Health Tech News This Week – April 16, 2022

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

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Breakthrough‘TACTIP’ 3D Printed Fingertip Could Give Prosthetics a “Human Sense Of Touch”

Scientists at the University of Bristol have developed an artificial fingertip with the potential to allow amputees to ‘feel’ objects through prosthetic limbs. Paul Hanaphy reported on the developments in his post on 3D Printing Industry. Formed from a series of 3D printed papillae, akin to those found just beneath the surface of human skin, the team’s ‘TacTip’ device can sense shapes before relaying this data in the form of artificial nerve signals.

Image Credit: University of Bristol

Why it’s important – The team says that the neuroscience and robotics fields are starting to “converge,” yielding artificial tactile sensory systems that can better ‘sense’ objects upon contact. With further R&D, the researchers say their synthetic fingertip could revolutionize the world of robotics or help improve the grip of those with prosthetic hands worldwide.

Infographic of the week – Many Americans are concerned about being able to afford basic living expenses for their families. At least half say they are either “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about being able to afford gasoline or other transportation costs (71%), unexpected medical bills (58%), or monthly utilities like electricity (50%).

Image Credit: Kaiser Family Foundation, Health Tracking Poll (March 15-22, 2022)

Deploying digital health tools within large, complex health systems: key considerations for adoption and implementation

In a post on Nature Digital Medicine, the authors propose a framework of nine dimensions along which clinically validated digital health tools should be examined by health systems before adoption and propose strategies for selecting digital health tools and planning for implementation in this setting. Key stakeholders who draw from experience in four large organizations—Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, MA), Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston, MA), Atrium Health (Charlotte, NC), and Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City, UT)—convened to identify common lessons from the implementation of digital health tools within these systems.

Image Credit: NPJ Digital Medicine

Why it’s important – By evaluating prospective tools along these dimensions, health systems can determine which existing digital health solutions are worthy of adoption, ensure they have sufficient resources for deployment and long-term use, and devise a strategic implementation plan.

Geisinger’s MyCode Community Health Initiative hits milestone, enrolls 300,000 participants

Geisinger’s precision health project, MyCode, has enrolled 300,000 participants, reaching a significant milestone for the program. With DNA sequence and health data currently available on nearly 185,000 of these participants, MyCode is the most extensive healthcare system-based study of its kind. In a press release on their website, Geisinger reported that to date, more than 3,100 participants who are at increased risk for potentially life-threatening conditions like hereditary breast and colon cancers, familial hypercholesterolemia, and heart disease had received genomic risk results. These results allow patients to work with their care providers to prevent or detect disease early, potentially leading to better health outcomes.

Why it’s important – Providing these clinically actionable results to patients empowers them to take action that may lead to better health outcomes for themselves and their families. Analysis of MyCode data has also contributed to several groundbreaking discoveries, including a rare genetic variant that protects against obesity.

At small and rural hospitals, ransomware attacks are causing unprecedented crises

Marion Renault in Stat reports that the reality of being locked up by ransomware is no longer a concern reserved solely for major health systems, once a primary target. Regional hospitals and specialty clinics are also constantly warding off, and falling prey to malicious cyberattacks as ransomware groups grow more opportunistic. Federal databases detail many small providers — from pediatrics clinics to hearing centers, chiropractors, and child abuse prevention non-profits — caught up in the sweep of attacks targeting the health care system.

“You might think you’re kind of off-the-grid, but that doesn’t mean you’re not susceptible.”

Eric Johnson, Health IT Researcher at Vanderbilt University, Dean, Owen Graduate School of Management.

Why it’s important – Such an attack can be devastating for a health system of any size and scary for anyone relying on its care. But for smaller hospitals and practices, the costs — both to patients and the bottom line — can be incredibly steep. Experts say that small, rural providers are also less likely to be prepared to defend, resolve and recover from a ransomware attack than their larger, urban counterparts. I’ve discussed the topic of ransomware in healthcare in a previous post“. But, the intensity and scale of the attacks are creating real headaches for smaller organizations that might have limited resources to block them.

Aging in place can be so much easier with smart home technology

A great article in The Washington Post by Wendy Jordan describes two very different approaches to implementing technology in the home to support aging in place. Both houses incorporate essentials for safe senior living, including primary bedroom, bath, and living spaces on one level; smooth floors (that would accommodate wheelchairs and rollators); good lighting; and kitchens, baths, laundry, and storage areas designed for safe, convenient use. But when it came to incorporating technology for aging in place, the homeowners took very different approaches. Klitenic opted to start small with a few tech tools. The Galea home is chock full of high-tech enhancements.

“Technology is the ultimate aging-in-place asset if you use it correctly.”

Tom Kamber, Executive Director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) from AARP

Why it’s important – As I’ve outlined in a previous post, supporting health, safety and security are important components of successfully aging in place. So are home management systems that maintain a comfortable environment and communication and recreation systems that enable social engagement, stimulation, and entertainment. I love that this article covers both ends of the implementation spectrum, with one couple starting slowly and the other couple going all-in on the technology.

Thyng introduces MedMirror virtual body tracking technology

In a press release, Thyng LLC announced the launch of MedMirror, a freestanding display that uses advanced 3D body tracking to create a patient experience and enhances the digital care journey. MedMirror is an experience that creates a category of Medical Visualisation – one that interactively puts patients at the center of their healthcare experience by utilizing them as the canvas. It can include everything from anatomical visualization to interacting with a favorite character – creating a unique environment that educates, inspires, and uplifts everyone from children to adults.

YouTube Video Credit: Thyng, LLC

Why it’s important – According to the company, the goals of the MedMirror are twofold, to educate patients through an engaging visual medium and to provide inspirational, uplifting experiences. MedMirror puts patients front and center, using their bodies as a canvas to showcase the spatial relationship between body systems and medical conditions. One experience allows patients to stand in front of the MedMirror and view 3D anatomies digitally overlaid onto their body to understand a medical condition better, effectively allowing patients to virtually “see” inside of their bodies. Another experience enables pediatric patients to become a favorite superhero and reduce the stress and anxiety that often accompany a hospital stay.

Can digital therapeutics become profitable?

As more software-based treatments gain FDA clearance, they still face hurdles in getting insurance reimbursement and garnering adoption among patients and physicians. Elise Reuter provides an in-depth look at the challenges in her article on MedTech Dive. While getting FDA clearance was the first step, experts identified several hurdles ahead, including getting physician uptake, building pathways to reimbursement, and, importantly, developing software that patients will want to use.

“There’s a lot of behavioral change that needs to happen across the stakeholders and their mindsets to think about digital therapeutics as a category of its own.”

Maya Desai, Director of Life Sciences for Guidehouse

Why it’s important – While digital therapeutic companies should not be dismissive about partnering with pharmaceutical companies, their goals should also be aligned. As digital therapeutics look to get indications similar to pharmaceutics, they’re also hoping to take a similar approach to insurance reimbursement. That process generally involves garnering real-world evidence showing their products still perform well outside of a clinical trial setting and publishing studies showing that they have not only a therapeutic benefit for patients but also an economic one. Insurers also face the question of whether to cover digital therapeutics as a pharmacy benefit or medical benefit. So far, the former is easier because it offers greater controls, value-based agreements, and less friction for the provider and the patient.

FDA authorizes 1st breath test for COVID-19 infection

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday issued an emergency use authorization for what it said is the first device that can detect COVID-19 in breath samples. The Associated Press reports that the InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer is about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage, the FDA said and can be used in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and mobile testing sites. The test, which can provide results in less than three minutes, must be carried out under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.

Image Credit: InspectIR

Why it’s important – The FDA said the device was 91.2% accurate at identifying positive test samples and 99.3% accurate at identifying negative test samples. While the ramp-up to production may take some time, the ability to get rapid results in various locations will be helpful.

This Startup Wants to Get in Your Ears and Watch Your Brain

Born from Alphabet’s “moonshot” division, NextSense aims to sell earbuds that can collect heaps of neural data—and uncover the mysteries of gray matter. Steven Levy writes about this company in Wired magazine (registration required). The startup’s focus is brain health—improving sleep, helping patients with epilepsy, and eventually enriching people’s lives with a range of mental conditions. The idea is to use its earbuds to capture an electroencephalogram, a standard tool for assessing brain activity. A multinational pharmaceutical firm called Otsuka hopes to use NextSense’s earbuds for evaluating the efficacy of medication, not only for epilepsy but for depression and other mental health issues. NextSense plans to submit its device for FDA approval this year, and Emory University is conducting more studies in hopes of developing an algorithm to predict seizures, ideally hours or days in advance.

“We know about our blood pressure, cholesterol, and respiratory system. But the most important organ is our brain. We don’t assess that systematically.”

Allan Levey, Brain Health Center at Emory University

Why it’s important – There is no easy, non-invasive way to observe a seizure, which is a critical step in treatment, both to assess the efficacy of drugs and predict when the next seizure might strike. For years, people have been shifting from tracking their health through sporadic visits to a doctor or lab to regularly monitoring their vitals. The NextSense team is gambling that, with a gadget as familiar as an earbud, people will follow the same path with their brains. Then, with legions of folks wearing the buds for hours, days, and weeks on end, the company’s scientists hope they’ll amass an incredible data trove to uncover the hidden patterns of mental health. That’s the dream. It will take time and more research to get them to that point. But being able to collect real-time data at the point of the patient quickly will provide researchers armed with machine learning and AI tools the ability to monitor and potentially save countless lives.

Bringing Precision to Musculoskeletal Health

A great post by Zach Wynn on A Slice of MIT reviewing the data-driven approach the startup Figur8 is bringing to musculoskeletal injuries. The company founded by CEO Nan-Wei Gong SM ’09, Ph.D. ’13 has created a sensor-based system that can track body movement and muscle activity to quantify the severity of injuries, help doctors make treatment plans, and measure improvement.

“Figur8 is a musculoskeletal diagnostic system. It’s a solution for the clinician and patient to pinpoint the risk of injury, the source of injury, and to quantify recovery in a health category that traditionally doesn’t have a lot of scientific data readily available.”

Nan-Wei Gong, CEO, Figur8
Image Credit: Figur8

Why it’s important – Besides costing less, setting up Figur8 is also faster than setting up traditional systems. For a full-body evaluation, users strap seven sensors on their bodies. To evaluate a specific muscle group or joint, the system works with only one or two sensors. The sensors send data to a mobile app that walks users through a series of movements similar to a physical exam. The system uses a technology called surface mechanomyography, which tracks tiny muscle movements to measure contractions and other muscle activity. A report is then automatically generated showing the differences between a healthy person’s musculoskeletal performance and the user’s.

Drugmakers unite to set digital standards for Alzheimer’s disease studies

Some of the largest drugmakers tackling Alzheimer’s disease and its related dementias are banding together to ensure their pursuits make the best use of the truly massive amounts of digital data that can be gathered from patients as the companies look to track their progress. Connor Hale reports on the effort in his article in Fierce Biotech. In a collaboration being led by the nonprofit Digital Medicine Society, Big Pharma players such as Biogen, Eisai, Eli Lilly, and Merck plan to establish a core set of digital measurements that can be applied in their clinical trials. They will be joined by researchers from Boston University and Oregon Health & Science University, as well as the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.

“There’s over 70 different measures of physical activity, and there’s over 50 different measures of sleep. The sad truth that led us to this particular project is that despite the enormous unmet need for high-resolution, high-value measures that can be captured frequently over time, only three of the endpoints in the library are being used for Alzheimer’s.”

Jennifer Goldsack, CEO of the Digital Medicine Society

Why it’s important – The group aims to select and develop the most effective tech-enabled biomarkers—built on data collected from wearable devices or tests that may involve analyzing voice recordings or tracing hand movements—that can help determine whether prospective treatments are actually working to slow the cognitive declines associated with neurodegenerative conditions. By agreeing collectively to quantify the course of the disease in a standardized and patient-centered way—and at a point, before the real competition begins—the drug developers ultimately hope to increase each of their chances of getting treatments through the regulatory approval process and to patients faster.

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