Sensors, wearables and mobile offer possibilities for monitoring patient behavior and symptoms

Posted: Apr 06, 2016

By Rick Krohn
Published in Health Data Management
April 5, 2016 

As an industry, healthcare is notoriously resistant to change, and in the application of clinical information, this limitation is felt most acutely. It’s been the Achilles heel of the industry, but now real foundational change is taking place in the application of healthcare information.

It’s a vast, sweeping tide of innovation—medical product and clinical process innovation, finance and delivery model innovation, and stakeholder participation innovation—all based on information liquidity.

At the forefront of this pivot towards clinical knowledge sharing are mobile tools such as communicative biosensors, wearables and nearables. Whether worn on the wrist, head, foot or body as a garment, these devices are being designed in every conceivable form factor, with convenience and utility in mind.

Using sensors to measure various aspects of a patient's health, wearable devices now offer richer, actionable data that extend beyond body diagnostics—they now can educate, alert and anticipate health issues. Sensors and data links offer possibilities for monitoring a patient’s behavior and symptoms in real time and at relatively low cost, enabling physicians to better diagnose disease and prescribe tailored treatment regimens.

As a class of clinical solutions, biosensors are major disruptors to traditional care, and at the cutting edge of these sensors are implantables. Embedded under the skin, these invisible, often micro devices seamlessly integrate into our lives, removing the “friction” between people and technology. Persistent, intuitive and invisible, these devices are personal health coaches, diagnostic monitors and treatment managers.

They mitigate the human element that is at the heart of non-compliance and they integrate with mobile devices and provider systems, delivering ever-granular insights into our daily health. They promote a collaborative provider-patient dialogue and preempt expensive, invasive treatments. And with the introduction of implantables, we’re traversing a path from isolated content to connected experiences, ranging from patient wellness to diagnosis, monitoring and adherence.

Implantables are being customized to address specific health issues, and can tremendously improve patient compliance. Smart pills can monitor and wirelessly transmit biomedical data to providers and alerts to patients to take their meds. A dime-sized chip can enable doctors to continually monitor patient vitals. A “bionic eye” that allows the blind to see, a cardioverter-defibrillator that treats sudden heart attacks—the list keeps growing.

But are implantable solutions really new? Many people have been living with pacemakers, cochlear implants, implanted biochips and other medical devices for years. What’s new is the trend toward healthcare consumerism that enables individuals to more actively manage their conditions, coupled with more powerful, functional, less invasive, cheaper devices.

Implantables activate consumer self-awareness, improve treatment compliance and promote “actionable” conversations with a care circle—providers, family and friends. And increasingly, these devices are becoming integrated with enterprise systems.

We’re still at the forefront of implantable technologies, and hurdles remain. FDA approval can take years, and any device inserted into the body must be biocompatible—probably for years. There is the concern of accidental malfunctions and malicious cyber interference with implantable devices. Those obstacles aren’t new to health IT, and as in the past, they will be addressed in the implantables sphere.

The potential for clinical efficiencies and cost savings are enormous. Better management of chronic conditions could reduce hospitalization and treatment costs by billions of dollars annually in the United States.

Looking ahead, the promise of consumer-facing solutions like implantables is this: healthcare technology will become increasingly commoditized, connected and minimally invasive. For the patient, technology will create new treatments, change behaviors and introduce an immersive provider-patient relationship.

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