Health Tech News This Week – August 14, 2021

What happened in health care technology this week – and why it’s important.

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HIMSS21 Roundup—Cyberattacks hit mid-size hospitals hardest; CIOs share tips on digital transformation

This past week, HIMSS held their annual conference in Las Vegas amid concerns about the rapidly spreading Delta variant of COVID-19. Attendance was down, as was expected, and several major vendors canceled their participation in the conference. Although masking and other COVID protocols were in place, there was no formal enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance. And, no proper protocols were followed at social events, which had Twitter complaining about the lax enforcement. I had some thoughts in my previous post on in-person conferences, which you can read here.

Heather Landi and Dave Muoio published an article in Fierce Healthcare on Friday that had the best summary of the conference I’ve read so far. They summarized the results of a recent survey from cybersecurity firm CyberMDX and Philips on cyberattacks in health care that suggested that midsized hospitals are being hit harder than their larger counterparts. Specifically, those from hospitals with 1,000 or more beds reported an average device shutdown time of 6.2 hours at the cost of $21,500 per hour. For midsize hospitals (less than 1,000 beds), those numbers ballooned to an average of 9.8 hours and a shutdown cost of $45,700 per hour. Of more significant concern, few of the respondents, about one in 10, said that cybersecurity was a high-priority spend for their hospital IT team. A little under half said their organizations could use more staff focused on medical devices and IoT security. Notably, the respondents frequently said that their hospitals had not yet closed the gaps for well-known vulnerabilities, including BlueKeep (52%), WannaCry (64%), and NotPetya (75%).

Health system executives had clear advice for providers looking to make digital transformation stick: make sure it will play a role in the system’s bottom line and doesn’t deviate from the organization-wide strategy. For example, rather than launching a patient-facing telehealth service just for the sake of having it, providers are prioritizing digital efforts that are servicing a core, measurable goal.

Cox Communications rolled out its Internet of Things (IoT) platform for hospitals. By automating tasks like equipment tracking, environmental monitoring, and on-site navigation, Cox’s technology aims to increase operational efficiency, improve staff safety and workflows and enhance the patient experience.

Video conferencing company Zoom unveiled the beta version of a new mobile browser feature that frees patients using the platform for a telehealth visit from downloading a dedicated app. Initially available on iOS, the client allows patients to click on a Zoom meeting link from their provider and join a virtual appointment directly from a mobile browser. The call itself will also have a simplified version of the Zoom user interface that’s easier to use on a mobile device.

Why it’s important – What’s distressing about the cybersecurity report is that health systems do not have the resources or the resolve (less than ten percent said cybersecurity was a priority) to handle the challenges facing them in the future. I expect that we’ll see the emergence and continued growth of PaaS companies that will offer turnkey solutions to this critical issue.

New Blood: Lab-Grown Stem Cells Bode Well for Transplants, Aging Research

Researchers from UC San Diego published their research on Hematopoietic stem cells — the precursors to blood cells — which have been notoriously difficult to grow in a dish, a critical tool in basic research. Scientists at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have identified the underlying issue and developed a method to keep cultured cells healthy. This should be good news for patients who require stem cell transplants.

Why it’s important – In bone marrow transplants, hematopoietic stem cells are infused intravenously to reestablish blood production in patients whose bone marrow or immune system is damaged. The procedure treats diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, aplastic anemia, and immune deficiency disorders. However, donor stem cells are not always available for patients who need them. Since transplanting more cells yields fewer complications and increases chances of overarching success, researchers can preserve high-quality stem cells in culture over a prolonged period. They hope the increased quality will lead to improved clinical outcomes.

CRISPR-Based Spit Test Detects SARS-CoV-2 and Variants

Medgadget’s Conn Hastings published an article on research conducted by researchers at the Harvard Wyss Institute and MIT. They have developed an inexpensive at-home test for SARS-CoV-2 and several variants, which do not require nasal swabs. This low-cost testing device is geared towards regions where access to sophisticated labs is not a given.

Why it’s important – With access to a 3D printer and commonly available components, the device can be created for approximately $15. The researchers hope that it could provide a viable testing option for countries without easy access to centralized laboratories.

Sensing Glove to Aid in Stroke Recovery

From Conn Hastings in Medgagdet, this article reports on the work of researchers at MIT who have created a sensing glove that can detect small pressure changes along its surface when a wearer grasps something. The glove is threaded with tiny pressure sensors, which are studded with micropillars that create changes in an electrical signal when they bend and deform. This provides an incredibly sensitive measurement of tactile pressure, and the glove even detects the wearer’s pulse.

Why it’s important – The researchers hope that the technology could assist in motor function retraining in patients who have experienced a stroke and result in wearables that can measure vital signs more accurately and conveniently than existing devices, such as smartwatches. The glove could provide us more accurate measurements of gripping force for control groups versus patients recovering from stroke or other neurological conditions. This could increase our understanding and enable control.

As tech giants double down on sleep tracking, providers want more proof it’s useful

STAT’s Erin Brodwin (subscription required) reported advances in sleep tracking technology by companies like Google and Amazon. They have poured money into passive sleep monitors that keep tabs on rest from the bedside. Last month, Amazon received federal clearance to use radar for sleep monitoring, following on the heels of rival Google, which in March debuted sleep sensing in the latest iteration of its Nest device. The companies’ renewed interest in sleep tracking — and corresponding investment in less invasive forms of monitoring — suggests a widening strategy to make the devices more clinically and practically useful. Unlike previous technologies that involve wearing a device or attaching it to the bed, the latest efforts rely on more passive sensors that sit beside the bed, where they regularly sweep up data, including breathing patterns and ambient temperature and light.

Why it’s important – For tech companies and patients alike, the appeal of monitoring sleep extends beyond ensuring someone gets quality rest. Sleep is also an opportune moment for gathering other health insights, including pinpointing diseases like sleep apnea and collecting more consistent data on heart and breathing rate. For disease detection, “there’s a need for a less invasive, contactless, commercially accessible, low-cost system that can monitor people over several nights in the home. Small details — like Google’s decision to link to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in its morning greeting from the Nest Hub — could also help win over skeptical clinicians, which will be essential to adoption in the long run.

Diabetes startup brews up $11M after ‘serendipitous spill’ led to creation of new CGM tech

An article by Andrea Park in Fierce Biotech reports on developments by Israeli startup Hagar, with its GWave technology that measures blood sugar levels using noninvasive radio waves rather than an implanted sensor or repeated fingersticks. The back story is that the company’s founder accidentally spilled a cup of tea on a radio frequency device during a separate research project and concluded that the ensuing reaction was caused by the sugar in his tea. Thus, GWave was born. The first generation of the GWave sensor is about a third the size of a standard smartphone inserted into a ceramic bracelet. It uses Bluetooth to transmit its glucose readings to an accompanying mobile app that tracks readings and alerts users to fluctuations in their blood sugar levels. Next up, along with plotting out clinical trials of its technology, Hagar will continue developing the second-generation GWave device. In that iteration, the sensor will be embedded into a smartwatch that will display the readings collected by the GWave mobile app.

Why it’s important – A proof-of-concept study found the company’s radio frequency technology could continuously measure glucose levels with at least 90% accuracy, compared to the estimated 70% rate for traditional continuous glucose monitors. Finding a way to monitor glucose levels in the blood—continuously, painlessly, and efficiently—is life-changing for those living with diabetes.

UMass Memorial launches at-home hospital service

UMass Memorial Health on Tuesday accepted its first patient into the new telehealth program, Hospital at Home, which allows patients to stay at home while receiving hospital-level services. Along with virtual vital-sign monitoring and visits from doctors, patients can have medications and therapy delivered to their homes.

UMass Memorial received funding from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in May for the program.

CMS launched the Acute Hospital Care at Home waiver in November, allowing hospitals to apply for funding for at-home care programs. As of July 27, a total of 68 hospitals were granted waivers, according to the CMS website.

Why it’s important – Ariadne Labs forecasts that up to 25% of inpatient admissions could be handled in a home setting. And, as you can see in the graphic below, my former colleagues at Sg2 are projecting a ten-year growth rate in home procedures of 15%.

Image Credit: Sg2, A Vizient Company

The Hospital@Home movement, which has been developing for a long time, will finally see the type of growth that has been promised for years. The technology to support in-home care has significantly matured over the past few years. And new companies seeking to expand their footprint in the Hospital@Home space are moving quickly to establish a strong market presence across the country.

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