Health Tech News This Week – March 25, 2023

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

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3D-Printed Insole Measures Foot Pressure Right In Shoe

A new 3D-printed customized insole uses integrated sensors to measure the pressure on the sole of the foot directly in the shoe during various activities. Peter Ruegg reports on the development in Futurity online.

Before specialists can accurately fit such insoles, they must first create a pressure profile of the feet. To this end, athletes or patients have to walk barefoot over pressure-sensitive mats, where they leave their footprints. Based on this pressure profile, orthopedists then create customized insoles by hand. The problem with this approach is that optimizations and adjustments take time. Another disadvantage is that the pressure-sensitive mats allow measurements only in a confined space but not during workouts or outdoor activities. The new invention, described in Scientific Reports, addresses these issues.

YouTube Video Credit: ETH, zurich

Why it’s important – These insoles aren’t just easy to use; they’re also easy to make. They are produced in just one step—including the integrated sensors and conductors—using a single 3D printer called an extruder. In the future, 3D-printed insoles with integrated sensors could be used by athletes or in physiotherapy, for example, to measure training or therapy progress. Based on such measurement data, training plans can be adjusted, and permanent shoe insoles with different hard and soft zones can be produced using 3D printing. There are no commercialization plans right now. But the potential market for these insoles would appear to be significant.

Podcasts of the week – When this story hit my news feeds this week, I knew it would be the recommendation. To quote from the Substack article by one of the founders Rory Cellan-Jones: “Like many an idea, good or bad, it was born in a pub. Over the last 18 months, a group of us with Parkinson’s have been meeting in the Ladbroke Arms in London’s Notting Hill Gate, and now we are launching a podcast. It is called Movers and Shakers, and in those familiar words, it is available wherever you get your podcasts. The podcast aims to educate and inform but, most of all, to entertain. There are an estimated 145,000 people with Parkinson’s in the UK, and we hope to reach not just them but their relatives and carers and anyone who wants to hear five grumpy old men and one wise woman reflect on what they have learned from confronting illness.”

Image Credit: Movers & Shakers Podcast

This week’s second recommendation is from Dr. Zeev Neuwirth’s podcast series Creating a New Healthcare. The episode is titled: Addressing the crisis of rural healthcare in America. His guest, Dr. Jennifer Schneider, is the co-founder & CEO of Homeward Health. Before this, she served as Chief Medical Officer of Livongo and then as its President, where she led the company’s strategic clinical product vision, data science & clinical trials. As many of you know, Livongo was acquired by Teladoc in the largest digital health acquisition to date. Before Livongo, Dr. Schneider held several key leadership roles at Castlight Health, including as its Chief Medical Officer. Earlier in her career, she was a health outcomes researcher and Chief Resident at Stanford University and has practiced as an attending physician at Stanford University and Kaiser Permanente. She is the author of Decoding Health Signals: Silicon Valley’s Consumer-First Approach to a New Era of Health, which explores how companies use big data analytics and artificial intelligence to reinvent care delivery for people with chronic conditions. This is a critically important topic and should be required listening for all.

Image Credit: Creating a New Healthcare podcast

Google launches Open Health Stack for app developers, unveils new AI partnerships

Google continues to build out its health-related initiatives leveraging artificial intelligence to help consumers find information on internet searches, advance language-generating tech and offer new tools for developers to build health apps. Fierce Healthcare’s Heather Landi reports that the tech giant also unveiled new AI partnerships focused on cancer screenings and maternal health and efforts to give Fitbit users easier access to health and wellness data from their devices.

Last fall, the Google Search team rolled out multiple features for its search engine to make it easier for users to access key information about obtaining Medicaid and Medicare benefits. Building on those efforts, Google said it would make Medicaid re-enrollment information easier to find on Search. The company also announced that it’s making it easier for people to find affordable healthcare centers nearby. Consumers will be able to see providers that identify as community health centers offering free or low-cost care, according to Hema Budaraju, senior director of product, health, and social impact at Google Search.

Why it’s important – Google wants to accelerate the future of digital care in low-resource settings to lower the barrier to equitable healthcare. To that end, they announced the launch of the Open House stack, the suite of open-source tools to help local developers create next-generation healthcare apps. Open Health Stack uses FHIR resources as its underlying data standard that, makes it easier to build patient-centered solutions that can connect within and across healthcare systems. For example, one component, the Android FHIR SDK, makes the data stored on the app secure and accessible offline so that it’s safe and helpful even in places without cell phone coverage or internet access.

Infographic of the week – Another great infographic from Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute listing tech giants’ collaborations with healthcare institutions.

Image Credit: Dr. Bertalan Mesko, The Medical Futurist Institute

Sooma’s neuromodulation therapy for depression granted FDA breakthrough status

Sooma Medical has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration breakthrough designation for its neuromodulation depression therapy. Nick Paul Taylor brings us the story in his MedTech Dive article. Treatment with the portable, patient-administered transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) device consists of daily 30-minute sessions for at least three weeks. By delivering a mild current to stimulate parts of the brain, Sooma hopes to improve depressive symptoms. A study in the European Union, where the device is on the market, found more than half of patients have a complete clinical response, and tolerability to the treatment is good. Sooma funded the single-arm study.

Image Credit: Sooma

Why it’s important – The Helsinki-based MedTech has developed a head cap that the patient wears to eliminate needing a technician or nurse to measure the electrode locations. When the hand-held stimulation device is activated, it sends a current through the electrodes in the cap and adjusts the level based on the resistance provided by the hair and skin. The device has applications in several indications — the first sham-controlled trial looked at tinnitus — but the breakthrough designation is limited to depression. Earlier this year, researchers linked the Sooma device to a reduction in symptoms in patients with major depressive disorder in a real-world study. The study lacked a control group.

Providence, Luna Partner to Provide Patients At-Home Physical Therapy

Providence recently launched a program to expand its patients’ access to in-home physical therapy. The health system is launching the initiative in partnership with Luna, a provider of in-home outpatient physical therapy that serves patients in nearly 30 states, as reported by Katie Adams in MedCity News.

Using Luna’s technology platform, Providence clinicians will match their patients to Luna’s therapists based on specialty, geography, and schedules. Once matched, patients can start having physical therapy sessions like the type administered in a traditional outpatient clinic, but from their home. To ensure consistent and quality care, the same therapist will treat the patient for the entirety of their care plan. Luna’s platform also allows patients to communicate with their physical therapist and discuss their care needs between visits.

Why it’s important – Providence wanted to reduce patient friction points and ensure quality and continuity of care within the health system. Providence is beginning this program by launching it in the central Puget Sound area. Starting in April, physicians at three select Providence locations in this area will begin referring their patients to Luna. The health system has plans to extend the initiative to the greater Puget Sound area after assessing the first pilot.

Nvidia, Medtronic Partner to Create AI Platform for Medical Devices

Another Katie Adams story outlines how the two companies plan to create a marketplace for AI applications that will allow developers and clinicians to develop their own algorithms to use on Medtronic’s medical devices. The first incarnation of the two companies’ shared vision will incorporate Nvidia’s AI technology into Medtronic’s GI Genius intelligent endoscopy module. GI Genius is the first AI-assisted colonoscopy tool cleared by the Food and Drug Administration to help physicians detect polyps that can lead to colorectal cancer. As part of their collaboration, the two companies plan to create a medical device marketplace for AI applications. The marketplace, which will run on Nvidia technology, will allow developers and clinicians to develop their own algorithms to use on Medtronic’s medical devices.

“This is a model I think is really great for the industry because it’s not easy for an AI developer with a single application to bring it to market. But when you have a world leader like Medtronic, who understands how to do the clinical trials and do the FDA submissions and actually bring the application to market, that’s when you have that three-way triangle of technology developer and medical device leader to really accelerate the pace of innovation.”

Kimberly Powell, Vice President and General Manager of healthcare, Nvidia

Why it’s important – Embedding these technologies into GI Genius will give doctors “AI-enhanced” diagnostic images that can help them detect polyps earlier so that patients can start cancer treatment sooner. More and more healthcare technology companies are exploring real-time AI because of its ability to help inform decisions at the point of care.

Cleveland Clinic and IBM Unveil First Quantum Computer Dedicated to Healthcare Research

In a press release from the Cleveland Clinic, the health system announced the first deployment of an onsite private sector IBM-managed quantum computer in the United States. The IBM Quantum System One installed at Cleveland Clinic will be the first quantum computer in the world to be uniquely dedicated to healthcare research to help Cleveland Clinic accelerate biomedical discoveries.

Image Credit: IBM Quantum System One at Cleveland Clinic (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

Why it’s important – Quantum computing is a rapidly emerging technology that harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems that today’s most powerful supercomputers cannot practically solve. Tapping into these new computational spaces could help researchers identify new medicines and treatments more quickly. The release’s title is a bit misleading (having the system installed on site is not the same as already in use), but the initiative does indeed plan to use quantum computers in the future.

Instacart reaches deal with Boston Children’s to help deliver nutritious meals to patients

Grocery delivery technology company Instacart announced several new tools for providers to get food to patients, becoming the latest tech company to explore options to address food insecurity. Fierce Healthcare’s Robert King reports that Instacart announced Friday it would offer a suite of digital tools to Boston Children’s Hospital to enable tailored nutrition deliveries to patients. One of the tools provided by Instacart includes Fresh Funds, which are essentially stipends that will allow patients to purchase certain foods from Instacart directly. The provider would select recommended items or specific ingredients for medically tailored meal plans. Another tool is called Care Carts, where a provider can send a custom grocery delivery directly to a patient. Other tools include shoppable recipes, virtual storefronts, and digital lists a provider can build and share with patients, who can then shop for the products on the Instacart app.

Image Credit: Instacart

Why it’s important – Access to nutritious foods can deliver healthier outcomes, but several challenges have prevented healthcare providers from effectively adopting food as medicine programs at scale. With Fresh Funds, patients can select the foods that best fit their personal tastes and dietary needs and order directly from Instacart grocery retailers using their stipend. Patients can consent with Instacart to share their purchase history with their providers to better understand eating habits. This technology can also give providers tools to measure program effectiveness and identify where nutritious foods can impact health most.

Oak Street, Interwell Combine Primary Care & Dialysis with New Joint Venture

Another article from Katie Adams reports that Oak Street Health teamed up with kidney care management company Interwell Health to create a joint venture called OakWell, which seeks to provide primary care to end-stage kidney disease patients directly in existing dialysis centers. The plan is to start by partnering with dialysis centers in Chicago, Houston, and Dallas-Fort Worth and begin offering care services in these areas in the third quarter of this year. OakWell’s primary care teams will work closely with patients’ nephrologists to deliver them appropriate care while they are in dialysis centers. This will eliminate the barrier of attending separate, additional medical appointments.

Why it’s important – Patients who receive in-center dialysis treatment typically spend upwards of 12 hours per week in a dialysis center, which makes it difficult to attend other healthcare appointments. This is problematic because dialysis patients usually have other chronic conditions that require the attention of a primary care provider. Kidney patients have unique challenges, so bringing more coordinated primary and kidney care into the dialysis center can be transformational. These care teams will focus on managing patients’ chronic conditions, helping them avoid missed dialysis treatments, rescheduling any missed dialysis treatments, and coordinating care that needs to take place outside the center. They will also provide behavioral health and renal pharmacy support services, as well as facilitate the coordination of kidney transplants when possible.

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