As a doctor, every day I’m reminded that the way we think about health care is rapidly evolving. We’re finally beginning to appreciate that our patients are in fact consumers of healthcare and as such, should be treated in a way that engenders loyalty, engagement and even delight. Our patients are growing increasingly accustomed to a mobile, on-demand, and thoughtfully designed experience in their daily lives from companies like Apple, Amazon, and Airbnb, all striving to serve and retain their customers. We as health care providers are challenged not only by increasing costs, governmental mandates and complexity of care but a customer that has higher expectations of how health care should be.
At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, there were over 170,000 attendees, 3,600 vendors and 38 football fields of space. While a growing, yet small fraction of it was decidedly focused on health care, a great deal can be learned from the technologies on display. For me, it was a chance to see where medicine and health care are headed.
As I walked the expansive space of the so-called “wearables” section at CES, I witnessed literally hundreds of companies all vying for the wrists and attention of users. For the moment, these devices are largely fitness enhancers, however in the not-too-distant future these pioneering examples will advance to become chronic disease managers and remote patient monitoring devices that will truly transform medicine as we know it.
With the ubiquity of sensors and their declining cost and power consumption, everything has become or is getting connected and intelligent, from Wi-Fi scales and tiny glucometers to mattresses that can detect your child’s restfulness, heart rate, and breathing pattern. Yet a few companies already stand out in their ability to tackle clinically important problems and have worked with clinicians to build truly disruptive solutions.
One example, Qardio, developed a suite of smart devices including a wearable electrocardiogram, or ECG, and blood pressure monitor that intelligently collects, displays, and securely shares data, a likely valuable solution for patients with chronic heart disease and hypertension. Another startup, Muse, leverages the amazing advances in sensor technology to fit a clinical-grade electroencephalogram, or EEG, into a beautifully designed headband and app with impressive potential clinical applications, such as treating ADHD, anxiety, and depression. Other highlights included Resound, a brilliant, iPhone-connected hearing aid that gives the user the ability to customize their hearing aids in the context of location and situation.
As these wearables become more of a clinical tool than merely a personal wellness device, the data analytics and ability to serve up meaningful, reliable, and actionable data to one’s care team will be critical. Young Sohn of Samsung suggested at the Digital Health Summit that their Simband will generate a gigabyte of data per day! Who will make sense of that? Who will manage the data and alerts that are generated? How will a physician tackle the deluge of data from hundreds of patients on their panels? The key will be in the analytics and I suspect the true winners in the business of this wearable war will be the data scientists, designers, and software engineers who can leverage the data to deliver it in a simple, user-friendly and actionable way that can easily be weaved into the workflow of busy clinical teams.
While perhaps not the same fidelity as an ECG or EEG done in a hospital, these over-the-counter products will easily provide patients more control and hopefully interest and engagement in their own health. These consumer devices and services will blaze the trail for our patients to become informed participants of their health management. Through telemedicine services and intelligently designed, consumer-focused medical devices such as CellScope, the tools that were once only found in a doctor’s bag are now available to everyone, dramatically lowering the barrier and cost to accessing care and ultimately improving the health of our patients.
It’s an exciting time to be in medicine and I look forward to watching us learn from and adopt some of the incredible innovations occurring in the consumer technology space.
Dr. Michael Docktor is a gastroenterologist at Boston Children’s Hospital who also acts as clinical director of innovation and the director of clinical mobile solutions.
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