
“We see this tool not as an interloper, but a valuable bridge,” he told MobiHealthNews. “We do not see this as a way to eliminate physicians from the process.”
The new guidelines, however, talk about de-skilling healthcare and reducing the role providers must play.
“[A]s our understanding deepens, the established system is being disrupted by innovations allowing us to more easily make reliable assessments that thus ‘de‐skill’ medicine,” the document reads. “Teams of highly skilled engineers operated the first computers, but today’s smart phones (which have infinitely more computing power) can be operated by a ten-year-old effectively. Why not healthcare?”
Winter said the two viewpoints aren’t inconsistent. He sees the tricorder driving down healthcare costs by eliminating unnecessary emergency room visits and hospital readmissions. The more easy diagnosis a machine can do, the less a doctor has to.
“If you contrast some of the early devices for taking blood sugar, they generated information that could only be understood by a physician or a nurse. And today we have consumer glucometers, which revolutionized the management of diabetes as a result,” he said. “What we’re advocating is really no different.”