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Chris Mills is CTO EMEA at Pivotal.

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Wearable health takes charge

New developments in healthcare wearables and apps are helping businesses and medical professionals alike to better engage with and understand the world's biggest health problems.

Among the headlines this year has been the rapid evolution of wearable technology such as Android Wear, the launch of the Apple smartwatch and digital activity trackers from the likes of Under Armour, a US-based sports and fitness organisation.

With the increasing popularity and availability of these devices, Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) predicts that 130 million units of wrist-based computers and smart glasses will be sold by 2018. Within this, PwC noted particular investment in digital health, now a $2.3 billion industry with more than $200 million spent in the last year alone on medical devices and wearables.

The World Health Organisation has warned that the burden of chronic diseases worldwide is rapidly increasing and will account for almost three-quarters of all deaths by 2020. This is putting public and private healthcare professionals under even more pressures, with greater calls for consumers to become more health conscious.

How can medical professionals cope with these additional demands and emerging digital transition, and how can data analytics, integrated patient profiles and back office automation help streamline this shift?

Wearables reinventing healthcare

Mobile technology’s leading role in the evolution of healthcare has been on full display in recent years, with attention-grabbing devices including the HAPIfork which monitors eating habits and an impact sensing skullcap developed by Reebok to help diagnose concussions when playing contact sports. Mainstream companies like Fitbit and 4iiii have generated a substantial following, with the products widely available on most high streets and no doubt on many Christmas wish lists last year.

Larger organisations like Proteus Health are also leading the way into ‘smart’ health, offering products such as ingestible sensors which send internal body data to smartphones and disposable patches to capture physiologic responses and behaviours.

Prescription apps 

But is this all hype? No – far from being just another trend hailed as the Next-Big-Thing soon to be forgotten, we believe these devices and accompanying mobile apps are set to significantly improve efficiency within healthcare.

Most wearable technology devices are accompanied by mobile apps which can be used by medical practitioners to provide up-to-date practical advice on prescribing and administering medicines. In turn, they’re used by individuals to manage conditions and promote healthier lifestyles - such as tracking alcohol intake and stopping smoking. Tracking devices are also becoming increasingly mainstream too.

We read with interest EMC’s recent healthcare report Sustaining Universal Healthcare in the UK, which made several noteworthy comments on digital health and mobile apps. Crucially, it notes that the impact of mobile technology will be maximised if integrated with patient records and data platforms. Apps will become the future of data capture and the interface between patients and doctors. 

Integration between mobile technology and patient records will also mean that the level of detail of patient records will increase significantly. For example, exercise, mood or drug adherence could be connected to patient records so that doctors have a detailed picture of the patient’s lifestyle and the possible reasons for exacerbations. If this data was linked to a data platform, the links between lifestyle and treatment effectiveness could be analysed.

They are thought-provoking arguments. Much like how certain drugs are available over the counter and many others can only be accessed with a prescription, health apps should also take this pharmaceutical approach. Soon there could be public apps and doctor recommended apps, making the process safer and simpler for patients.

Addressing this, we have developed the VitalHub Chart for use in hospitals. This provides clinicians with an integrated view of the patient by rapidly aggregating data from clinical systems, saving clinicians’ time and reducing the risk of errors. While the use of these apps is great, we’re not yet at a stage where they can replace traditional diagnosis methods.

Whilst many apps like Misfit Shine or Jawbone Up feature generic information, others can be more complex - like AsthmaMD. If a patient has a serious case but is unsuspectingly relying on a general app for information, and it gives him the wrong analytics or graph, his health could be in jeopardy and he may administer the wrong type of remedy. Instead of purely writing prescriptions for drugs, doctors could suggest that a patient try an app and return to the office if problems persist.

Personalised medicine

Aridhia, a UK based Biomedical Informatics company, is leading the field in the use of deploying modern day apps to connect Patient Reported Outcomes (PROs) to clinical decision makers. Aridhida’s CEO, Chris Roche, has been evaluating whether patient-reported information, accessible to clinicians in real-time, can improve the management of chemotherapy side-effects.

To achieve this, they have built an app that runs on an Android device. Patients with breast and colorectal cancer use it to record their symptoms, and the app incorporates alerting rules which trigger interventions by clinical staff. Patients who have used the technology so far have described it as a ‘guardian angel’, because it helps them to stay in contact with the hospital in real-time.

Closer to home, the company has just won a project to improve the detection and prediction in the early management of traumatic brain injuries. They will deploy their data science platform AnalytiXagility to securely store and analyse high frequency, anonymised data collected from patients through bedside monitoring systems in the neurointensive care unit at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow. The platform will implement an ‘app’ which clinicians will use at the bedside to select clinical analysis algorithms to inform the best course of care for the patient.

However you look at it, this is an exciting time for both healthcare and technology development and it will be interesting to see how these entities collide and develop together. There’s certainly no stopping the pace of digital, and it’s great to see how it’s positively impacting areas of our life.

Consumer interest in the likes of Fitbit are only set to rise, presenting new opportunities for businesses and medical professionals alike to better engage and understand our health. The growing trend will help doctors to build a more robust understanding of disease and infection, pre-empting life threatening illnesses in years to come.

For this to truly be a success, physicians will need to incorporate and analyse data sets, build a holistic overview of patients and glean insights from all of these sources to create a more integrated picture and better serve our ever more complex needs.

 

This article was first published in The Information Daily

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