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Five healthcare tech trends that will make chronic care management a part of patients’ daily lives.
The latest healthcare technology trends aim to make interoperability a reality, while making chronic care management a part of patients’ everyday lives.
The goal of much of this technology is to automate tasks, so that clinicians have an opportunity to build better relationships with patients. Using artificial intelligence to assist with administrative tasks is predicted to save the healthcare industry $18 billion by 2026, according to an analysis by Accenture released in July 2017. As of February 2017, there were more than 100 artificial intelligence healthcare startup companies, according to CBI Insights.
In the next five to 10 years, healthcare technology will converge using blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, and remote, autonomous monitoring devices, according to a report from the transformational health analysts at Frost & Sullivan.
"Blockchain technology may not be the panacea for healthcare industry challenges, but it holds the potential to save billions of dollars by optimizing current workflows and disintermediating some high-cost gatekeepers," says Kamaljit Behera, transformational health industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “Burgeoning connected health devices and the need to protect against data breaches make blockchain, with its ubiquitous security infrastructure, the obvious foundation for emerging digital health workflows and advanced healthcare interoperability.”
Here are five of the most innovative healthcare technologies that aim to change how stakeholders from all areas of the healthcare industry interact.
1. Amazon Echo for diabetes care
Amazon Echo, the voice activated smart speaker, has partnered with drug company Merck & Co. to develop apps that assist people with type 2 diabetes. The tech company wants developers to use Echo’s digital assistant, Alexa, to make diabetes self-management easier.
The corporations joined to launch the Alexa Diabetes challenge, and ask developers to take advantage of Amazon’s ecosystem of applications, databases, and cloud services to create a patient-focused diabetes technology that will also be useful to caregivers, providers, and payers.
As of January 2017, more than 8 million people own at least one Amazon Echo. The device has more than 7,000 “skills” or third-party applications. Echo users ask Alexa to order pizzas, schedule Uber, remind them of events, and create grocery lists, among other tasks. VoiceLabs, a mobile ecosystem and analytics company, predicts that 24.5 million voice-first devices will be shipped in 2017.
“The bidirectional interaction is so easy for everybody. It’s great to imagine what’s possible,” says Nicole Bell, co-founder and executive director of Cambia Grove, a healthcare technology-focused accelerator. Bell was chosen as one of five judges of the Alexa Diabetes challenge.
“Type 2 diabetes is a very common disease, so if you can make a difference using technology that engages consumers and lowers disease burden, it’s an amazing proposition.”
As big name tech companies including Amazon, Apple, and Google continue to make investments in healthcare, the goal is to make chronic care management an easier part of overall life management.
“With the voice-enabled solutions that are already in your house, place of work, or a skilled nursing facility, we can imagine how that can help people when they are outside of the healthcare system. Consumer solutions that can bring down healthcare costs are of high strategic interest for everyone in healthcare today,” Bell says.
Call for contest submissions started in April, and resulted in 96 submissions that included games, data tracking, and analytic tech tools. The first round of finalists were announced in July. Five finalists will receive $25,000 and develop concepts into working prototypes in a virtual accelerator through September. A final winner will be announced in October 2017 , and awarded a $125,000 prize.
Next: Virtual assistant
2. CrossChx Olive
Olive by CrossChx is a virtual care assistant that uses artificial intelligence to automate repetitive tasks and workflows by working with existing healthcare technology. The makers of Olive recommend treating the technology like an employee-give Olive an email address and sign it into your EHR system, chat, patient portals, and other process management software. There is no additional software to install or learn as Olive integrates the technology you already have to make it work smarter.
“We decided that if a hospital or other healthcare entity on-boarded Olive like they do a human, gave her an account for their IT systems and created an email address for her, we could program Olive to use those tools to perform tasks that users normally operate,” says Sean Lane, CEO of CrossChx. Lane adds that Olive was launched in March 2017 and is being used by more than 300 health systems.
Olive’s technology gets smarter over time by predicting when to send appointment reminders and making prior authorizations more efficient by working 24/7. The application has multiple uses, including offering care suggestions and alerts to case managers, and engaging patients directly via instant chat and share forms. Olive uses machine learning to identify and engage patients that need preventative health screenings, curated disease-specific content, and setup transportation services for patients that may not have the ability to travel for their healthcare services.
“One of the things that we learned about healthcare is that there are many different applications being used by many different employees at a single facility. Healthcare facilities make significant investments into EHRs, email, phone, chat, analytics, patient portals, revenue cycle tools, and the list goes on-not to mention the time spent on hiring and training staff on these applications at disparate parts of their health systems. Why add another application that doesn't work with current software and why hire yet another employee to train and learn these applications?”
3. iGlucose by Smart Meter
The iGlucose blood glucose monitor uses mobile technology to deliver readings and reports to a patient’s care team including providers, family, and other loved ones. The device is able to read glucose test strips in five seconds. After each reading, blood glucose results are automatically sent through Vodafone’s cloud technology to the user’s “Circle of Care.” The Circle of Care includes family, caregivers, and members of the user’s healthcare team designated by the user prior to use. The user can determine what types of notifications they receive, and how they receive them. Family and friends are able to send messages of encouragement and support to the user, while healthcare providers can send reminders and tips to help the user with diabetes management.
Providers can access the iGlucose web portal that has real-time data that can assist with individual patient and population health management. An application program interface (API) is also available for third-party partner data management.
“Via the iGlucose web portals, physicians or diabetes educators can review the patient’s blood glucose results and proactively manage any exceptions. If a patient’s glucose starts trending out of range between visits, iGlucose helps healthcare professionals identify the issue so they can provide guidance to help the user bring glucose back in range,” says Laurel Groven, vice president of strategic marketing and business development for Smart Meter. “The web portals also give self-insured employers, payers, and pharmacy benefits managers visibility into their members’ true testing frequency and compliance. Having accurate testing and trend information helps these providers control costs and work to improve diabetes outcomes.”
The device is currently being used in a pilot program for key customers, and is expected to be on the market by late 2017.
Next: Blockchain technology
4. Blockchain technology in public health
The University of California, Berkley School of Public Health, has partnered with a technology company to work toward ways that will allow research participants to have ownership and insight of healthcare information.
Bitmark Inc., is funding two fellowships at the university to conduct research on blockchain technology’s use by recruiting women in clinical studies and improving diabetes care protocols. Blockchain is a database that allows for a continuous list that can grow, but cannot be altered. The tech company created a blockchain tool called the bitmark, that allows ownership of digital data footprints. Bitmark’s partnership with UC Berkley will be the first public application of the bitmark technology.
Bitmarks can be transferred through an open-source blockchain. If researchers access the data, they must publicly link their identities to the research they are conducting. This allows for research participants to know exactly how their healthcare data is being used, and for researchers to maintain accountability and transparency.
“Our phones and Fitbits track our steps, calories, sleep cycles, and more. This data is empowering and helps improve our wellbeing. It can also aid research in a myriad of areas. Through our partnership with UC Berkeley, we all can become data philanthropists and help advance public health,” says Sean Moss-Pultz, CEO of Bitmark Inc.
Through the partnership, researchers hope to create other healthcare uses for bitmark technology by creating a network of healthcare data and automating the consent process.
The research is slated to begin in the fall 2017 semester.
5. Loop by Spry Health
The Loop wearable device, developed by Spry Health, provides continuous, intensive-care-level medical monitoring to vulnerable patients in the comforts of their homes. The wristband device uses optical sensors and spectronomy to measure and analyze blood gas panels, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate.
Providers are able to customize the diagnostics that are measured to monitor patient-specific trends. Pierre-Jean Cobut, co-founder of Spry Health, says that the patient-centered format makes the wearable device simple for patients with limited mobility.
“Members of care management or disease management teams within payer organizations are alerted at the earliest signs of patient deterioration, enabling delivery of the right care at the right time,” Cobut says. “Loop’s combination of wearable, at-home patient monitoring with individualized analytics results in improved patient outcomes, reduced hospitalizations, and lower spending by healthcare organizations.”
The focus on user experience for the patient and the care team is an important part of Loop’s development, Cobut says. The Loop Insight Manager allows care teams to integrate the patient’s data into existing software. Providers receive alerts through tools that they already use, and there is minimum training on the Loop platform.
“Loop has been designed to be easy to use, comfortable, and seamlessly blend into patients’ lives,” Cobut says. “It requires no set up, training, or diary. Loop also provides patients with complete peace of mind, knowing that a health professional is always connected.”
The device is currently being tested with health organizations, and Cobut says he expects FDA clearance for the device by the beginning of 2018.
Donna Marbury is a writer in Columbus, Ohio.