Health Tech News This Week – March 4, 2023

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

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Eko Launches Heart Disease Detection Platform CEO Calls ‘Shazam for Heartbeats’

MedCity News’ Katie Adams reports that Eko recently launched an AI-powered software that its CEO describes as “Shazam for heartbeats.” The platform connects with Eko’s digital stethoscopes and identifies whether or not a patient’s heart sounds indicate disease. The platform uses a machine learning algorithm to search through its database of heart sounds and determine whether the sounds that a primary care provider hears through their stethoscope are normal or abnormal.

Why it’s important – The Sensora platform was cleared by the FDA last summer, and it is in its “early access deployment” stage. Eko isn’t the only company developing AI technology for the earlier detection of heart disease. There are plenty of companies in that space, such as Cardiologs and Caption Health (which GE HealthCare acquired this month). Eko is trying to differentiate itself by focusing specifically on heart sounds.

Infographic of the week – Telemedicine Community Readiness Model – To ensure that technology solutions and initiatives are successfully implemented, communities should be empowered to facilitate adoption and increase end users’ acceptance by giving the necessary support tools, including specific measures to implement and scale up #telemedicine. The TCRM is designed to help decision-makers in #communities create a favorable environment that facilitates the implementation and scale-up of TIs. The model enables practitioners and provides a meaningful tool to support the implementation and scale-up of TIs.

Image Credit: Front. Digit. Health, 23 February 2023
Sec. Health Technology Implementation
Volume 5 – 2023 |

Wearable Device Senses When Vocal Fatigue Sets in

Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a wearable that can detect when someone is talking or singing and tallies this information to warn when the wearer might be at risk of vocal fatigue. Conn Hastings reports on this development in his article in Medgadget. The device communicates with a smartphone app to keep track of voice use. The researchers are also developing a system whereby users can indicate in the app if they feel they are approaching vocal fatigue. The system will remember this as a personal ‘vocal budget’ and then warn the user ahead of time if they are getting close to such levels of voice use in the future.

Image Credit: Northwestern University
YouTube Video Credit: Northwestern University

Why it’s important – Overusing your voice in a short space of time can lead to vocal fatigue and even injury. This technology is helpful for patients with vocal disorders but also for people who rely on their voices a lot, such as singers, politicians, and teachers. By setting personal thresholds, the technology allows wearers to receive a haptic signal when they are getting near to fatiguing their voice, creating an opportunity to rest the voice for a while.

Podcast of the week – From Becker’s Healthcare Podcast – In this episode, Lee Schwamm, MD, neurologist and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Telehealth and American Heart Association volunteer, describes the new era in telehealth, focusing on the boom in virtual care as well as the past, present, and future role of telehealth in cardiovascular care. You can listen to the episode here:

Common Wearables Promising for Detection of Prodromal Parkinson’s

A new screening method that combines a patient symptom questionnaire and data from technology found in most wearable sleep and fitness trackers offers new hope for very early detection of Parkinson’s disease (PD), new research suggests. Kelli Whitlock Burton describes the research in her article in Medscape. The small, proof-of-concept study combined the results of a modified patient survey with actigraphy data collected during sleep to predict patients with RBD accurately. The findings are published in the January issue of Movement Disorders.

Why it’s important – About 1%-2% of the general population has RBD, but the incidence is much higher among patients with PD, dementia with Lewy bodies, and other neurological conditions. About half of the patients with PD develop isolated rapid-eye-movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD), often years before other symptoms present. RBD causes frequent twitches, jerks, and unpredictable, often violent, episodes of dream enactment. In a clinical setting, a screening model such as this could be used in two steps. Patients who screen positive for RBD on the questionnaire would receive a wearable device to collect data on sleep behavior. Those who screen positive during that second phase would then undergo further testing to determine whether they meet the criteria for prodromal PD.

MRI FOR ALL – Portable low-field scanners could revolutionize medical imaging in nations rich and poor—if doctors embrace them

For years, some researchers have been striving to build scanners that use much smaller permanent magnets made of the alloy often found in desk toys. They produce fields roughly 1/25th as strong as a standard MRI magnet, which once would have been far too weak to glean a usable image. But, thanks to better electronics, more efficient data collection, and new signal processing techniques, multiple groups have imaged the brain in such low fields—albeit with lower resolution than standard MRI. The result is scanners small enough to roll to a patient’s bed and possibly cheap enough to make MRI accessible globally. Adrian Cho provides a detailed analysis of the technology in his article in Science.

Image Credit: Yale School of Medicine

Why it’s important – The portable scanner brings MRI closer to the patient, both in time and distance. Hyperfine envisions using it in the neuro ICU to quickly assess patients too ill or unstable to wheel to a conventional MRI or a CT machine, which produces a type of 3D x-ray. The cheaper, smaller devices might also allow patients to get more frequent follow-up scans. And, in much of the world, MRI is simply unavailable. What will win over doctors will be a “use case”—a killer app for the scanners. For example, they might be put into special ambulances for stroke care. It is unclear whether Hyperfine and others have found that use case, but most predict it will come.

Ankle Exoskeleton Algorithm Adapts To Speed And Gait

Current exoskeletons are limited because they must be tailored to a single user performing a single task, like walking in a straight line. Any changes require a lengthy set of manual readjustments. Kate McAlpine, Michigan reports that the new control algorithm demonstrates the ability to handle different speeds, as well as changes in gait between running and walking. The control algorithm directly measures how quickly muscle fibers are expanding and contracting to determine the amount of chemical energy the muscle is using while doing its work. Then, it compares that measurement with a biological model to determine the best way to assist.

Why it’s important – This approach could pave the way for exoskeletons that can better handle the uncertainties of the real world. Measuring muscle physiology directly is a key departure from current methods, which use broader motion measures. Going straight to the source of motion could result in more accurate measurements over a more extensive range of movements with far less computing power required.

Walmart Health plans clinic expansion in 2024, pushing into 2 new states

Walmart plans to expand its network of medical centers in 2024, including a launch into two new states, as retail health giants race to build out their primary care footprints. Rebecca Pifer highlights their expansion plans in her article in Health Dive. The company announced Thursday it plans to open 28 new Walmart Health centers in 2024, bringing its total locations to more than 75. Specifically, Walmart plans to open ten new locations in Dallas; eight in Houston; six in Phoenix; and four in Kansas City, Missouri.

Why it’s important – Walmart is one of a handful of retail health giants racing to build up a primary care presence as demand hikes for affordable care near the home. Along with rivals like CVS and Walgreens, Walmart is banking on its extensive brick-and-mortar footprint, brand recognition, and a series of partnerships and acquisitions to drive consumers to its medical centers. Some 30% of the primary market could belong to nontraditional players by 2030, according to estimates from Bain.

RadNet’s Path to AI Profit

Jake Fishman’s article in The Imaging Wire has my blood pressure soaring. RadNet expects its new direct-to-patient Enhanced Breast Cancer Detection (EBCD) service to generate between $11M and $13M in 2023 revenue, representing up to 72% of RadNet’s overall AI revenue and driving much of its AI profitability improvements. And EBCD’s nationwide rollout won’t be complete until Q3.

Why it’s important – Let me see if I understand this: ‘We purchased several AI companies. Uptake by our physicians has been slow. So, we will increase utilization by creating this Enhanced Breast Cancer Detection service. We’re going to expect the patient to pay extra for it’ ($59/year) even though another article further down in the newsletter shows that sixty percent of U.S. adults in a massive new Pew Research survey (n=11k) would feel uncomfortable if their healthcare providers relied on AI for their treatment, while 33% expect AI to lead to worse outcomes and 57% believe it will hurt patient-provider relationships. I’m appalled by this behavior. Shouldn’t every examination be comprehensive and “enhanced”? How does creating a “class system” for these exams benefit anyone? It will only widen the divide between the “haves,” with the financial resources to pay for the ‘enhanced’ exam, and the “have-nots,” who can’t afford the ‘service.’ I guess Gordon Gekko, in the movie Wall Street was right when he said: “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

Image Credit: Pew Research Center

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