A HealthBeat 2014 Report: To Make Sense of the Sensors


What do you do when you know you’ve slept for five hours? What do you do with that data?

Matt Marshall, founder and CEO of technology innovation news site VentureBeat, started off HealthBeat 2014 with the question that the participants spend two days eagerly trying answer.
How do we make sense of all sensors?

The San Francisco meeting gathered enthusistic entrepreneurs, visionary venture capitalists, and some hesitant health care workers. Developers of a range of wearable devices, electronic medical records, and cloud based tracking systems appeared to know for certain how tracking biometrics could improve our health and health care system.
So, can it? And how is it done?

Healthcare innovator Conversa Health wants to close the communiation gap between patients and physicians, and help patients stay on track with their treatment plans by offering ”digital checkups.” Patient generated health data from various sources (not totally clear which ones) are analyzed, and automatic personalized education and alerts are sent to the patient. The platform reports all data to the physician, and identifies patients in need of more support and guidance. Physicians and patients can also communicate twp-way through the platform, if wanted.

WellFrame has its vision on how healthcare will be delivered in the future. The Boston based company delivers what they call ”care protocols” to patients by using mobile devices. They want to reach patients in need of support after selected health events. This can be heart attach secondary prevention, post organ transplant, negative post-partum events, but also chronic conditions such as schizofrenia. If a patient suffers from two conditions or more, a combined care protocol is designed. Also here, a two-way communication is possible. WellFrame wants to replace the nurse calling you after surgery. (Who picks up the phone, anyway?)

The consumer health wearables and trackers were also a part of the discussion at the event. Well-established Fitbit is undoubtly aiming to take its consumer activity trackers into healthcare (especially after that itchy skin story; ouch…). Accelerometers are no longer just of interest to enthusiastic step-counters, calorie burners, sleep trackers and other self-trackers. Biometrics can and should be used to support patients reach their goal, and Fitbit will make sure it’s their data that’s being tracked.

So how do you choose between all the wearables? If you want Fitbit to track your sleep, but you can’t live without your shiny Misfits accessories, and now when the Apple watch is coming; how to pick? Which product will you actually use? How can you combine the information? And how do you make sure you doctor gets updated of all the data instead of having to describe it on these stressful ten minute once-a-year office visits?
Vivametrica, a Calgary company with Stanford researchers onboard, might be the solution for connecting a scattered sensor market to the healthcare providers. They let users connect their wearable device (whichever one), and get medically-validated risks for conditions such as cardiac disease, lung disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis based on their biometeric data. The user is also given a recommendation on how activity changes could affect that risk level. The data is returned in the same sensor format as it was sent in (so you can keep all your different sensor – phew!). The platform can be used for everyone, and to be shared to someone like your doctor, so no need to be limited by your doctor’s platforms.

The D.C. startup company Nexercise, on the other hand, doesn’t care of sensor is all. They want to ”turn healthy living into a game you can win”, and their app is all about rewards and peer pressure. On their team, Nexercise has an expert in exercise motivation, and the app uses psychological motivators to influence and increase exercise. By recently acquiring Sworkit, Nexercise adds to the game that there’s no excuse not to go to the gym anymore – because you don’t have to. By providing videos that walk you through 169 circuit-style workouts, this eliminates the need to spend a fortune on a fitness center or personal center. Nexercise is here to win the game.

Among all pitching developers of apps, sensors, and fashional wearables, there was not a huge line to the booth where the good old scanner company Kofax, combined with European Altosoft, displayed their product. There should have been. The currently most challenging part of healthcare might not be how to track your the patients’ sleeping pattern, but to make sense of all the medical records that are (dys?)functioning out there. (Did I hear someone cry a river over Epic again?) Not only are all these hospital systems stuck with their terrible server based records, also, they don’t communicate with eachother. Kofax/Altosoft will makes these systems talk to eachother, for real. And, on top of that, they will give you business intelligence and analytics products that are acctually useful. Forget about that Excel spreadsheet that not even your IT guy knows how to read.

HealthBeat 2041 certainly gave us peak into the future of healthcare delivery. Unfortunately, neither someone from FDA or with more indepth knowledge of regulatory mechanisms, nor any neutral representatives from academia was there to give a reality check on how to implement the innovations.

But hey, who wants to ruin the party? How long did you say you slept last night?

This is a guest post by Johanna Sandlund, MD, PhD. Johanna is a Global Health Diagnostic Fellow at Stanford Medical School. She can be reached at sandlund (at) stanford.edu


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