Health Tech News This Week – September 24, 2022

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

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Apple Wins a Patent for a Mixed Reality Headset (MRH) That Could Assist Those With Various Stages your of Alzheimer’s Disease

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent related to head-mounted devices and, more particularly, head-mounted devices that can detect and respond to a user’s behavior. More specifically, Apple’s patent envisions their future Mixed Reality Headset being able to test and assist seniors suspected of showing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease. With Augmented Reality, exercises could be performed in the real world that test for aphasia and apraxia. It could also detect and respond to a user’s expressions of agnosia. Lastly, the AR features could flash names of people in front of them should they forget and much more. As reported in Patently Apple online, Head-mounted devices, as presented in Apple’s granted patent, can provide non-invasive mechanisms for detecting and responding to symptoms of cognitive decline.

Why it’s important – The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that Alzheimer’s will affect 80 million people by the year 2040. Alzheimer’s disease has slow pathogenesis and is a persistent neurological dysfunction that deteriorates over time. Many individuals facing cognitive decline show physical or emotional signs of the issue. Some of these signs may be too subtle to notice within a limited time, particularly at an early stage of such conditions. A head-mounted device can be regularly and frequently worn while the user performs regular daily tasks. Because a head-mounted device can be mobile and allow a user to see an external environment, the use of the head-mounted device allows the user to maintain a high quality of life. Accordingly, the user may be more likely to use it regularly and often, thereby providing the head-mounted device with ample opportunities to collect data.

Infographic of the week – This week’s infographic comes from a Nature Reviews Materials publication on the End-to-end design of wearable sensors. This Review details the recent developments in the field of wearable sensors with a particular focus on the sensing, decision-making, and power units to establish a framework for designing and implementing wearable devices. In the foreseeable future, the extension of the capabilities of wearables beyond diagnostic sensing through the integration of feedback loops would pave the way for (third-generation) wearable devices for theranostic applications. Smart bandages, for example, could allow for real-time monitoring of wound healing through pH measurement and, in the case of an infection, treatment by on-demand delivery of antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs. Another trend is to enhance the capabilities of current wearable continuous glucose-monitoring systems to release insulin to the patient in a closed-loop manner.

Image Credit: End-to-end design of wearable sensors

The Broad Institute and NVIDIA Bring NVIDIA Clara to Terra Cloud Platform Serving 25,000 Researchers Advancing Biomedical Discovery

In a press release, NVIDIA announced a partnership with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to provide the Terra cloud platform and its over 25,000 users — from biomedical researchers in academia, startups, and large pharma companies — with the AI and acceleration tools needed to analyze massive amounts of healthcare data quickly. The collaboration is designed to connect NVIDIA’s AI expertise and healthcare computing platforms with the Broad Institute’s world-renowned researchers, scientists, and open platforms.

“Life sciences are in the midst of a data revolution, and researchers are in critical need of a new approach to bring machine learning into biomedicine. In this collaboration, we aim to expand our mission of data sharing and collaborative processes to scale genomics research.”

Anthony Philippakis, Chief Data Officer, Broad Institute

Why it’s important – The Broad Institute aims to enable the next generation of collaborative biomedical research by providing an open cloud platform that connects researchers both to each other and to the datasets and tools they need to achieve scientific breakthroughs. By expanding their collaboration with The Broad Institute,m NVIDIA can bring the power of large language models to ultimately deliver joint solutions and narrow the divide between insights from researchers and tangible benefits for patients.

The omnichannel strategy of retail health

Retail pharmacy chains and Amazon are transforming themselves into omnichannel healthcare providers, developing primary care services and virtual tools through acquisitions, partnerships and investments. Stephanie Baum’s article in MedCity News reports that the goal is to not only adapt to their customers’ preferences but to act on demographic shifts and perceived consumer needs to make healthcare more easily accessible through employer health plans. She reviews the moves by Amazon, Walgreens, CVS Health, and Walmart in developing their omnichannel strategies.

Image Credit: 2021 Omnichannel Healthcare Experience report, Avtex

Why it’s important – What I found most interesting in this article were the results of the 2021 Omnichannel Healthcare Experience report by Avtex, surveying healthcare setting preferences by generation. It noted that Millennials favored using walk-in retail clinics to address their primary care needs, in contrast to Baby Boomers and Generation X, who prefer going to a doctor’s office. Yet telehealth was used in significant numbers across generations. Among their key findings:

  • Brick and mortar is no longer the only channel of delivery. Healthcare providers must now engage patients with a multi-channel healthcare experience.
  • There is no single patient profile that can be used to provide and deliver care – patient needs range widely across demographics, including age, sex, ethnicity, and more. Understanding your patients, and tailoring to their journeys and their needs, is crucial to providing the best care.
  • Telehealth continues to grow as an alternative channel to delivering care.
  • Across all age groups, mental health needs and utilization are increasing.
  • The live, human element is not going away.
  • Healthcare providers and payers should develop a communication strategy that is not “either/or,” but rather “AND” – omnichannel is the expectation.
  • Segmenting, understanding, and supporting your audience’s needs and preferences is more important than ever.
  • In both payer and provider environments, ease of use was noted as a barrier to communication.

In keeping with these recommendations about developing an omnichannel strategy, see this great infographic on consumer strategy from my former colleagues at Sg2. If you are not currently an Sg2 member, you really should consider talking with them about their comprehensive portfolio of intelligence, analytics, and consulting services.

Infographic Credit: Sg2, a Vizient Company

An end to malaria?

In the latest example of leveraging the COVID-19 work in developing mRNA vaccines, Yale School of Medicine reports on their research in developing an mRNA vaccine for malaria. Self-amplifying RNAs contain the “teaching” vaccine mRNA plus a code for an enzyme that allows the genetic material to self-replicate inside the vaccinated cell over several weeks. Replication means injecting much smaller amounts of vaccine to achieve adequate immunization, making the vaccines cheaper and easier to distribute—much more accessible for the developing world. While more research is needed—for instance, in determining the length of vaccine efficacy—Bucala is hopeful. Yale was granted a patent for this approach in 2021, paving the way for continued development and ultimate testing in human clinical trials.

“Malaria is both a huge medical problem and a huge social problem.”

Richard Bucala, MD, PhD, Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Medicine (Rheumatology), Professor of Pathology and of Epidemiology (microbial diseases), Yale School of Medicine

Why it’s important – Malaria, the world’s second most deadly communicable disease (after tuberculosis), has coexisted with humanity for over 100,000 years. While the mosquito-borne illness was virtually wiped out in this country in the early 1950s, many more U.S. travelers in the recent past have been returning from parts of the world where the disease is endemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 2,000 Americans are diagnosed with malaria each year, most of them frequent travelers or immigrants. But malaria exacts its greatest toll in sub-Saharan Africa, where it kills over half a million people annually. Most are children who have not yet developed any immunity to the disease. Another highly vulnerable population is pregnant women; immunity to the disease is decreased by pregnancy.

This Device Tracks Parkinson’s by Watching You Walk Around at Home

In a previous study, the device demonstrated the ability to detect Parkinson’s disease by simply “listening” to people sleeping—thanks to an AI that researchers trained to analyze a person’s breathing patterns as they snooze. In a new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the same team discovered that the device could also monitor a patient’s movement and walking speed wirelessly as they move about their room. This information can then be sent to doctors and neurologists to help them better understand the severity and progression of the disease. Tony Ho Tran reported on the work in his article on The Daily Beast. The device works by sending radio signals throughout a room the patient is in that bounce back to it, allowing it to “see” its environment. It’s not unlike the same way bats use echolocation to pick up on their surroundings. The device’s AI can identify the patient and monitor them as they go about their day in their room.

“By being able to have a device in the home that can monitor a patient and tell the doctor remotely about the progression of the disease, and the patient’s medication response so they can attend to the patient even if the patient can’t come to the clinic—now they have real, reliable information—that actually goes a long way toward improving equity and access.”

Dina Katabi, MIT computer science researcher

Why it’s important – I’ve written previously on how technologies can support patients with Parkinson’s disease. For the more than 10 million people living with Parkinson’s, tracking the progression of the disease is vital to letting doctors know whether patients are responding well to medicine, whether symptoms are becoming more severe, and how the disease is impacting everyday life. The problem for many patients, though, is that they can’t always get to a hospital or doctor’s office easily—whether because they live too far away or their illness prevents them from traveling easily. A device like this can go a long way in helping treat—and potentially slow down—the progression and severity of Parkinson’s disease. While it’s not a cure, it can benefit the lives of the millions living with neurodegenerative illness, giving them a better quality of care and life—all from the comfort of their bedroom.

5 ways tech can combat addiction treatment’s staffing shortage

Finally, here is a guest post on Venture Beat by Dr. Thomas Britton, CEO of American Addiction Centers. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a worst-case scenario developing in the addiction treatment industry: The need for treatment has skyrocketed while the number of clinical personnel has rapidly declined. While workforce recruitment and development must remain a top priority, we also need urgent and innovative solutions that can provide essential stop-gap care options. Technology is playing a pivotal role in getting people the help they need and acts as a force multiplier for the staff currently in place. Despite the beneficial impact of technology today, behavioral health will need to intensify its use to meet increased demand with a continuing and intensifying shortage of critical staffing. His five recommendations:

  • Chatbots that leverage AI to engage individuals during a crisis or keep them engaged in the aftermath can provide an essential lifeline.
  • Providers need to create benchmark outcomes to strive for while identifying the interventions necessary to achieve them.
  • Well-designed virtual services have proven to have positive outcomes consistent with face-to-face treatment in most applications. Insurers are getting fully on board with this new modality, ensuring it will become a mainstay of modern addiction treatment.
  • Wearables can be used to monitor addiction by incentivizing positive behaviors and spotting indicators that could signal the risk of relapse. They can also be set up for geofencing to provide warnings if someone in recovery is venturing near places that aren’t good for their sobriety. It can also provide reminders and reinforcement of positive behaviors like exercising, meditation, attending meetings, and other stress management tools.
  • Digital communities maintain recovery connections. Extending patient interaction for up to 12 months creates a 60-80% success rate, compared to just 30% for a 90-day inpatient stay.

Why it’s important – With an estimated 60 million people in the U.S. using substances that would benefit from treatment —and more than 100,000 overdose deaths last year alone, the need for substance use disorder (SUD) treatment has never been greater. At the same time, employee turnover in the industry is as high as 50%, with roughly 25% of those who’ve left reporting that they are not planning to return to the field. The Office of National Drug Control Policy has predicted a staffing shortage of as many as 150,000 providers within the next five years. This considerable deficit will undoubtedly put millions of people at risk and could cost countless lives. Leveraging technology can certainly help address these issues.

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