Health Tech News This Week – May 13, 2023

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

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How One Company Is Tackling Medication Adherence

Mail-order pharmacies like Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company and Amazon’s RxPass are gaining popularity. But they’re missing in-depth consultations with pharmacists. Aspen RxHealth is trying to fill this gap and sees itself as a potential mail-order pharmacy partner. Marissa Plescia covers the story in MedCity News. Rather than act as the dispenser of medications, it focuses on pharmacist-patient consultations to help patients better understand their medications. The company works with health plans — including Humana, UnitedHealthcare, and Centene — to connect patients with pharmacists who contract with Aspen. Payer clients pay Aspen once consultations are completed. These patients are matched with pharmacists based on factors like location and language. Then they have a telephone conversation to discuss their medications, how to take them correctly, and how they affect them. After that first consultation, patients can stay in touch with the pharmacist for continuing care.

“I can get my medications more affordably, more quickly from the comfort of my home. But what’s missing is somebody who’s really driving appropriate use of all medications — kind of a quarterback if you will — to see across all the different dispensing sites, have all of the information, and empower that patient … to make sure they’re on the right mix of meds to drive the intended outcome.”

David Medvedeff, co-founder and CEO of Aspen RxHealth

Why it’s important – As mail-order pharmacies gain popularity, Medvedeff sees Aspen as a potential partner for these companies so they can supplement their expertise in accessibility with Aspen’s clinical expertise. He said Aspen has reached out to several mail-order pharmacies and is in conversation with some of the more tech-forward pharmacies, though he didn’t name which ones.

Infographic of the week – One of the best infographic slides ever created is from Adam Fein, CEO of Drug Channels Institute and Founder & President of Pembroke Consulting. Every Fall, US #healthcare and #healthinsurance aficionados eagerly await Adam’s annual publishing of his “Vertical Business Relationships Among Insurers, PBMs, Specialty Pharmacies, and Providers” infographic –> it is an industry mainstay.

Image Credit: Pembroke Consulting, d/b/a/ Drug Channels Institute

Revolutionary ear-EEG device aims to detect Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s early

This important development is reported in Innovations Origins online. Rigshospitalet, Aarhus University, and T&W Engineering collaborate on a groundbreaking project to develop an ear-EEG device for the early detection of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Funded by a DKK 15 million grant from Innovation Fund Denmark, the device measures the brain’s electrical activity and sleep patterns, which can indicate early signs of these neurodegenerative disorders. The ear-EEG device, known as the PANDA-project device, is designed to be similar to in-ear headphones, making it easy and comfortable for patients to wear. PANDA, which stands for “Progression Assessment in Neurodegenerative Disorders of Ageing,” is a four-year project with a total budget of DKK 26 million. The main focus is to create a simple, at-home solution for the early detection and monitoring of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Image Credit: T&W Engineering

Why it’s important – Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are not only a growing financial burden for the healthcare sector but also a significant challenge for patients and their families. Current methods for dementia diagnosis and monitoring are not scalable and not suitable for repeated measurements to trace or monitor disease progression. By developing home-based solutions, health profiles can be improved, leading to earlier diagnosis and better patient treatment options. By introducing the ear-EEG device as a home-based screening tool, patients can be diagnosed more easily and earlier than today. This would greatly benefit both patients and healthcare systems, reducing the impact of these serious brain diseases on individuals, families, and society.

Podcast of the week – “An unfiltered look at what AI can (and cannot) do” This Unfiltered episode of Fixing Healthcare welcomes Dr. Jonathan Fisher, a respected cardiologist and renowned advocate for physician well-being. ChatGPT is constantly challenging our understanding of what generative AI can accomplish. From acing medical-licensing tests to coding entire websites from simple prompts and even simulating talented musicians like Drake and Weeknd, the question now is: what can’t AI do? How will this thinking, and our human biases, apply to medicine—both for patients and doctors? You can listen to the podcast here.

Image Credit: Fixing Healthcare Podcast

Knitted Glove Massages the Hand to Treat Edema

Conn Hastings in Medgadget online reports that a team of medical engineers at Cornell University has developed a knitted glove designed to treat hand edema, where fluid accumulation leads to hand swelling. The glove is a machine-knit textile that can be customized for individual patients in terms of hand size and shape. It also contains shape memory alloy springs as actuators. Cleverly, the actuators work sequentially, beginning at the fingertip and progressing back along the finger to shunt the fluid away. See a video about the technology below.

YouTube Video Credit: Hybrid Body Lab

Why it’s important – Hand edema involves swelling of the hand and fingers and can be caused by injury or certain conditions. The swelling is not just uncomfortable but can significantly interfere with a person’s ability to perform daily activities, particularly tasks that require a high level of finger dexterity. The condition can make it difficult for patients to perform daily activities, and current treatment often involves receiving a manual edema massage performed by a trained healthcare worker. However, this is time-consuming, expensive and requires patients to attend regular appointments. This new technology is intended for at-home use and consists of a knitted glove with in-built robotic actuators that gently squeeze the hand. The actuations occur consecutively to shunt fluid from the fingertips back to the proximal portion of the hand, helping to reduce edema.

Northwell launches AI startup with Aegis

Northwell Holdings and Aegis Ventures are starting a company that uses retinal imaging and artificial intelligence to detect and diagnose diseases. Gabriel Perna brings us the story in Modern Healthcare online. Northwell and Aegis are forming Optain with technology developed by Australian company Eyetelligence. Optain’s AI technology analyzes images from a small retinal camera to screen for and diagnose multiple chronic and acute conditions. Northwell Health will be Optain’s first commercial customer in America once the company receives regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Why it’s important – Dr. Richard Braunstein, senior vice president and executive director of ophthalmology at Northwell Health, said he envisions using the technology to screen for cardiovascular, neurological, and chronic diseases. Initially, the goal will be to use it in ophthalmology. But given Northwell’s size, which includes more than 21 hospitals and 890 outpatient facilities, a lot of room exists to experiment with finding ways to use the technology, he said. Optain will work with Northwell on research and development while the regulatory approval and commercial rollout processes are underway, said Optain CEO Jeff Dunkel. While Eyetelligence has received regulatory approval in Australia and Asia, he said the U.S. market offers the most growth potential.

How AI is helping UC San Diego Health lower its sepsis mortality rate

In other AI news, UC San Diego Health is using artificial intelligence in the emergency department to analyze bedside and EHR data to predict which patients are most at risk for developing sepsis, La Jolla Light reported on May 6. Naomi Diaz in Becker’s Health IT reports that the health system is also using AI to predict which patients will develop bowel obstructions after surgery and is working on studying how AI responds to patient messages.

“We implemented this algorithm six months ago, and in our emergency department in the last six months we’ve had the lowest observed [versus] expected mortality and sepsis that we’ve ever seen at UC San Diego Health.”

Christopher Longhurst, MD, chief medical officer and chief digital officer, UC San Diego Health

Why it’s important – The health system is working on building a new center for digital information and artificial intelligence that can house the organization’s digital information it is gathering through these various programs and pilots.

Chest Wearable Provides Key Heart Measurements

More from Conn Hastings at Medgadget this week. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a new chest wearable that can obtain electrocardiogram and seismocardiogram data from the underlying heart. While basic ECG can be monitored via smart watches, no other wearable combines it with seismocardiography, which would conventionally be obtained by listening to the heart using a stethoscope. Pairing both measurements into one device allows clinicians to get a more complete picture of cardiac health while freeing patients to go about their daily activities wearing an unobtrusive wearable. This latest offering is a flexible “e-tattoo” that conforms to the chest’s skin and can provide continuous cardiac monitoring for at least 24 hours, although the penny-sized battery can last up to 40 hours and can be swapped out by the patient if required. The flexible patch weighs just 2.5 grams and can wirelessly transmit cardiac data. Study in journal Advanced Electronic Materials: A Chest-Conformable, Wireless Electro-Mechanical E-Tattoo for Measuring Multiple Cardiac Time Intervals

Image Credit: University of Texas at Austin

Why it’s important – Wearables are changing how we monitor patients and obtain clinical data, replacing the inconvenient medical appointments and bulky electronics of the past. Applying a wearable to the skin could let patients go about their daily business while providing valuable health data that could reveal a health problem and prompt early treatment.

Cyberattacks on hospitals are growing threats to patient safety, experts say

Finally, this story by Nicole Wetsman was broadcast on ABC News this week. Hospitals have become a top target for ransomware gangs, which take control of vulnerable online networks and demand a ransom to unlock them, severely disrupting patient care. The number of attacks on U.S. hospitals each year doubled between 2016 and 2021, from 43 to 91, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Last year saw an even greater number of incidents, the American Hospital Association said. Healthcare systems are often underprepared to stop these attacks, cybersecurity experts said, even though research shows they come with genuine health risks for patients.

“We’re not yet in a place where we can reliably say the hospital your family depends upon in most of America is, at a minimum, cyber hygiene-level sufficient to fend off preventable attacks.”

Josh Corman, a leading expert on cybersecurity and health care

Why it’s importantNewly published research in the journal JAMA Network Open documents a ripple effect that can impact health care and the patient experience across an entire region. The study looked at the fallout from a single ransomware attack on a single San Diego hospital in 2021. It found that emergency rooms at adjacent hospitals had more ambulances arrive and saw more patients than expected, and had longer wait times for all patients seeking care. The number of situations where a patient left without being seen by a doctor rose by 127%.

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