The three main global goals of healthcare continue to be: improving the quality of care, universal access to care, and keeping costs under control. Technologies and remote connected healthcare are touted as the means to achieve the above goals, but the road may be long and winding. The encouraging news is that many innovators and start-ups are determined to make that happen.

With the growing and aging population worldwide, new opportunities and challenges include healthcare, which increases the possibility of independent living. Also making a difference will be the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in developing healthcare, the emergence of smart healthcare and smart consumer technologies and, finally, connected care and enhanced communication among loved ones. The recent Connected Health Summit produced by Parks Associates, a market research and consulting company specializing in emerging consumer technology, showcased a number of the healthcare trends on the horizon.

Households Will Be More Connected

As more and more households become connected, Parks Associates research has uncovered the following major findings:

  • 23 percent of U.S. broadband households have either a smart watch with fitness-tracking abilities or a digital pedometer/fitness tracker with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity. At its upcoming event, the research firm will explore the implications arising from the proliferation of connected medical devices, including how these capabilities can help the elderly and those living with chronic conditions to live independently at home. Parks Associates finds that the head of household in 57 percent of U.S. broadband households reports at least one chronic condition and 28 percent of these individuals have two or more chronic conditions.

  • 13 percent of heads of U.S. broadband households age 65 and older consider the ability to interact with an independent living system using voice controls a must-have feature. By comparison, 30 percent of current caregivers consider voice control a must-have feature.

  • 27 percent of heads of U.S. broadband households age 65 and older consider home security devices and services as must-have features for their ideal independent living systems. And 40 percent of consumers in broadband households own at least one connected health or wellness device.

  • Among heads of U.S. broadband households with a chronic condition, 33 percent believe a health monitoring device would help manage their condition, and 25 percent feel favorably about on-demand remote consultations.

  • 15 percent of U.S. broadband households have used a telecare service in the past 12 months. Also, 22 percent of U.S. broadband households have used a self-diagnosis app, such as iTriage, WebMD, Symptomate, and Ada, in the past 12 months.

Future Connected Health Trends

Over the next 10 years, look for these digital and connected health trends to emerge:

  • Increasing demand for independent living wellness solutions

  • Artificial intelligence as an integral part of healthcare.

  • Technologies that will continue to drive healthcare innovations, including new connected platforms, remote care, and voice interaction to enhance patient care.

Increasing demand for independent living wellness solutions. As human longevity increases, demands for quality independent living and wellness concerns also increase. Wellness is not limited to not getting sick. It includes all the elements that make individuals, including the elderly, happy with daily life. For those with less mobility and, perhaps, unable to depend mainly on loved ones, technology is creating solutions by providing remote health monitoring, the ability to communicate and connect socially, and entertainment.

Fran Ayalasomayajula, Head of Population Health, Worldwide HP, Inc. says, “Society must pay attention to the wellness of the aging population to reduce healthcare cost. Solution providers and the government must work together on solutions to meet their health and social needs.”

Additional challenges include the future care ratio gap as pointed out by AARP. When the care supply cannot meet the demand, there is a problem. Care costs will go up. Using technology and having an infrastructure to support seniors not only make sense but are critically important financially (see Figure 1).

Fig. 1 - Care ratio gap. (Source: AARP)

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. There are multiple factors that solution providers must consider. A study by Parks Associates reviews seven must-have features, as shown in Figure 2. It is encouraging to see that new start-ups and existing device companies are pouring resources into developing new solutions.

Fig. 2 - The seven must-have features an independent system must consider. (Source: Parks Associates)

Artificial intelligence will be an integral part of healthcare. Healthcare is going through a transformation. The solutions used in information technology and operational technology, namely, the IoT and artificial intelligence, will now be applied to healthcare. Currently the healthcare industry is experiencing symptoms of fragmentation. Technologies are used in some segments of healthcare such as remote care in which a patient can see a doctor online but it only exists in some geographic areas. To be accurate, the system is dealing with sick care and not healthcare. In general, patients are not in control of their state of health. Without a solution to the care ratio gap, the future of healthcare will be burdened with excess costs due to a growing, graying population.

Caregivers act on data whether it is obtained manually during patients’ hospital visits or automatically from remote care. To be able to monitor such data on an ongoing basis can be time consuming. With the advance of the IoT and connected healthcare, theoretically, caregivers can have access 24/7 and act if necessary. But humans alone cannot monitor the many patients who need attention.

And, as shown in Figure 3, while connected sensors can obtain data 24/7 from patients, there is the question of who (or what) will process such data and do something about it. AI will be the next stage of transformation. A well-designed AI system can process data in real time and alert caregivers when necessary. AI can potentially do a better job than human beings because it can process more data and cover more symptoms than humans can.

Fig. 3 - The “X” will be replaced by AI. A well-designed AI system can process data in real time and alert caregivers when necessary. (Source: Philips)

Technologies Will Continue to Drive Healthcare Innovations

Here are five examples of innovative medical solutions from Reflexion Health, LifePod, Heal, SleepScore Labs, and Livongo. These innovations are expected to change the landscape of connected healthcare in the coming years.

Reflexion Health offers remote physical therapy. One of the challenges in rehabilitation therapy is motivating patients to do the exercises (see Figure 4). That challenge becomes even more difficult when patients require assistance and time-consuming travel in order to see a therapist.

Fig. 4 - Reflexion Health’s VERA, an FDA-cleared Virtual Exercise Rehabilitation Assistant, is able to support and remotely monitor physical therapy exercises in real time. A video is available here. (Source: Reflexion Health)

Reflexion Health’s VERA®, an FDA-cleared virtual exercise rehabilitation assistant, supports and remotely monitors physical therapy exercises in real time. It brings the guidance of a physical therapist into the home to coach, motivate, and assess exercise movements along with adherence to prescribed physical therapy recovery exercises.

“Traditional healthcare delivery has been hamstrung by the requirement that patients and their clinicians be in the same place at the same time. Innovative technology solutions can liberate both parties from this tyranny of shared time and space,” says Joe Smith, MD, Ph.D, CEO of Reflexion Health. “These solutions can empower patients and improve their health while lowering both logistical and economic barriers. They can extend the judgment and impact of the skilled clinician to broader swaths of patients, independent of location or time or day. And they can learn from each patient to improve care for the next one. This is our vision,” Smith says.

Medical Design Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the January, 2020 issue of Medical Design Briefs Magazine.

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