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.

In October 2018, Duke Clinical Research Institute did a trial that demonstrated that VERA saves over $2,745 per patient, is as safe and effective as traditional PT, and reduces hospital readmissions by 60 percent. The platform’s engaging avatar — combined with non-contact 3D biometrics, comprehensive remote monitoring by clinicians, and telehealth visits — saves time, steps, and money for patients, providers, and payers.

An integrated technology kit is shipped to the patient’s home prior to surgery, so he or she can become accustomed to using it. Interactive videos and checklists help prepare patients for what to expect throughout the rehab experience. The kit arrives fully operational with nothing to assemble. It includes its own cellular modem, so it can be used even if a user does not have Wi-Fi.

LifePod enables independent living with voice activation. The major concern of the aged who are living independently is the lack of care. With LifePod, a proactive-voice caregiving service, professional and family care-givers have access to important data about patient well-being. How does it work? The care recipients rely on voice to communicate with the device. The caregivers have access to the data 24/7 as shown in Figure 5.

Fig. 5 - LifePod’s proactive-voice caregiving service enables professional and family caregivers to access important data about the wellbeing of their patients.
Fig. 6 - LifePod uses voice to interact with the care recipients by providing regular reminders to move around, eat, drink, sleep, and take medication. (Source: LifePod)

LifePod uses voice to interact with care recipients by providing regular reminders to move around, eat, drink, sleep, and take medication (see Figure 6). Additionally, it can alert users to such things as upcoming social events and favorite TV shows. The message and activity reminders can be programmed and customized. The device will indeed enhance the lives of those who live independently.

Fig. 7 - Telemedicine is driving doctor house call services with a mobile app. (Source: Heal)

Heal offers house calls with mobile apps. Online shopping has provided great convenience to consumers for years. Now Heal is about to do the same for the medical world. Dr. Renee Dua is Heal Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer. Her vision is to combine the house call with health technology, enhancing the doctor and patient relationship in order to ensure positive health outcomes. Through its new offering, the Heal Hub, the Heal platform gathers data on patients and shares with doctors in real time. Doctors can be alerted to a potential health risk and contact patients to provide immediate assistance (see Figure 7).

Through the touch of an app, a click on the site, or a phone call, a highly vetted, qualified medical doctor will arrive at patients’ doors, 12 hours a day, 365 days a year. A recently published study by Dr. Eric Topol found that “Heal spends more than 300 percent longer with patients than the national average of seven minutes of face-to-face time with a doctor, resulting in higher patient satisfaction and better outcomes.”

Fig. 8 - SleepScore display shows how well an individual sleeps each night. (Source: SleepScore Labs)

Heal saw a 310 percent uptick in growth last year and has delivered 110,000 house calls in just under four years. Heal’s services are currently available in California; Atlanta, GA; Northern Virginia; and Washington, DC; with plans for expansion nationwide in the near future.

Fig. 9 - The SleepScore app would display the results of the sleep pattern and issue a score and compare that with thousands of others in the same age and gender with similar profile.

Did you get a high sleep score from SleepScore Labs? Sleep apnea is a major problem in the United States. To help people sleep better and develop good sleep habits, SleepScore offers a single app to do just that. The process starts with using a smartphone’s microphone and speaker to track and measure the breathing rate and body movement of the user. As Figure 8 illustrates, the user’s sleep pattern is displayed. SleepScore then performs an in-depth analysis of every stage of the sleep cycle, giving insights into the sleep environment. Next, the app displays the results of the sleep pattern (see Figure 9) and issues a score that can be compared with thousands of others who have a similar age and gender profile. The solutions, which are then recommended, include, for example, the best time to drink the final cup of coffee for the day. Additionally, SleepScore works with a number of partners to provide devices for improved sleep, such as sleep sound machines, pillows with music, and scented devices.

Livongo offers an integrated platform to help individuals with chronic conditions to live better and healthier. According to the CDC, 90 percent of the annual healthcare costs come from 147 million people living with chronic conditions in the United States. What if there is a way to help individuals monitor their health and develop good habits to improve their day-to-day lives?

Fig. 10 - The Livongo platform helps patients with chronic conditions to manage diabetes, hypertension, weight management, pre-diabetes, and behavioral health. (Source: Livongo)

To help individuals manage health across the board, Livongo offers an integrated platform to monitor diabetes, hypertension, pre-diabetes, weight loss, and behavioral health conditions (see Figure 10). Their Aggregate, Interpret, Apply, and Iterate approach called the AI+AI is the backbone of its Applied Health Signals engine, which addresses health monitoring simplification. Taking a membership approach, Livongo uses data science and technology to track users’ health conditions to foster better clinical and financial outcomes (see Figure 11).

Fig. 11 - Livongo developed the Aggregate, Interpret, Apply, and Iterate approach called the AI+AI. This is backbone of its Applied Health Signals engine for simplifying health monitoring.

Conclusion

To achieve the three main goals of healthcare: increased care quality; care access for all; and keeping costs under control, technologies used in connected healthcare will be key factors. As households and individuals become more connected, remote healthcare will be a real possibility in the near future.

Helping individuals live independently is a major opportunity and challenge for both the healthcare industry and the government, while AI is seen as key to the future healthcare industry. Finally, five product examples are included to show how healthcare will be enhanced with these new innovations.

This article was written by John W. Koon, President, Tech Idea Research, San Diego, CA. For more information, visit here .


Medical Design Briefs Magazine

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

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