Health Tech News This Week – December 3, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

From finding the right candidates to keeping them, how hospitals are using AI to address workforce needs

Anne Burky’s article in Fierce Healthcare reports that companies are using AI to ease hiring and retention while freeing up resources like manager time and company funds to create new opportunities for career development and offer higher wages. Healthcare organizations struggling under a mountain of unfilled job postings are turning to technology to address staffing shortages. Artificial intelligence and machine learning models are easing the application process, automizing workflow to decrease burnout, and offering leadership time to connect with employees, health tech executives say. The technology also provides ways to help healthcare professionals find the right job, stay in the right position, and interact with coworkers and patients on a more human level.

“What’s going to help increase retention? Flexibility and new opportunities. It’s a way to engage your existing workforce, to allow them to have the opportunities that historically are challenging to manage manually.”

Dani Bowie, Vice President, clinical strategy and transformation, Trusted Health

Why it’s important – Almost 334,000 clinicians, including physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, exited the workforce in 2021 due to retirement, burnout, and pandemic-related stressors, including increased workplace violence, according to a recent report from Definitive Healthcare. On average, hospitals are experiencing 27.1% nurse turnover, up from 18.7% in 2020. Hospital staff turnover is at 25.9%, up from 19.5%, according to the 2022 NSI National Health Care Retention and RN Staffing Report. And there are no signs that this will change at any time in the near future. The average age of nurses is already 57 years, according to Definitive Healthcare’s data, pointing to a quickly approaching cliff where the healthcare shortage will become an even greater crisis. Even with hefty sign-on bonuses, human resource departments cannot hire people fast enough as organizations can’t get hires to stay.


Infographics of the week – This graphic is from an excellent article by McKinsey, which suggests expanding from the legacy framing of three phases of life—childhood, adulthood, and old age to encompass healthy aging. The four dimensions of health are shaped by social and personal influencing factors that support a holistic view of health. This concept of health extending beyond physical attributes resonates with older adults. A recent MHI survey found that most older adults think all four dimensions of health are important. This is a great framework to follow when creating healthcare services for older adults.

Image Credit: McKinsey Health Institute

The second infographic this week comes from Dr. Tazeen Rizvi. Digital innovations can be leveraged to improve access to #healthservices, especially for those with limited access to quality care in hard-to-reach areas. However, digital health deployment is constrained by many challenges, including poor coordination, lack of stakeholder involvement, weak health systems, lack of awareness and knowledge about digital health, inadequate infrastructures, and lack of interoperability of the numerous digital health systems. He lists the steps mentioned below which can help in reducing barriers to adoption:

Image Credit: Dr. Tazeen Rizvi

Here’s a third infographic from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, having the right picture is worth even more. When conveying a concept as nuanced as the difference between equality and equity, developing a visual that effectively engages diverse audiences and helps generate meaningful conversations can take time and a great deal of input, thought, and care. Their goal was to make it simple enough for a wide array of audiences to use and understand. I think they succeeded beautifully with this version.

Image Credit: Joan Barlow, RWJF

Podcast of the week – This week’s recommendation is the Health & Veritas podcast featuring Dr. Eric Topol: Pushing Medicine into the Future (Health & Veritas Ep. 58). Yale physician-professors Howard Forman and Harlan Krumholz talk about the latest news and ideas in healthcare and seek out the truth amid the noise. In this episode, they’re joined by Dr. Eric Topol, a physician and writer who is widely recognized both as a leading researcher and a public voice on medicine and health. They discuss his career turn toward genomics and digital health, and the fight against misinformation on Twitter. You can listen here.


To Prepare for Future Surges, U.S. Hospitals Must Start Planning — & Sharing Resources

Harvard Business School Professor Regina E. Herzlinger published this article in Medical Device News Magazine Online. And while not specifically a technology piece, I thought it was important to share it with readers of this blog. She asks the question: since many hospitals struggled (and in many cases, failed) to adapt to the strain of each COVID-19 surge, is the U.S. healthcare system now better prepared to weather the next inevitable public health emergency? So far, the answer is largely “no.” Her solution to the surge problem requires hospitals to create surge plans that form shared resource networks. She and her colleague Dr. Richard J. Boxer extensively discussed and wrote about alternative approaches to surge capacity management, including in a recent Health Affairs article. They recommend that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) require oversight of a new accounting standard for surge capacity management.

“Ultimately, I can see no reason for hospitals to not coordinate their efforts during future surges. The benefits to hospitals and to the public are manifold—and most importantly, lives will be saved when these changes are made. The sooner our nation can get started on this initiative, the better for all involved.”

Regina E. Herzlinger, Nancy R. McPherson Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Why it’s important – Although controversial, Herzlinger’s plan would have numerous benefits, which she outlines in the Health Affairs article. Since we’re not out of the woods yet with the current pandemic and are likely to experience similar surges in the future, I think this is an important topic to consider. This is well worth reading.


Apple earbuds show promise as hearing aids in clinical trial

A paper published in iScience takes the blurring of the line between earbuds and hearing aids a step further by asking if Apple AirPods can help people with mild to moderate hearing loss. As reported by Nick Paul Taylor in MedTech Dive online, researchers found the earbuds meet four of the five standards for personal sound amplification products and perform comparably to hearing aids in terms of speech perception in quiet environments. Apple’s earbuds have a “live listen” feature that transmits amplified environmental sounds into the ears of the wearer, much like a hearing aid does.

Image Credit: Apple, Inc.

Why it’s important – The study suggests that some consumer earbuds can function as hearing aids to potentially further lower the cost and address the stigma associated with the technology.


Testing Amazon Clinic, the tech giant’s latest foray into healthcare

Geek Wire’s Charlotte Schubert shares her experiences testing the company’s latest foray into healthcare in her article this week. Amazon Clinic is available to adults between the ages of 18 and 64 in 32 states, using third-party digital health companies like SteadyMD and HealthTap. People can order treatments from pharmacies, including another Amazon health endeavor, Amazon Pharmacy. She provides a step-by-step review of her entire experience, including a peek at the section on how Amazon Clinic handles the critical HIPAA issue. She also includes some great screenshots to give readers a sense of the user interface. She summarizes the encounter this way:

‘The interaction was professional, pleasant and clear — and it was easy. The fee also includes two weeks for follow-up messages after the initial consultation.”

Charlotte Schubert, Geek Wire online

Why it’s important – The model does away with time-consuming face-to-face interactions and offers the possibility of precise communication through text. Having an affordable online option like Amazon Clinic, connected to a well-known brand such as Amazon, might help people seek care for common conditions they would otherwise ignore and help them get prescription renewals. While reporters have criticized Amazon for the fits and starts to their healthcare initiatives. But it seems clear to me that Amazon appears to be set on continuing investments in healthcare despite recent layoffs and cuts to other parts of its business. In a memo to employees about the job cuts, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy called out healthcare as one of the company’s “newer initiatives that we’ve been working on for a number of years and have conviction in pursuing.” Given the size, complexity, and potential for technology to further transform the healthcare market, the sector has emerged as one of the most likely industries where Amazon could find a fourth pillar of its business alongside its existing three: Amazon Web Services, Amazon Prime, and Amazon Marketplace.


Bionaut Labs Develop Robots to Deliver Drugs Directly into the Brain

The team of researchers behind Apple’s Face ID, from Bionaut Labs, has developed robots that deliver drugs directly into the brain. Disha Chopra reports on the development in her article on Analytics Drift online. The trials aim to deliver drugs with the help of tiny robots to treat certain types of brain tumors at complex locations and a rare neurological disorder called Dandy-Walker Syndrome, which is a congenital (happening before birth) condition where the cerebellum does not develop normally. The cerebellum is an area at the back of the brain that controls movement and balance.

Why it’s important– These robots, a few millimeters long with a robust micro-magnet, could also perform biopsies. They use external control frameworks and, under predetermined magnetic fields, poke a hole in the targeted area and release the drug.


GE Healthcare teams up with augmented reality company MediView XR

GE Healthcare and MediView XR, a med-tech company that leverages augmented reality, announced their collaboration to co-develop the OmnifyXR Interventional Suite System. It will combine medical imaging and mixed-reality solutions to assist physicians and their care teams. Jessica Hagen covers the story in her article on MobiHealth News online. The collaboration will pair GE’s imaging technologies with MediView’s augmented reality and surgical navigation expertise to allow physicians to evaluate multiple holographic displays of live imaging in 3D using Microsoft’s HoloLens technology.

Why it’s important – The aim is to help physicians better assess a patient’s anatomy, make more informed clinical decisions and allow for remote collaboration by care teams in different locations. The companies’ stated goal is to create the interventional suite of the future –- one designed to improve ergonomics, with natural interactions for optimized workflow and facilitates care team collaboration.


CMR Surgical and J&J are partnering on surgical robotics

Chris Newmarker from Massdevice.com reports on the recent announcement from CMR Surgical that Johnson & Johnson MedTech’s Ethicon business will work with CMR to sell its Versius surgical robotics systems in select markets. The collaboration involves commercial teams from the two companies working together. They’ll focus on selling to select hospitals in Italy, France, Germany, and Brazil. To meet the growing demand, CMR Surgical is working on building a roughly 75,000-square-foot global manufacturing hub in Cambridgeshire.

Why it’s important – This partnership should allow CMR to expand its footprint in the surgical robotics market by leveraging the reach of J&J Ethicon, helping it compete against industry giant Intuitive Surgical. The news comes only weeks after the Cambridge, U.K.–based surgical robotics upstart announced that it had installed more than 100 Versius robotic surgery systems worldwide. There are now Versius robots in operation across Europe, Asia, Australia, Latin America, and the Middle East.


Random Thoughts On RSNA 2022 From A Forty-Plus Year Industry Veteran Attendee

“If we expand our thinking to the patient’s perspective, we will find that imaging’s value extends beyond the tight focus of the radiologist or radiation oncologist.”

Bruce G. Haffty, MD., RSNA President
Image Credit: RSNA.org

For medical imaging professionals, Thanksgiving weekend is usually an abbreviated affair. After enjoying dinner with family and friends on Thanksgiving day, they pack their bags, brave the busy travel issues, and head to Chicago for the annual Radiological Society of North America Conference and Exhibition. For over forty-five years, that was part of my schedule every year too. Now I follow the conference virtually and thought I’d share some thoughts on what’s being featured this year.

Attendance

Based on the early figures released by the RSNA, total attendance returns to typical figures, although they are still slightly below pre-pandemic levels. Total advance registration this year was 34,385, a 61.4-percent increase over the 21,300 registered on this equivalent day in the conference in 2021. Among the 34,385, 19,485 were registered as professionals. Last year, COVID-19 was still impacting attendance, while the 2020 conference had to be made entirely virtual because of the pandemic. The attendance figure for RSNA 2019, the last year before the pandemic hit, was 47,011 (with 21,837 professional registrants); in 2018, that number was 48,615 (with 21,837 professional registrants), while in 2018, the figure was 48,615, and in 2017, total attendance had been 48,445. There is still a mix of in-person and virtual attendees, and the international attendance figures appear to be closer to normal numbers, even with outbreaks happening in China and other countries at the current time. So, RSNA still lives up to its reputation as the largest medical conference in the world.


Exhibitors

The number of vendor companies was up considerably as well. This year, 647 vendors are exhibiting at McCormick Place, a 13.3-percent increase over the 571 vendors that exhibited last year. Back in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, 789 vendors had exhibited, while in 2018, 693 had exhibited.


The virtual vendor experience

I spent some time exploring the various vendors’ online virtual booths to try and understand what was new and how they were positioning their products this year. Virtual RSNA evolved from the years when COVID prevented onsite meetings. The first year left a lot to be desired, but it has evolved and become much better since then. But the user experience is decidedly mixed. Some of the interfaces are unintuitive, and the loading times are really slow – surprising in this day and age. Several websites give you information that is untainted by fluff, but so many are poor at best and abysmal at worst. I wish I had a nickel for every vendor who “developed the DICOM standard” or “is leading the charge in AI in medical imaging.” I could fund a vacation with the money.


What was being featured this year

A.I. Again – Once again, this year, there’s a big focus on A.I. applications in medical imaging. AI has applications across the radiology spectrum, including using natural language processing algorithms to help collect and process data for clinical research. Using the Gartner Hype Cycle framework, I think we’ve reached the point where AI is exiting the “peak of inflated expectations” phase and heading down to the “trough of disillusionment.” Practical experience in everyday practice has exposed the challenges of implementing AI. The biggest challenge is integration – at every step in the imaging value chain.

Which algorithms should be used and for which applications? How does the AI fit into the radiologist’s workflow? How does AI complement the radiologist’s diagnosis? And how does it impact the care pathway? These essential questions must be answered to allow for the widespread adoption of the technology.


Cloud, Cloud, and more Cloud – The benefits of Cloud solutions, such as their cost-effectiveness and predictability, unlimited scalability, and deployment flexibility, have started to outweigh the perceived risks. This is especially true in medical imaging, where the unending growth in image data volumes, coupled with long-term data retention policies in place, makes traditional storage upgrades and scale-up mechanisms unsustainable over the long run. This is why, since the early 2000s, Cloud-based solutions have provided a viable alternative to tape- and truck-based solutions for the long-term archival of medical image studies.

Two simultaneous and complementary market trends are advancing Cloud-based imaging informatics into new use cases: the continuous expansion of medical imaging applications into niche subspecialty clinical areas and the ongoing diversification in the points of care where medical multimedia content is produced and consumed by various enterprise imaging stakeholders.

Every major vendor of cloud solutions exhibited at RSNA this year: Microsoft. Google, Nuance, and NVIDIA all had major exhibits.


Photon counting CT – Photon-counting detector (PCD) CT is a new CT technology utilizing a direct conversion X-ray detector, where incident X-ray photon energies are directly recorded as electronic signals. The design of the photon-counting detector itself facilitates improvements in spatial resolution (via smaller detector pixel design) and iodine signal (via count weighting) while still permitting multi-energy imaging. PCD-CT can eliminate electronic noise and reduce artifacts due to the use of energy thresholds. Improved dose efficiency is vital for low-dose CT and pediatric imaging. The ultra-high spatial resolution of PCD-CT design permits lower dose scanning for all body regions. It is particularly helpful in identifying important imaging findings in thoracic and musculoskeletal CT. Improved iodine signal may be helpful for low-contrast tasks in abdominal imaging. Virtual monoenergetic images and material classification will assist with numerous diagnostic studies in abdominal, musculoskeletal, and cardiovascular imaging. Dual-source PCD-CT permits multi-energy CT images of the heart and coronary arteries at high temporal resolution.

Multiple presentations at RSNA this year highlighted the benefits of photon-counting CT in medical imaging. For example, PCCT is feasible for the imaging of heart defects in neonates and infants, offering a superior signal-to-noise ratio and image quality than conventional CT.


Empowering Patients – I was pleased to see this topic as a focus this year. To the patient, imaging can remove uncertainty, decrease anxiety and give hope. A significant challenge is objectively quantifying the patient’s perception of value to demonstrate its importance to the greater medical community. From the time a patient schedules an appointment through every follow-up, effort should be made to ensure they feel comfortable, informed, supported, seen, and heard. Image results are the tip of the iceberg. Imaging’s actual value through the lens of the patient—quality of life, comfort, peace of mind, certainty, hope, and trust— all lies below the surface for us to explore together.


What we didn’t see – There were no significant new product introductions at the meeting this year. Vendors essentially rounded out their product portfolios with missing elements at lower price points. I think that reflects the current market conditions where health systems are under intense margin pressure, meaning less capital is available for purchasing big-ticket items like MRI scanners. The case vendors need to make is all around efficiency, throughput, clinical benefit, and cost reduction.


Final thoughts – RSNA is still my favorite conference to follow during the year. It’s the one place where medical imaging professionals gather to review the state of the industry, explore new products and technologies that are entering the market, share clinical applications that broaden the use of medical imaging throughout the care continuum, and celebrate the contribution that imaging makes for improving the lives of the patients we serve.

Health Tech News This Week – November 26, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

A micro-thin smart bandage can quickly heal and monitor wounds

First up this week is this story by Andrew Paul in Popular Science online. Researchers at Stanford University have designed a smart bandage capable of monitoring wounds’ healing in real-time, accelerating tissue growth and blood flow around them while reducing scar severity. First described through findings published in Nature Biotechnology, the team’s new material is only 100 microns thick (equivalent to a single layer of latex paint) yet contains a radio antenna, electrical stimulator, biosensors, and other components resting atop a skin-like polymer known as a hydrogel. Once adhered atop a patient’s injury, the smart bandage monitors temperature and other biometric readings and then transmits that data to a smartphone program. If the wound is healing too slowly or if an infection is detected, the device emits small electrical stimulations across the site to boost tissue growth and reduce inflammation.

Why it’s important – Millions of people dealing with diseases and suppressed immune systems are often forced to deal with chronic wounds—usually minor injuries that take much longer to heal because of compromised health. In addition to vastly varying degrees of recovery, issues like diabetic ulcers are also costly, with treatment for a single incident costing as much as $50,000. Overall, chronic injuries cost Americans $25 billion a year.


Infographic of the week – This infographic from Dr. Tazeen Rizvi’s LinkedIn timeline shows that digital transformation must begin with understanding the patient’s need and health journey in its entirety, starting with the ailments that brought them to the hospital, along with their lifestyle, habits, social, environmental, and financial factors affecting their wellbeing. Healthcare organizations and leaders must focus on building patient-centric systems to facilitate preventive care.

Image Credit: Dr. Tazeen Rizvi

Podcast of the week – My favorite listen this week was “The Doctor Can’t See You Now” from In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt. Americans are having a hard time getting in to see a doctor, and burnout among healthcare workers is a leading reason why. The stressors of the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated a burnout crisis among physicians and nurses. But even before the pandemic, burnout was already a rampant problem for physicians and other health workers. Dr. Bob Wachter sits in for Andy and talks with AMA vice president and burnout expert Christine Sinsky about the root causes of burnout and what it will mean for all of us.


Continuous glucose monitor startups still have to prove their worth

Nicole Wetsman in the Verge reports that over the past few years, companies like Levels, January, and Nutrisense started selling programs that promise to help people start managing their blood sugar levels. They sell devices called continuous glucose monitors: small sensors that embed a tiny needle in someone’s body to track how their blood sugar (glucose) levels rise and fall. These companies say that people without diabetes should also track their blood sugar levels. These applications are new, and there still isn’t clear evidence that wearing a CGM can help people lose weight or fix metabolic problems. Many experts on obesity and metabolic disorders (like diabetes) aren’t convinced we know enough yet to recommend them.

“In terms of overall health, if you’re keeping your blood sugar at 110, I’m not sure you’re going to be affecting long-term outcomes or healthcare costs or quality of health.”

Nicole Ehrhardt, Endocrinologist, University of Washington

Why it’s important – There’s still a lot researchers don’t know about what blood sugar levels, ranges, and responses look like, particularly after eating. People without diabetes can have a wide range of blood sugar responses to the same foods. Some people have large swings in glucose levels, while others stay more steady. Tech companies like Apple and Fitbit are interested in blood sugar, and groups are looking to develop noninvasive ways to measure glucose — which could allow them to be part of smartwatches or other wearable devices. It’s crucial, then, to scrutinize groups marketing glucose monitors to everyone to figure out what that type of information can do for people. If studies show benefits, making changes to keep glucose levels steady using a continuous glucose monitor is problematic. People at risk for diabetes or who have Type 2 diabetes and who use continuous glucose monitors tend only to see minor improvements in their glucose levels. It’s still early days which even people promoting the devices recognize.


Smartwatch ECG Transforms Into a Heart Failure Diagnostic Tool

A study published in Nature Medicine reports the ability of a smartwatch ECG to detect heart failure in nonclinical environments accurately. Researchers at Mayo Clinic applied artificial intelligence (AI) to Apple Watch ECG recordings to identify patients with a weak heart pump. Participants in the study recorded their smartwatch ECGs remotely whenever they wanted, from wherever they were. Periodically, they uploaded the ECGs to their electronic health records automatically and securely via a smartphone app developed by Mayo Clinic’s Center for Digital Health. Mayo researchers interpreted Apple Watch single-lead ECGs by modifying an earlier algorithm developed for 12-lead ECGs that are proven to detect a weak heart pump. The 12-lead algorithm for low ventricular ejection fraction is licensed to Anumana Inc., an AI-driven health technology company, co-created by nference and Mayo Clinic.

Image Credit: Apple, Inc.

Why it’s important – The ability to diagnose a weak heart pump remotely, from an ECG that a person records using a consumer device, such as a smartwatch, allows timely identification of this potentially life-threatening disease at a massive scale. While the data are early, the modified AI algorithm using single-lead ECG data had an area under the curve of 0.88 to detect a weak heart pump. By comparison, this measure of accuracy is as good as or slightly better than a medical treadmill diagnostic test.


‘Virtual wards’ run via smartphone app could see more patients treated at home – and more free hospital beds

From Ashish Joshi at Sky News in the UK comes this story reporting that the NHS has created virtual wards, run via a smartphone app, as part of its plan to tackle winter pressures and hopes it will make 25,000 beds available by the end of next year. Doccla’s ‘virtual ward’ system allows patients at home to monitor and report basic issues. The virtual wards are monitored in control centers that look just like ordinary offices. Clusters of desks with staff on telephones, all are staring at their computer screens. The one in Stevenage monitors up to 90 patients at home at any time.

Image Credit: Doccla

Why it’s important – As many as one in three UK patients in some hospitals are medically fit to be discharged, but cannot be because of a lack of adequate social care. The delayed discharge puts enormous pressure on emergency departments and ambulances. Hospitals using this technology are seeing benefits.

“We work with over 20 hospitals, and we’ve found you can reduce the chances of an emergency admission by around a third, which is really important for hospitals who are under a huge amount of pressure right now, particularly going into winter.”

Greg Edwards, MD., Chief Medical Officer, Doccla

The virtual wards pose their own workforce challenges, and on their own, they will not solve all the problems facing the health service. For the patients they serve, however, the ward might be virtual – but its impact is real.


Activity Tracker Data Can Shed Light On Heart Health

Maura Kinney posted this article on Futurity online, highlighting new research that shows that data gathered from wearable activity trackers can be used to obtain several metrics associated with the user’s general physical health and cardiovascular health status. The Cleveland Clinic provided the research team with activity tracker-obtained data for 22 individuals with PAH who wore activity trackers between two clinic visits. At both clinic visits, Cleveland Clinic medical professionals recorded 26 health measurements of each participant, including health-related quality of life, heart rate measurements, and results from the commonly used aerobic capacity and endurance test known as the six-minute walk distance (6MWD) test.

“Finding so many statistically significant differences in a relatively small cohort suggests to us that activity-tracker data may make it possible to identify surrogate markers of disease severity that can be monitored remotely. We also believe that activity tracker-measured health parameters could serve as proxies for clinically measured health parameters of patients with chronic disease.”

Peter Searson, Professor, Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering

Why it’s important – While these sensors are generally marketed as daily step counters, the researchers believe they could potentially serve a greater purpose: supporting clinical care for patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) and other chronic diseases.


The biggest security risks of using fitness trackers and apps to monitor your health

Another fitness tracker article focuses on the security issues in using the devices. Cheryl Munk posted this article on CNBC’s site. While these devices are growing in popularity — and have legitimate uses — consumers don’t always understand how their information could be available to or intercepted by third parties. This is especially important because people can’t simply change their DNA sequencing or heart rhythms as they could a credit card or bank account number.

Why it’s important – The information that fitness trackers collect isn’t considered “health information” under the federal HIPAA standard or state laws like California’s Confidentiality of Medical Information Act. This means personally revealing data can potentially be used in ways a consumer might never expect. For instance, personal information could be shared with or sold to third parties such as data brokers or law enforcement. Here are the recommendations from the article to protect yourself:

  • Stick to a name brand, even though they can be hacked too.
  • A fitness tracker’s default settings may not offer the most stringent security controls. To boost protection, look at what settings can be adjusted, such as those related to social networking, location, and other shareable information.
  • Be sure to secure your account by using a strong password that you don’t use with another account and enabling two-factor authentication for the associated app. And don’t share credentials.
  • Be sure to keep the device and the app up-to-date with security fixes.

Mark Cuban in talks with hospitals to solve drug shortages

Molly Gamble in Becker’s Hospital Review reports that Mark Cuban is in talks with hospitals to identify generic drugs that often run in short supply, which he aims to make in a robotics-driven manufacturing plant currently in development in Dallas. Mr. Cuban appeared on the Motley Fool podcast on Nov. 23 with host Chris Hill to talk about disrupting healthcare, which Cost Plus Drugs has managed to do since its establishment in May 2020. The company’s portfolio now has nearly 1,000 generics, which are sold with a 15 percent markup for the price, a $3 pharmacy fee to pay the pharmacists it works with, and a $5 fee for shipping. Generic Crestor, a cholesterol-lowering med, costs $151 a month at the local CVS, a steep discount from the brand-name pill, which runs $329. Cuban sells it for $4.80. Ditto Glucophage, a diabetes drug. The generic sells for $20 at CVS, versus $3.90 at Cost Plus. Or there’s the generic version of antidepressant Zoloft, which is $50 at CVS but $4.20 at Cost Plus. Walmart and Costco are experimenting with similar models.

“I don’t think they’re paying attention to us yet. They know we exist. We’ve heard them say things to politicians and heard them say things to others. But it’s going to be very difficult — as these huge public companies — to adapt as quickly as we can.”

Mark Cuban

Why it’s important – Don’t underestimate what Cuban is doing here. His Cost Plus Drugs has received little to no reaction from pharmacy’s legacy players. Robotics in the plant will allow Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drugs to be agile in manufacturing simple drugs “that are supposed to be regularly available” and turn around numerous injectables in a day to boost hospitals’ supply. But, for all its benefits, Cost Plus has some major limitations. The company doesn’t accept insurance. Nor does it currently sell drugs that are still protected by patents, which include blockbusters like Humira (arthritis) and Trulicity (diabetes).

Health Tech News This Week – November 19, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

LG, Amwell Launch New Healthcare TV Kit to Fight Burnout and Workforce Shortages

LG Electronics announced the first solution to come from its collaboration with Amwell. The product, called the Carepoint TV Kit 200L, is in beta testing but will soon be sold to hospitals to help clinicians virtually connect to patients’ rooms. Katie Adams brings us the story in MedCity News online. Powered by Amwell’s Converge platform, the product is aimed at helping clinicians more easily engage with patients amid healthcare’s workforce shortage crisis, according to Atul Singh, LG’s general manager for digital health.

“This allows not only clinicians and providers to monitor patients, but it also allows a pathway for them to engage with their family and with their nonclinical care providers.”

Atul Singh, LG’s general manager for digital health

Why it’s important – LG’s new product provides new software and hardware that can be added to LG’s existing healthcare TVs. NYC Health + Hospitals is an example of a health system that already uses LG’s healthcare TVs for better patient engagement. This new software and hardware allow hospitals to admit, monitor, and discharge patients remotely.


Infographic of the week – Another great infographic from Gist Healthcare this week. This is their “World Cup of Healthcare” update to assess which of the 32 nations best protected its population from COVID. They based their analysis on three key metrics that they selected as the most reliable and meaningful representations of a nation’s response to the pandemic: 1) the quality of each nation’s underlying healthcare system (measured by the Consumer Value Index score that we created last time; 2) its per-capita vaccination rate (counting all doses administered, including boosters); and 3) its per-capita COVID mortality rate (adjusted by the percentage of population 65+). (Check out the U.S. position 👇)

Image Credit: Gist Healthcare

Yale uses ML based PRECISION model for personalized treatment for Hypertension

Preetipadma K brings us this story in Analytics Drift this week. Yale University researchers have created a machine learning-based clinical decision support tool to tailor recommendations for blood pressure control treatment goals. Their tool, PREssure Control In Hypertension (PRECISION), is an ML model aimed to discover features of individuals who benefited the most from actively reducing blood pressure. Through a data-driven methodology, the innovative clinical decision support tool encourages collaborative decision-making between patients and healthcare professionals.

Why it’s important – When compared to conventional treatment, researchers discovered that the tool could identify diabetic patients who benefited from intensive blood pressure management. These results suggest that PRECISION can offer trustworthy, helpful information to guide decisions about intensive vs. conventional systolic blood pressure treatment among patients with diabetes. Until the team prospectively proves its clinical relevance, the proposed machine learning algorithm, PRECISION, is only authorized to be applied for research.


Exoskeletons qualify for direct disability compensation in Germany

ReWalk Robotics made progress in German courts this week. BARMER announced it would accept a ruling from state courts that made exoskeletons considered eligible for direct disability compensation and withdrew its pending case at the federal level. BARMER is one of Germany’s largest statutory health insurance providers. Brianna Wessling reports that the ruling gives eligible, insured patients with spinal cord injuries (SCIs) a legal basis to use an exoskeleton as an orthopedic aid for direct disability compensation in Germany.

“The German healthcare system has led the way in its adoption of exoskeletons for spinal cord injured individuals. We expect that this acceptance of the prior ruling will enable medically eligible members of the SCI community to access exoskeleton technology in a more efficient manner.”

Larry Jasinski, CEO of ReWalk

Why it’s important – ReWalk Robotics’ Personal 6.0 System is an exoskeleton designed for all-day use at home and in the community. The system is personalized for each user, ensuring a precise fit and optimal safety, function, and joint alignment. It can help users stand upright, walk, turn and climb and descend stairs.


How AcuPebble is changing the face of sleep apnea diagnosis

Acurable’s first product AcuPebble is the first medical device to be authorized by regulators for the automated diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea at home. Ian Bolland has the interview with Emilio Sanz-Pereiras, co-CEO, and COO from Acurable, in Med-Tech Innovation News. To summarise what the product offers, it is a multi-use rechargeable sensor stuck to the base of the neck against the windpipe to collect cardio-respiratory signals. It extracts respiratory and cardiac data and transmits it wirelessly to a mobile device. Algorithms then interpret this data, and reports are sent to clinicians who can make a diagnostic decision without the patient needing to visit a sleep clinic, which has long waiting lists and require extensive training.

“We are really working on multiple fronts within the NHS to rethink pathways, to rethink the way the whole system works for a sleep test. We are continuing to build further medical credibility with more research, with the ultimate aim being that we will get to a point where consumers can request a test themselves and their HCP will trust this data without having to repeat the whole pathway.”

Emilio Sanz-Pereiras, co-CEO and COO from Acurable

Why it’s important – AcuPebble provides a real solution for health services in which resources are increasingly stretched and waiting times continue to rise. The product is already live in several NHS Trusts, with the company keen to develop the credibility of the device within medical circles before contemplating making it more consumer-focused.


Alphabet’s Verily, ResMed launch sleep platform Primasun

In another article focused on sleep disorders, Jessica Hagen reports on this development at the HLTH 2022 conference in MobiHealthNews. San Diego-based connected sleep device maker ResMed and Alphabet’s life science offshoot Verily announced the formation of Primasun, an end-to-end solution to help employers and healthcare providers identify populations at risk for complex sleep disorders. Formed as a joint venture, Primasun will initially evaluate patients with insomnia, provide guidance to improve sleep hygiene, and connect patients with certified sleep physicians who diagnose and treat sleep apnea.

Why it’s important – A third of U.S. adults report getting less than the recommended amount of sleep, and lack of rest has been linked with chronic conditions such as heart disease, depression, diabetes, and heart disease, according to the CDC. Diagnosing and treating sleep disorders can help people live healthier and longer, be safer and more present in their work and personal lives, and lower healthcare costs.


How safe is 7T MRI for patients with neurosurgical implants?

Hannah Murphy reports on this important topic in her article in Health Imaging. Although the clinical use of new 7T MRI technology is not yet widespread, it is growing. As such, patients and clinicians must understand the safety and risks involved in 7T exams. Thanks to a team of students and faculty members from Carle Illinois College of Medicine and the Carle Foundation Hospital—one of a few institutions in the country with a 7T machine—experts now have a bit more insight into the machine’s safety in the presence of neurosurgical implants.

Image Credit: Carle Foundation Hospital

Why it’s important – Based on their findings, the team concluded that cranial fixation devices, deep brain stimulation devices, spinal rods, and pedicle screws are likely compatible with 7T MRI. Mixed outcomes were found with aneurysm clips and EEG devices, and VP shunts were reported to lose functionality after 7T exposure. The study’s findings could encourage device manufacturers to conduct more thorough testing to ensure that their products are safe to use with the emerging imaging technology.


Skin-like electronics could monitor your health continuously

Finally, this week, Science Daily reports on research conducted at DOE/Argonne National Laboratory, where researchers are developing skin-like electronics paired with artificial intelligence for health monitoring and diagnosis. The team’s skin-like neuromorphic “chip” consists of a thin film of a plastic semiconductor combined with stretchable gold nanowire electrodes. Even when stretched to twice its normal size, their device functioned as planned without the formation of any cracks.

“While still requiring further development on several fronts, our device could one day be a game changer in which everyone can get their health status in a much more effective and frequent way.”

Sihong Wang, assistant professor in UChicago PME

Why it’s important – Worn routinely, future wearable electronics could potentially detect possible emerging health problems — such as heart disease, cancer, or multiple sclerosis — even before obvious symptoms appear. The device could also personally analyze the tracked health data while minimizing the need for its wireless transmission.

Health Tech News This Week – November 12, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Veterans find relief from nightmares with NightWare and Apple Watch

After serving in the Army for more than 20 years with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Robert Guithues developed nightmares due to PTSD. A feature article published on Apple.com Newsroom highlights the story. NightWare is a digital therapeutic system that works in conjunction with Apple Watch and iPhone to disrupt nightmares related to post-traumatic stress disorder. Available by prescription only, it’s also the first and only digital therapeutic explicitly developed to treat nightmares that is cleared by the FDA. NightWare uses information from the Apple Watch heart rate sensor, accelerometer, and gyroscope to detect a nightmare and then disrupt it through haptic feedback, generating gentle pulses on the wrist that gradually increase until the user is roused from the nightmare, but not from sleep.

“I would encourage any veteran out there who is wrestling with nightmares to give NightWare a try because there really is hope. Your life can be different, and there is something out there that I have seen work.”

Sue Baker, Semper Fi & America’s Fund caseworker

Why it’s important – Currently, NightWare is prescribed to 400 patients in the US, 98 percent of whom are active-duty military or veterans. A new study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine shows that participants who used NightWare at least 50 percent of the time had significantly better self-reported sleep quality compared to participants not using NightWare. The developers believe NightWare could help so many other service members, mainly because it’s not a drug and it won’t affect their deployment status.


Infographics of the week – This is the annual update of The Top 100 Global Digital Health Companies for 2022 from Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute. To help navigate this rapidly changing field, they keep updating their Top 100 list every year, introducing new companies they think are worthy of attention, and bid farewell to others – not necessarily because they don’t do well. Companies are grouped according to the technological trend they belong to the most. I look forward to seeing their choices every year.

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

The second infographic this week comes from Gist Healthcare. In it, they examine the capabilities of three of the largest pharmacy chains—CVS Health, Walgreens, and Walmart—to deliver full-service primary care across in-person and virtual settings. Excellent visual representation of the current situation.

Image Credit: Gist Healthcare

Mobile assessment app PainChek forays into hospitals via InterSystems partnership

MobiHealthNews’ Adam Ang reports on this new partnership. PainChek, the ASX-listed developer of a mobile pain assessment app that has been widely used in the aged care sector, is now entering the global hospital market via its latest partnership with InterSystems. The platform will convert PainChek’s custom-built message formats to HL7 and FHIR standards, allowing it to scale its capacity to serve its new markets like the hospital sector, as well as home care.

Why it’s important – The PainChek app uses AI and facial recognition to detect and evaluate pain levels accurately. It has been used in over 1,300 aged care facilities in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Singapore. The app has been shown to facilitate improvements in pain management, with one study revealing that its adoption in aged care has led to a 20% reduction in the use of benzodiazepines and antipsychotic medications.


Podcast episode of the week – This week’s selection is from Mike Bisseli’s Passionate Pioneers podcast series and focuses on digital empathy and bedside manner in telehealth. Dr. Matt Sakumoto, virtual-first primary care physician and clinical informatics champion, joins Mike to discuss his personal experiences at multiple health systems and telehealth startups, which have led him to develop a national-leading approach to digital empathy and web-side manner for telehealth consults that are enabling care teams to better connect with patients.


Lab-grown blood given to people in world-first clinical trial

The research project combines teams in Bristol, Cambridge, London, and NHS Blood and Transplant. It focuses on the red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. James Gallagher reports on the research in his article on BBC online. They start with a regular donation of a pint of blood. Magnetic beads are used for fishing out flexible stem cells that are capable of becoming a red blood cell. These stem cells are encouraged to grow in large numbers in the labs. And are then guided to become red blood cells. The process takes about three weeks, and an initial pool of around half a million stem cells results in 50 billion red blood cells. These are filtered down to get approximately 15 billion red blood cells that are at the right stage of development for transplant.

“The potential for this work to benefit hard to transfuse patients is very significant.”

Dr Farrukh Shah, Medical Director of transfusion at NHS Blood and Transplant

Why it’s important – It is hoped the lab-grown blood will be more potent than normal. Red blood cells typically last for around 120 days before they need to be replaced. A typical blood donation contains a mix of young and old red blood cells, whereas the lab-grown blood is all freshly made, so it should last the full 120 days. The researchers suspect this could allow smaller and less frequent donations in the future.


“Smart” Red Blood Cells Could Deliver Antibiotics to Specific Bacteria

In another research article on blood, physicists at McMaster University have identified a natural delivery system that can safely carry potent antibiotics throughout the body to selectively attack and kill bacteria by using red blood cells as a vehicle. They modified and then tested red blood cells as a carrier for one of the world’s only remaining resistance-proof antibiotics: Polymyxin B (PmB), widely considered a treatment of last resort due to its toxicity and harmful side effects, which include kidney damage. It is used to fight particularly dangerous and often drug-resistant bacteria such as E. coli, which is responsible for many severe conditions such as pneumonia, gastroenteritis, and bloodstream infections. Researchers have developed a way to open red blood cells and remove the inner components, leaving only a membrane—known as a liposome—which can be loaded with drug molecules and injected back into the body.

Why it’s important – The platform, described in a new paper in the journal ACS Infectious Diseases, could help to address the ongoing antibiotic resistance crisis. The applications of this research go far beyond just antibiotic resistance. Scientists are working on additional applications of the technology, including its potential as a platform to deliver drugs across the blood-brain barrier and directly to the brain, helping patients with Alzheimer’s or depression, for example, to receive treatment much more quickly and directly.


Amazon’s leaked ‘Clinic’ would connect patients to telemedicine

Nicole Wetsman of The Verge posted this article reporting that Amazon might have a new healthcare offering coming soon, according to a leaked video. A video published to the company’s YouTube page Tuesday — and then quickly taken down — described “Amazon Clinic,” an online care program that would offer treatment for “common conditions” like allergies and acne. As described in the video, people could fill out a questionnaire about their symptoms and pay a fee. A clinician would review their answers and provide diagnoses and prescriptions as needed. “Telehealth services are offered by third-party healthcare provider groups,” according to the text in the video. The video directs people to amazon.com/clinic, a webpage that is not currently live at publication.

Why it’s important – The described program would be yet another healthcare pivot for Amazon. Just a few months ago, the company announced it would shutter Amazon Care, its original telehealth service. That program started as a service for Amazon employees and then was expanded as an offering for any company that wanted to offer it to its employees. The move came after Amazon announced it was acquiring primary care provider One Medical. It’s unclear if the third-party healthcare provider groups described in the Amazon Clinic video would include One Medical.


5 takeaways from the FDA’s list of AI-enabled medical devices

As the number of devices increases, the agency is looking to adapt its regulatory framework to the new technology, including faster approval of algorithm updates. Elise Reuter brings us the story in her article in The Healthcare Dive. In 2022 alone, the FDA authorized 91 AI- or machine-learning-enabled medical devices, according to data released on Oct. 5. This broad category of devices can include anything from a basic algorithm to more complex machine-learning tools. Here are her five takeaways:

  • The number of AI-enabled medical devices has surged in the last five years
  • There are more AI tools for radiology than for any other specialty
  • Most authorized devices have 510(k) clearance. However, many AI/ML devices aren’t required to be reviewed by the FDA
  • GE Healthcare and Siemens have the most authorized AI/ML medical devices
  • AI/ML devices will get increasingly complex with algorithms that can “learn” and regulators are looking to adapt

Why it’s important – The FDA has taken some steps to modernize how it regulates these types of devices. It has been working on a digital health pre-certification program to allow the agency to pre-clear trusted manufacturers to update their software products. However, this hasn’t been without hurdles. In a recent report, the FDA acknowledged that it would need Congressional approval to proceed with the program. (And the chances of getting Congressional approval after the midterm elections are?) Ensuring patients benefit from these devices will depend not only on regulators but also on developers involving clinicians in the earliest design steps to ensure the software is effective when integrated into their practice.

Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute have created this infographic showing the currently cleared AI algorithms from the FDA. They have a database associated with their research which can be found here.

Image Credit: Dr. Bertalan Meskó and The Medical Futurist Institute

Wearable Health Devices Have Low Uptake Among Individuals With Heart Disease

Only 18% of US adults with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and 26% of adults at risk for CVD use wearable health devices. Individuals who need to use wearable health devices such as smart watches may actually be using them the least, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022. In comparison, 29% of the total US adult population used wearable devices.

Why it’s important – Only 12% of adults older than 65 with CVD used wearable health devices, despite half of all people with CVD being in this age group. Meanwhile, 17% of adults with CVD aged between 50 and 64 said they use wearable devices, and 33% of adults with CVD aged between 18 and 49 reported using them. Additionally, while 22% of people at risk of heart disease are aged 65 and older, only 14% of people in this age group are actually using these devices. According to the authors, this indicates an association between older age and less use of wearable devices among people with and at risk of CVD. They also found higher education level and income were linked to wearable device use.


CRISPR For Cancer Takes a Big Step Forward

Time Magazine’s Alice Park reports on a study published in Nature. Scientists recruited 16 people who had already received standard treatment for their cancer (which included colon, head and neck, lung, skin, and more) but whose cancers had returned. They wanted to use the gene-editing therapy in a new way and infuse patients with an army of immune cells that had been genetically modified to fight their individual cancers specifically.

“The CRISPR editing approach worked really well, and the guides we used cut the genome in just one place, where we removed the gene and inserted the other gene.”

Dr. Antoni Ribas, University of California Los Angeles

Scientists genetically sequenced each patient’s blood cells and tumors to determine which unique sequences of their cancers to target. They used this information to isolate the immune cells from patients’ blood whose T cell receptors matched the cancer mutations. They boosted this population of cancer-recognizing cells by making more copies of them. In this population of patient cells in the lab, they used molecular guides to instruct CRISPR to remove genetic sequences for a specific T cell receptor, which recognizes foreign proteins and replaces them with a gene that could bind to and attack cancer cells. Before introducing these CRISPR-edited cells back to patients, the researchers treated the patients with chemotherapy to deplete most of their existing immune cells; the new gene-edited cells were then able to populate and expand so that they eventually found and attacked the cancer cells they were designed to identify.

Why it’s important – While previous CRISPR-based strategies for cancer have involved removing genes in cancer cells that help them grow or that prevent the immune system from recognizing and attacking malignant cells, this approach introduces specific cancer-fighting immune cells that ultimately will help the patient avoid recurrences as well. The study wasn’t designed to test the effectiveness of the CRISPR therapy, so the results aren’t wholly indicative of the power of the therapy. But in this first trial, the treatment helped five of the 16 patients to stabilize their disease, so they did not progress, while 11 did not show benefit.


Implanted Magnets for Prosthetic Control

Medgadget’s Conn Hastings reports that engineers at MIT have developed a system that could let users of robotic prostheses more sensitively control their bionic limbs. The technology involves implanting pairs of small magnetic beads into muscles. When the muscles contract, the beads move closer together, allowing prosthetic devices to more precisely calculate a user’s intentions and mirror these. This latest development seeks to improve how robotic prostheses can sense their user’s intentions and move accordingly. At present, such devices typically sense the electrical activity of the muscles using a process called known as surface electromyography. However, this approach does not account for muscle activity in terms of velocity of movement and muscle length during contraction.

To address this limitation, the MIT researchers hit on a new approach called magnetomicrometry. This involves simple pairs of implanted magnetic beads that move together as a muscle contracts and further away from each other as it relaxes. The idea is to empower robotic prostheses to detect the magnetic signal from the muscle and infer the user’s intentions.

YouTube video credit: MIT Media Lab

Why its important – While this may sound great in practice, and the researchers have shown that it works under controlled conditions in the lab, it is important to test technologies in a real-world context. the system was very useful in assessing muscle length, and could provide a measurement in less than a millisecond. Moreover, it compared favorably with more traditional equipment in terms of accuracy. The researchers also investigated the effects of the beads on the body, and found that they do not cause irritation in the muscle, suggesting that they are suitable for long-term implantation.


Health Tech News This Week – November 5, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Exclusive: Children’s hospitals partner on digital health initiative

Redesign Health, a New York City-based healthcare startup creator, said Thursday it was partnering with a consortium of children’s hospitals to co-develop a series of new digital health companies. Brock Turner reports on the developments in his Modern Healthcare article. The KidsX consortium was founded at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles three years ago and included 32 children’s hospitals, such as Advocate Children’s Hospital, Boston Children’s, Geisinger Children’s, and Texas Children’s Hospital. With its KidsX build program, Redesign and KidsX hospitals will convene and determine areas to build new pediatric-focused digital health companies. Members of KidsX will also receive early access to pediatrics-related ventures being created at Redesign Health.

Why it’s important – Less than 1% of all digital health investment is focused on pediatric patients. Solutions that are being presented to them don’t meet their needs. While some existing solutions can be adapted for pediatric populations, there are core differences between what hospitals need and what’s out there in the market. I think this initiative led by the leading Children’s health systems in the country is precisely the way to solve this dilemma.


Infographic of the week – This infographic comes from CB Insights and provides an interesting segmentation approach to highlighting companies working to support patients managing diabetes. Here’s how they break it down:

  • Education & Prevention
    Companies in this sector provide educational tools that cover medication administration, nutrition, and ongoing care for the management and prevention of diabetic episodes
  • Diagnostics
    Companies in this category look to expedite and enhance diagnosis for diabetic patients through the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence and infrared light
  • Glucose Monitoring Devices
    Diabetic patients need to monitor their blood glucose levels continuously throughout the day. While this has traditionally been performed via finger stick checks, new technology is being developed to automate this process and make it less invasive
  • Insulin Delivery Devices
    Companies in this space develop devices that effectively deliver required insulin doses to diabetic patients in a timely manner. Often requiring a series of injections over the course of the day, patients with diabetes have welcomed technology that makes the process less invasive and more automated
  • Closed-Loop Devices
    These companies support comprehensive diabetes management through combined glucose monitoring and insulin administration solutions. These closed-loop systems take a single, integrated approach to diabetes management
  • D2C Consumables
    Companies in this category provide testing and treatment supplies directly to consumers. Testing supplies include glucose monitoring devices and test strips for blood samples that can be analyzed to determine dosing needs
  • Digital Therapeutics
    Startups in this market utilize evidence-based research to develop software and apps that offer on-demand, personalized treatment options for ongoing diabetes care. This technology has helped enhance the overall health of diabetic patients and their ability to manage the disease via increased engagement, improved treatment compliance, and modified behaviors
  • Virtual Care
    Virtual care became more heavily utilized amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and diabetic patients have benefitted from this service. Many of the major telehealth platforms have established diabetes-specific virtual care programs
  • Drug Therapies
    Companies in this category are targeting new ways to treat diabetes through the use of medication and drug delivery options
  • Ophthalmology Care
    These startups provide care for eye complications that are commonly associated with diabetic patients, most notably diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts
  • Podiatry Care
    These startups develop technologies that target either onset prevention or improved care for diabetic foot conditions
Image Credit: CB Insights

Sci-fi no more: Introducing the contact lenses of the future

In addition to correcting sight, researchers are working on features such as augmented reality, night vision, and the ability to zoom in and out, as well as diagnosing and treating pathologies. Isabel Rubio brings us the story in El Pais, Science and Technology online. If there is one field where scientists and tech giants are trying to harness the potential of contact lenses, it is health. A review published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies explains that contact lens sensors can be used to monitor many diseases and conditions.

“The presence of biomarkers in the tear fluid will lead to diagnostic contact lenses that will help detect and treat systemic and ocular diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and dry eye syndrome.”

Ana Belén Cisneros del Río, deputy dean of the College of Opticians-Optometrists in the Spanish region of Castilla y León

Why it’s important – The experts predict that future lenses will be able to monitor eye pressure, look for glaucoma (a disease that damages the optic nerve) and even produce images of the retinal vasculature for the early detection of hypertension, stroke, and diabetes. One limitation of these lenses is that they can generally only detect a single biomarker in the eye, such as glucose or lactic acid. These lenses could also be helpful for the treatment of some eye pathologies.


Podcast of the week – “India-based doctor breaks rule that great healthcare must be expensive” – In this interview, hosts Jeremy Corr and Dr. Robert Pearl ask Dr. Shetty about the rules of American medicine that must be broken to replicate the success he (and his hospitals) have achieved. Shetty is a heart surgeon trained in both London and the United States. Today, he owns and operates 11 hospitals in India and a new facility in the Cayman Islands. The cost of care in his health centers is as low as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Yet the quality of care is as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world.

Image Credit: Fixing Healthcare Podcast

Scientists Use mRNA Technology To Create a Potent Flu Vaccine That Could Last For Years

In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and other institutions have cooked up an mRNA-based influenza vaccine that targets four viral proteins that tend to remain the same across different strains of influenza. Inverse’s Miriam Fauzia interviewed the researchers in her online article. For their influenza vaccine, the researchers created an mRNA cocktail encoding the four influenza proteins neuraminidase, nucleoprotein, matrix protein 2, and the stalk portion of hemagglutinin (which is conserved compared to its head domain).

Why it’s important – Flu vaccines are updated yearly based on influenza patterns most recently seen in the southern hemisphere, such as Australia; its flu season runs from April to October. The current seasonal vaccines that use three or four inactivated [influenza] viruses primarily target the immunodominant head domain… but the problem is that the virus can change that pretty quickly and escape from protective immunity. The researchers also expect it wouldn’t need to undergo annual updates as our current ones do. Instead, they might last for a few years.


When it comes to caring for underserved patients, health tech is still figuring out what success looks like

While the market is crowded with companies claiming their products meaningfully improve health — especially for underserved groups — there is still no industry-wide standard slate of metrics to evaluate them thoroughly. Some are reporting how many new appointments they’ve created among lower-income or underrepresented populations; others are coming up with new ways to approximate how their app or wearable specifically helped rural and urban patients with chronic conditions, for instance. Mohana Ravindranath provides the details in her STAT article. Given that companies are still experimenting with new measures, it’s typically up to health systems or employers buying these services to set their own benchmarks for equity — whether it’s reaching specific populations or getting them to stay active on the app or wearable device.

“If you’re seeking to address serious mental illness in populations of folks who struggle with mental health challenges and social needs, then we can all agree that a text message is not enough…if you’re seeking to move the needle on getting someone who has insurance, who has a primary care provider, to see their primary care provider for a preventive visit, and you know they’re digitally engaged, maybe a text message is enough. I agree there isn’t a standard measure. But I would argue that that may not be the right thing to push for.”

Toyin Ajayi, CEO, Cityblock

Why it’s important – Health tech companies facing increasing economic uncertainty and belt-tightening from customers — including employers and payers — could find that clearer metrics on patient impact will make or break their businesses. The Digital Medicine Society helped build a “Market Opportunity Model” that CEO Jennifer Goldsack said companies could use to slice their market and revenue size opportunities by variables like age, race and ethnicity, income, education, and disability status. Her quote in the article sums it up best: “As an industry, we’re drilling down on the wrong thing. We’re spending time with great consternation about new process measures, engagement, and retention. How about whether it makes people better?”


Health informatics startup Truveta unveils search engine to probe data from 70M patients

More than two years after its founding, health data startup Truveta released a platform Tuesday that provides access to information from more than 70 million patients. The tool, Truveta Studio, culls de-identified data from patients across the startup’s 25 health system partners. Geek Wire’s Charlotte Schubert reported on the announcement this week. Truveta Studio pulls from a massive dataset, representing about 16% of all U.S. healthcare from 43 states. The patient population is also ethnically, racially, and socio-economically diverse. Users can query for a specific condition, such as long COVID, and quickly pull up associated demographic data, such as the age and sex of patients. Users can also narrow their dataset to people who have long COVID and other conditions like chronic kidney disease. At the heart of the solution is Truveta Prose: the first language that expresses computable clinical concepts, combining events from a patient’s longitudinal history. Prose also compiles records across massive datasets. The Truveta platform is available to health researchers within the company’s partner institutions, which include Providence, and to outside customers. Customers include pharma giant Pfizer and medical device company Boston Scientific. You can find more information about Truveta Studio and download their White Paper on their approach to data analytics here.

Image Credit: Truveta

“Truveta Studio offers a dataset that’s huge, comprehensive, and up to date. And the Truveta Library makes it easy to do critical documentation and communication about how we’re defining our cohorts.”

Ari Robicsek, Providence Health, Chief Medical Analytics Officer and Senior Vice President of Research

Why it’s important – Truveta updates data daily from its partners, pulling together events from a patient’s medical history, including diagnoses, medications, procedures, and devices. Truveta also aimed for consistency and transparency in how it defines conditions and stratifies patients and enables researchers to skip these steps before mining the data. But the platform also allows users to shift these parameters within its library to adapt them to their research. In my opinion, Truveta represents the ideal model for the aggregation of large patient datasets and analytics for research in the future.

Health Tech News This Week – October 29, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Wearable EEG Patch Measures Brain Activity

Researchers at Osaka University in Japan engineered a wearable electroencephalography (EEG) device to measure brain activity, potentially letting clinicians monitor conditions such as depression or dementia. Conn Hastings reports on this research in his Medgadget article this week. This latest technology aims to allow for at-home measurements of brain activity. The device consists of a near-transparent patch that is flexible and stretchy. The adhesive patch can be worn on the forehead and provides brain activity readings comparable in accuracy to those obtained using larger and more expensive equipment.

Why it’s important – At present, assessing brain activity requires a trip to a facility with bulky and expensive equipment, making long-term monitoring difficult. Wearable EEGs have been developed previously and include electrodes that contact the scalp, but these bulky headsets are not convenient for long-term use and can cause pain and discomfort if worn for a long time. They can also suffer from a poor signal-to-noise ratio, making it difficult to obtain useful readings. Assessing neural activity during daily life may be more meaningful. Such measurements could provide a window into long-term trends and changes in brain activity during different tasks rather than a mere snapshot in time.


Infographics of the week – First, this graphic from The Kaiser Family Foundation and Rock Health shows the dramatic underfunding and investment into research and development of women’s health solutions. Here’s a link to my earlier post on the growth opportunity in FemTech.

Image Credit: Kaiser Family Foundation, Rock Health

This week’s second infographic comes from The American Hospital Association and highlights the rapid consolidation of health systems in the United States and shows the percentage of hospitals (67%) and beds (76%) that are system-affiliated.

Image Credit: American Hospital Association

And the third infographic from Nisha Metha posted on her LinkedIn timeline highlights data from the AAMC, Medscape, and Definitive Healthcare that shows how many healthcare workers left the workforce in 2021. “Jarring” doesn’t begin to describe these numbers. She correctly asks: “What happens to this industry that makes up about 20% of the nation’s GDP when they don’t have the workers to staff it? More importantly, what happens to our patients (and make no mistake, we are all patients)?”


The cutting-edge cellular therapies aiming to ease America’s organ shortage

Despite being the wealthiest nation on the face of the planet, the United States chronically runs short of transplantable organs. No matter where the transplanted organ comes from, getting it into the patient will invariably involve a significant surgical procedure. Engadget’s Andrew Tarantola brings us the story. The Lygenesis company recently unveiled its non-invasive solution: tricking the patient’s body into growing a series of miniature, ectopic liver “organoids” in its own lymphatic system like a crop of blood-scrubbing potatoes. The Lygenesis technique doesn’t require a whole donated liver or even a large fraction of one. In fact, each donated organ can be split among several dozen recipients. “Using our technology, a single donated liver can reach 75 or more patients”, according to the company.

YouTube Video Credit: Lygenesis, Inc.

Why it’s important – While the liver is the only human organ known capable of regenerating itself if you damage yours badly enough for long enough — as some 30 million Americans have — then the only treatment is a transplant. Assuming you can even acquire one for doctors to stick in you. Every year demand for replacement livers outstrips supply by tens of thousands. “Only one-third of those on the liver transplant waiting list will be transplanted, and the need for livers is projected to increase 23 percent in the next 20 years. Once engrafted into a lymph node, the liver organoid will grow and vascularize over two to three months until it is large enough to begin supporting the existing liver. Even with end-stage disease, a liver can retain up to 30 percent of its original functionality. These organoids are designed to augment and support the existing organ rather than replace it outright.


Resource alertAndrew Rebhan from Sg2 posted this resource on Telehealth Use in Rural Healthcare in his LinkedIn feed this week. If this is something you want to learn more about, he recommends visiting the Rural Health Information Hub, which offers toolkits, case studies, and a ton of other resources on all things related to telehealth in rural locations. I was unaware of this valuable resource. Thanks, Andrew, for bringing it to my attention.


A novel 3D-printed light-sensing medical device could prove to be a lifesaver for lupus patients

Nergis Firtina from Interesting Engineering posted this story on how the University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ engineering and medical teams have created a novel 3D-printed medical device that can provide real-time feedback to link light exposure to disease flare-ups when placed directly on the skin. The system is connected with a specially designed portable console to track and link symptoms to light exposure continually.

YouTube Video Credit: University of Minnesota

“We can give them to participants and track what light they were exposed to and determine how we can predict symptoms. We will also continue testing in the lab to improve the device.”

David Pearson, University of Minnesota Medical School dermatologist and co-author of the study

Why it’s important – Lupus or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is an autoimmune rheumatic disease that affects many organs in the body. It is characterized by a red rash in the form of a butterfly on the face. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, about 1.5 million Americans, and at least 5 million people worldwide, have a form of lupus. The research team has received approval to start using humans as test subjects for the device and will shortly begin enrolling individuals for the study.


The future of wearable health tech

The wearable health tech market is predicted to be one of the largest and fastest-growing markets of the next decade. Consumer-led healthcare will change patient care pathways, driving the industry to grow and collaborate in new ways, both with patients around their health and with partners and innovators. Wearables will primarily support people living healthy lives, and then diagnostic and therapeutic abilities will follow, led by the user at the point of care. Mark Goldstone, a Partner at Eckuity, and a venture investor in early-stage Health Tech provides his perspective in his online article on MedCity News.

Why it’s important – I’ve written on the growth and development of wearable technologies in a previous post. Consumer-led healthcare will change patient care pathways, driving the industry to grow and collaborate in new ways, both with patients around their health and with partners and innovators. Wearable health tech will be highly disruptive as its impact will spread across many market sectors – from healthcare delivery to diagnostics to therapeutics. Essential to successful investment is understanding precisely which technologies, market sectors, and regulatory factors will ultimately drive market growth. For companies developing wearable health trackers, Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute offer these 10+1 Commandments for consideration.


3 wearable health projects in Australia score federal funding

In other news on the healthcare wearables front, Adam Ang reports that the Australian government has awarded grants to research projects working on wearable technology to improve health monitoring for Australians in his article on MobiHealthNews ANZ. A project at Curtin University, provided with A$1.5 million ($950,000) funding, will develop and test wearable sensors to monitor the movement of children with cerebral palsy who cannot walk. Another project at the University of New South Wales (A$1.9 million or $1.2 million) will try out a cuffless blood pressure device in adults with hypertension. A Bond University project (A$1.09 million or $700,000) will combine data from wearable devices and patients’ medical records to help people with Type 2 diabetes set goals and monitor their progress on physical activity, blood sugar, and BP control.

By putting existing new technologies to the test, these research projects could lead to rapid improvements in health outcomes for people with chronic conditions and for First Australians and others living in remote areas.”

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health

Why it’s important – These grants represent the Australian government’s commitment to funding research into remote monitoring and wearable technologies. Last year, the Australian government set aside A$10 million ($7 million) for the Primary Health Care Research Initiative grant under the Medical Research Future Fund. The grant is supporting research projects that are testing and implementing new applications of existing wearable electronic devices and examining ways to deliver point-of-care testing in rural and remote areas.


YouTube expands credible health information labels to providers

YouTube is expanding product features that aim to provide information and context about credible health sources to include videos made by licensed healthcare professionals. Emily Olsen has the details in her article on MobiHealthNews. The health source information panels, first introduced in the U.S. last year, label health content from authoritative sources like educational institutions, public health departments, hospitals, and government entities. These videos are pulled into health content shelves at the top of health-related searches. Starting October 28th, healthcare professionals can apply to make their content eligible for these features. Applicants will need to provide proof of their license, have a channel in good standing on YouTube, and follow best practices for sharing health information, as determined by the Council of Medical Specialty Societies, the National Academy of Medicine, and the World Health Organization.

“We’re trying to advance the field of how platforms, us and others, are able to show the cues and clues that people would need to be able to better trust and judge the health information they’re receiving.”

Dr. Garth Graham, director and global head of healthcare and public health at YouTube

Why it’s important – The spread of health misinformation on social media became a concern during the COVID-19 pandemic as some users pushed falsehoods about the disease, its treatments, and the vaccines. An analysis published earlier this year in BMJ Global Health found that approximately 11% of YouTube’s most viewed videos on COVID-19 vaccines, which amassed 18 million views, contradicted information from the WHO or the CDC.


These 8 Countries Could Put Together The World’s Most Advanced Healthcare System

Finally, this interesting post from Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute. This is their take on how one might create a global healthcare “super system,” taking the best parts of eight countries’ healthcare delivery systems and combining them. They address the following components and (countries):

  • Business incubation (Israel)
  • Government policy around e-patients (Denmark)
  • Medical association and leadership (Canada)
  • Regulatory body (USA)
  • Virtual wards (United Kingdom)
  • Health IT infrastructure (South Korea)
  • Best digital health application process (Germany)
  • Patient inclusion and longevity-oriented thinking (Estonia)

Why it’s important – I like the broad perspective they bring to this thought process from their extensive research and analysis of global health systems. I wrote an earlier post about what we can learn from other countries’ experiences in digital health that featured some of Dr. Mesko’s initial research. This takes that research to the next level.

Health Tech News This Week – October 22, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Apple Will Launch Health Insurance In 2024, Says Analyst

First up this week is this article by Forbes contributor Barry Collins. In the article, he reports that Apple will start to offer health insurance in 2024 as it looks to build on the health data it has acquired from the Apple Watch. CCS Insight believes that Apple will take its tentative first steps into the U.S. health insurance market in partnership with a major insurer, using the health data it’s already collecting to give it a competitive edge over rivals. The analysts believe having access to such rich data will provide the company a head start in the insurance market and allow it to cut costs for consumers.

“If they join some of the dots together they can become a very competitive health insurance player and that potentially is going to have quite an impact on the structure of the healthcare market in the U.S.”

Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight

Why it’s important – Apple already collects data such as blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, ECG readings, and body temperature from the Watch, as well as helping people regulate their medication. With accompanying devices, the Watch and iPhone can also monitor conditions such as diabetes. A shift into health insurance would also add further impetus to Apple’s already booming services business. Services are already generating around $20 billion a quarter, and CCS Insight believes that will only continue to grow. And Apple isn’t the only tech giant looking at entering the insurance market. Amazon launched an insurance comparison site in the U.K. to sell home insurance. The e-commerce giant has partnered with three launch providers — Ageas U.K., Co-op, and LV + General Insurance — with more coming next year.


Infographics of the week – It’s always interesting when Gartner releases their annual Hype Cycle charts. This one on emerging tech highlights three technology themes: Evolving and Expanding Immersive Experiences, Accelerated AI Automation, and Optimized Technologist Delivery.

Image Credit: Gartner, Inc.

This week’s second infographic is some new benchmark data on health IT spending. This latest report comes from KLAS Research and Bain & Company using data from provider interviews and a survey of 289 health executives. Software investments overall appear to be a strong area of focus still, though the economic environment may be cooling bullish investment. Rev cycle is a spending priority, likely to shore up the financial bottom line that is hurting so many health systems currently – followed by #cybersecurity, patient intake, clinical systems, and #telehealth. The complete study is available here.

Image Credit: KLAS Research and Bain & Company

And a third infographic this week comes from Rock Health. The FDA has cleared 50+ AI/ML-enabled devices every year since 2018. 2022 is on track to reach at least 100 clearances, in line with 2020 (n=102) and 2021 (n=115). By all indications, the pursuit of FDA oversight is not slowing down despite softening market conditions. In previous years, startups and med techs reigned supreme. This trend continues in 2022, but Big Tech is dipping its toes in with two clearances this year from Apple and Verily.

Image Credit: Rock Health

Large insurer’s decision to cover some prescription digital therapies may be a milestone for app makers

This article from STAT+ author Mario Aguilar (subscription required) reports on Pittsburgh-based Highmark’s decision to cover a controversial class of software-based treatments for psychiatric and other conditions could prove to be a landmark moment in the development of these so-called prescription digital therapeutics, which until now had been unable to secure coverage from insurers skeptical that the new technologies are as effective as their makers claim. The policy indicates Highmark’s intention to pay for claims only for prescription digital therapeutics cleared by the Food and Drug Administration when prescribed by a clinician within the appropriate specialty and used as indicated on product labels. Highmark is currently negotiating with product developers about how much it will pay for individual treatments and over details such as what constitutes an “episode of care.”

“Highmark did exactly what insurance companies are supposed to do, which is they were judicious about covering and paying for an intervention that has already been vetted for its science by the FDA.”

Andrey Ostrovsky, managing partner of Social Innovation Ventures

Why it’s important – Highmark’s policy, describing when these treatments may be “medically necessary,” paves the way for the health insurer to be the first to cover the category for millions of members. Insurers’ refusal to cover the prescription apps has been a major roadblock for developers that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars on the promise that they can achieve widespread adoption. So Highmark’s move is welcome news for them. The willingness to launch a policy and see what happens is a striking contrast to the usual cautious approach taken by insurers.


Resource Alert: Originally shared on LinkedIn by Andrew Rebhan from Sg2. The Center for Connected Health Policy’s (CCHP) Fall 2022 Summary Report of the state telehealth laws and Medicaid program policies is now available, as well as updated information on our online Policy Finder tool. The most current information in the online tool may be exported for each state into a PDF document. The following is a summary of the current status of telehealth policy in the states, given these new updates. CCHP provides these bi-annual summary reports in the Spring and Fall of each year to provide a snapshot of the progress made in the past six months. CCHP is committed to providing timely policy information that is easy for users to navigate and understand through our Policy Finder. The information for this summary report covers updates in state telehealth policy made between July and early September 2022. A pdf infographic is also available.


Samsung, HealthTap partner to bring digital healthcare to Smart TVs

California-based virtual healthcare provider HealthTap and multinational electronics company Samsung announced a strategic partnership to bring virtual healthcare to Samsung Smart TVs in the U.S. Jessica Hagen reports on the partnership in her article on MobiHealthNews. The partnership extends HealthTap’s services to Samsung TV owners, who will be able to connect to HealthTap’s healthcare platform and visit with a health provider via a connected television camera. Consumers can review a doctor’s bio and credentials, watch video interviews to designate their preferred doctor and then schedule an appointment to see the provider.

Why it’s important – The ability to conveniently access telemedicine through a TV screen empowers everyone to take care into their own hands without needing a computing or other device. However, Samsung isn’t ignoring the more significant opportunity here. This week, Samsung also announced its aim to screen 150,000 Indians for eye disease by the end of 2023 using upcycled phones. The technology manufacturer is modifying old Galaxy devices into fundus cameras via its Galaxy Upcycling program. The EYELIKE fundus cameras utilize AI to detect diseases in scanned retinal images.


Podcast of the week – I’m always looking for great podcast episodes. This TED Interview episode features surgeon, writer, and the Assistant Administrator for Global Health at USAID, Atul Gawande, who talks about how essential investment in innovation, geriatric medicine, and accessible education could help Americans live longer, more fulfilling lives. https://podcast.app/atul-gawande-on-why-american-healthcare-desperately-needs-innovation-e321438024/?utm_source=ios&utm_medium=share


A 24-Hour Skin Patch That Monitors Blood Pressure: The BioBeat Review

From Dr. Bertalan Mesko and his team at The Medical Futurist Institute comes this review of the BioBeat 24-hour blood pressure monitor. The technology is based on reflective photoplethysmography (PPG), a noninvasive optical method that measures the heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and several other cardio-pulmonary parameters. His verdict: he liked this device, it was indeed comfortable, I think it has a place in healthcare, and it is filling an important niche. The price is also okay-ish. It is supposed to be $99, although this info can’t be found on the company’s website.

Image Credit: Dr. Bertalan Mesko

Why it’s important – Devices for remote monitoring at the point of care continue to move the market forward. Having a comfortable and reliable way for prolonged blood pressure monitoring is something we’ve been long waiting for. Holter monitors do the job reliably, but they are far from being comfortable; even if you manage to somehow find a tolerable sleeping position with the bulky box, it will wake you up several times during the night inflating the cuff. 24-hour measurements are more informative than sporadic readings – and there is no guarantee that patients carry out the measurements properly with a traditional device. So, making the process easy allows providers to obtain more reliable information on a patient’s condition and eliminates multiple trips to the hospital for the patient.


FDA-Approved At-Home Spirometer: Interview with Charvi Shetty, Co-Founder and CEO at Aluna

In another development in the home monitoring area, Conn Hastings from Medgadget interviews Charvi Shetty, Co-Founder, and CEO of Aluna. For those with chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD, a vital way to keep track of lung health is to use a spirometer to measure how well air can move in and out of the lungs during forced breathing. However, patients would typically require a visit with a lung specialist to perform this test. This is inconvenient and precludes regular monitoring to keep a close eye on lung health and spot any upcoming disease exacerbation. This is the motivation behind this latest technology, an at-home digital spirometer created by a medical startup called Aluna. The device is easy to use, requiring the patient to blow into it daily. The company envisages the technology as similar to the blood-glucose tests used by patients with diabetes to keep track of their condition. To increase patient compliance and to make the process more fun, the system also includes computer games that incentivize the patient to use the device regularly and share their lung health data with their clinician. Here is the company website.

YouTube Video Credit: Aluna

Why it’s important – Forty-one million patients suffer from chronic respiratory conditions in the US, 25 million have asthma, and 16 million suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD impact the ability to breathe, making daily activities difficult through symptoms such as coughing and wheezing. Left uncontrolled and improperly managed, these conditions can progress to attacks that lead to avoidable ED visits and hospitalization. Regular monitoring of lung conditions allows for early intervention, similar to a blood glucose monitor for patients with diabetes. Patients and providers can see the effectiveness of their treatment plan and modify their strategy based on a complete understanding of their lung health.


Smart Mouthguard Uses Bite to Control All Kinds of Devices

The National University of Singapore posted an article on Futurity.org reporting on a new mouthguard device that may soon give people with limited hand function a way to easily control devices such as computers, smartphones, and wheelchairs. The mouthguard, a first-of-its-kind bite-controlled optoelectronic system, translates complex bite patterns accurately and quickly into instructions to control these kinds of electronic gadgets. Besides supporting human-computer interaction, the mouthguard can also be used for medical assistance and health care devices such as smart electronic skin and dental diagnosis. Each smart mouthguard currently costs S$100 (about $70 US) to produce in the lab, and the team expects the cost to be reduced substantially in mass production. The study appears in the journal Nature Electronics.

Image Credit: National University of Singapore

Why it’s important – Various assistive technologies such as voice recognition, eye tracking, and brain-computer interfaces have been developed to help people—especially those with limited dexterity or neurological disorders—control electronic devices. However, these technologies have limitations associated with environmental interference, control accuracy, cost, and maintenance. Weighing about 7 grams, the mouthguard requires less training experience when compared to existing assistive technologies.


Health Tech News This Week – October 15, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

Novel Devices to Help Surgeons Sculpt a New Ear

At Johns Hopkins, clinical researchers have developed a set of surgical tools that allow them to more easily create a replacement ear for those born with malformed or missing ears. Conn Hastings reports on the research in his article in MedGadget. One device lets the surgeon quickly and accurately slice the harvested cartilage into the required thickness, helping a little cartilage to go much further. Then, a “cookie cutter” style system automatically slices the cartilage sheets into smaller pieces that can be easily fitted together to form a natural ear shape.

Image Credit: Johns Hopkins

“This makes our system highly reproducible, user friendly, time efficient and cost effective.”

Angelo Leto Barone, Johns Hopkins

Why it’s important – Some children are born without an ear, which is called anotia, or with a malformation of the ear, which is called microtia. At present, the standard way in which these conditions are treated involves harvesting cartilage from the ribs of the patient and then sculpting it freehand into an approximate ear shape before surgical implantation. Best of all, it consistently yields a natural-looking ear that helps children avoid being teased or bullied and enables adults to do things others take for granted, like wearing glasses.


Infographic of the weekGist Healthcare, using commercial claims data from Fair Health, shares the graphic below, which reveals that roughly one in twenty commercial medical claims are now for virtual care, a rate that has held relatively steady since dropping from its early pandemic peak. (These use rates likely extend to Medicare, as a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis showed that the virtual share of outpatient visits barely differed between those younger and older than 65.) What could be considered a true revolution is virtual care’s impact on behavioral healthcare, which makes up nearly two-thirds of the overall virtual care volume? According to Zocdoc, an online marketplace booking both in-person and virtual care services, 85 percent of psychiatric appointments booked in the first half of 2022 were for virtual care, dwarfing the virtual visit levels of the other top specialties.

Image Credit: Gist Healthcare

Walmart launches healthcare research institute

Molly Gamble in Becker’s Hospital Review covers the launch of the Walmart Healthcare Research Institute on Oct. 11. It will initially focus on inclusion in clinical studies on treatments for chronic conditions and treatments that should include members from underrepresented populations, including older adults, rural residents, women, and minority populations. Walmart is working with clinical research organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic medical centers. Walmart’s only partners in its news release are CTI Clinical Trial & Consulting Services and Laina Enterprises.

Why it’s important – Patient recruitment is difficult in clinical trials. Studies can be delayed or terminated when organizations cannot get enough people to participate, or patients drop out of the trial. Senior citizens, rural populations, women, and people of color in the U.S. are often left out of clinical research because they lack awareness of trials and access to facilities. If the Institute can meet the stated goals, Walmart’s new Healthcare Research Institute gives customers the chance to enroll in healthcare research, aims to improve diversity in clinical trials, and supports interventions and medications for underrepresented communities.


The smartphone will see you now! ‘Electronic stethoscope’ app can monitor your heartbeat by placing your device’s microphone to your chest

An electronic stethoscope on a smartphone could pave the way for doctors to monitor patients’ hearts remotely. Victoria Allen writing in The Daily Mail, reports on an app developed by a team including King’s College London that records not only the basic ‘lub-dub’ of a beating heart but the sounds in between of its valves opening and closing. Its primary use in the future could be to reveal if someone has a heart murmur, which causes an abnormal ‘swishing’ sound between heartbeats, and indicates someone has a heart valve condition. It could also provide extra information to detect atrial fibrillation, which affects more than a million people in the UK.

Why it’s important – The research was published in the European Heart Journal Digital health. Further research is needed to test how the app can be used in tandem with existing heart monitoring techniques. However, if successful, this development could mark an important step towards having heart monitoring tools at your fingertips.


Utah Bionic Leg: The most advanced AI-powered prosthetics ‘ever created’

University of Utah researchers have developed the most advanced AI-powered prosthetics “ever created,” prompting Ottobock, the world’s largest prosthetic manufacturer, to collaborate to launch the project globally. Interesting Engineering’s Baba Tamim covers the story. The Utah Bionic Leg combines motors, processors, and cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI), giving amputees the strength and mobility to perform actions that the average person might take for granted. To determine the leg’s position in space, custom-designed force and torque sensors, as well as accelerometers and gyroscopes, are used. According to the university, these sensors are linked to a computer processor, which translates sensor inputs into movements of the prosthetic joints.

Why it’s important – Amputees rely on their intact legs and upper body to compensate for the lack of support provided by their prescribed prosthesis. With the Utah Bionic Leg, this is less of a problem because the prosthesis’ increased power facilitates mobility. If you walk faster, it will walk faster for you and give you more energy. Or, it adapts automatically to the height of the steps in a staircase. Or, it can help you cross over obstacles. Users can effectively manipulate the prosthetic for extended periods of time, exactly like they would with an intact limb, thanks to the robotic knee, ankle, and toe joints.


This next-generation video game requires a prescription

On the frosty planet of Frigidus, a virtual world full of icy caverns and treacherous waterfalls, your mission is to race down a track and target the animals that come flying your way. This isn’t exactly easy: Bumping into walls — you navigate via your phone or tablet — can slow down your avatar, and there are other characters meant to distract you from your objective. Still, the idea is that through all these challenges, Frigidus’s frosty terrain can give you something other video games don’t: medical treatment. Rebecca Hailweil reports on this development in her article on Recode. Frigidius is just one part of the EndeavorRx universe, a video game designed to treat ADHD in children between the ages of 8 and 12. The game, which the Food and Drug Administration cleared in 2020, is designed to prompt the parts of the brain that we use to focus our attention. Now the company that created it, Akili, is hoping to expand its games for all sorts of other conditions, including depression and Covid brain fog. The goal is to create a new type of medicine, using technology to deliver a treatment that doesn’t require in-person supervision or risk causing any severe side effects.

Image Credit: Akili

Why it’s important – Games like EndeavorRx are appealing because they raise the possibility that an enjoyable activity could double as a potential therapy. This approach promises to make it much more affordable to deliver treatment and suggests that we can transform the phones, tablets, and computers we already own into medical devices simply by downloading an app. The challenge is that the impact of these games — which are still relatively new — is up for debate, even as companies like Akili go public and try to tackle more conditions. This means that, at present, these platforms run the risk of overpromising and under-delivering. EndeavorRx does have some scientific backing. After analyzing the results of five clinical trials with more than 600 children, the FDA found that the game could facilitate “general improvement in attention” and seemed to mitigate other ADHD symptoms, too. Though EndeavorRx isn’t designed to replace a pharmaceutical, it’s only available to people with a prescription. Patients with a prescription are sent an access code they can use to download the game. It’s pricy and may not be covered by all insurance carriers. That means it won’t be affordable for all and will likely limit the app’s adoption. But it will be interesting to watch how this market develops in the future.

Health Tech News This Week – October 8, 2022

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

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

WHO and partners launch world’s most extensive freely accessible AI health worker

The World Health Organization, with support from the Qatar Ministry of Health, launched the AI-powered WHO Digital Health Worker, Florence version 2.0, offering an innovative and interactive platform to share a myriad of health topics in seven languages at the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) in Qatar. Florence can share advice on mental health, give tips to destress, provide guidance on how to eat right, be more active, and quit tobacco and e-cigarettes. She can also offer information on COVID-19 vaccines and more. Florence 2.0 is now available in English, with Arabic, French, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, and Russian to follow. The project is supported by technology company Soul Machines, which brings avatars to life as autonomously animated Digital People.

“We know that providing advice on Florence’s key health topics, including mental health, nutrition and tobacco cessation is an important tool in our commitment to support people to make healthy lifestyle choices.”

Dr Yousuf Al Maslamani, Official Healthcare Spokesperson for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Ministry of Public Health.

Why it’s important – Florence has helped fight misinformation around COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. The pandemic has had a significant effect on mental health. It is estimated that 1 in every eight people in the world lives with a mental disorder. Her topics like tobacco and unhealthy diet kill 16 million people yearly, while physical inactivity kills an estimated 830 000. These deaths are due to diseases like cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes that can be prevented and controlled with the proper support. Will a truly useful chatbot come from the WHO to be used globally? I have my doubts, but the message is clear from the WHO: we need to deploy A.I.-based medical technologies as healthcare worker shortages will be with us forever.


Infographic of the week – Three-quarters of Americans give U.S. healthcare affordability a D or F rating, according to a new poll from Gallup and West Health. Over 5,000 Americans were asked to grade the U.S. healthcare system overall regarding affordability, equity, accessibility, and quality. Overall, 44% of Americans gave the entire system a poor or failing grade. One in 3 said healthcare affordability deserved an F.

Image Credit: West Health/Gallup Healthcare in America report

Specialized smart soft contact lenses can address global issue of glaucoma diagnosis, management

Purdue University published the results of a study demonstrating that the development of specialized smart soft contact lenses that accurately measure intraocular pressure (IOP) in a person’s eye could be the latest answer to stopping glaucoma-related blindness. The new technology is highlighted in a study published in the journal Nature Communications. The study compares Purdue’s technology to the current gold standard and other home monitoring systems. It examines how the Purdue technology can gather vital IOP measurements for 24-hour cycles, even during sleep.

Image Credit: Purdue University

“We hope our approach can be also tailored for aiding and detecting other chronic ocular diseases and for other functions.”

Chi Hwan Lee, the Leslie A. Geddes Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering

Why it’s important – The technology serves as another option for eye specialists to identify glaucoma, which, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, can steal a person’s vision without early warning signs or pain and affects more than 80 million people worldwide. The only known modifiable risk factor is lowering a person’s IOP, which is difficult to monitor for long periods, particularly during sleep. While exams can be performed in a specialist’s office and at-home monitoring systems are available, they all have limitations. For instance, in-office measures are time-consuming, and current at-home technology is challenging to use, is uncomfortable, and doesn’t gather sufficient data at the proper time periods or over long enough time periods for specialists to use the information to make optimized treatment decisions appropriately.


WORLD-FIRST 3D BIOPRINTED BIOIMPEDANCE CHIPS UNLOCK IN-VIVO SKIN DISEASE MODELING

Regenerative medicine specialist CTIBiotech has partnered with pharmaceutical firm Gattefossé to develop 3D bioprinted skin chips that enable the patient-specific modeling of skin diseases. Paul Hanaphy reports on the developments in his article on 3D Printing Industry. By assessing a tissue’s sebum levels, the oily substance in human tissues that helps our skin barrier to function, the lab-on-a-chip devices can non-invasively model the skin diseases of patients. Using their chips, the firms say it could now be possible to establish a more direct link between lab data and human research and develop more efficient cosmetic treatments.

Image Credit: CTIBiotech

Why it’s important – While scientists understand the molecule’s role in the body, they haven’t yet managed to draw a straight line between sebum disruption and skin disease in specific patients. The firms have worked together to establish this lab-human data link by creating a 3D bioprinted model based around ‘bioimpedance.’ Widely used to measure health, body composition, and diet, the analysis method sees a current applied to patients to calculate impedance (resistance) and assess if they need to make lifestyle changes accordingly.


A bionic pancreas could solve one of the biggest challenges of diabetes

In a recent trial, a bionic pancreas that automatically delivers insulin proved more effective than pumps or injections at lowering blood glucose levels in people with type 1 diabetes. The bionic pancreas, a credit card-sized device called an iLet, monitors a person’s levels around the clock and automatically delivers insulin when needed through a tiny cannula, a thin tube inserted into the body. It is worn constantly, generally on the abdomen. The device determines all insulin doses based on the user’s weight, and the user can’t adjust the doses. The results were featured in an article by Rhiannon Williams in MIT Technology Review online. A Harvard Medical School team has submitted its findings from the study, described in the New England Journal of Medicine, to the FDA to bring the product to market in the US eventually. While a team from Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital first tested the bionic pancreas in 2010, this is the most extensive trial undertaken so far.

Why it’s important – Type 1 diabetes is a serious condition that causes a person’s level of glucose, or sugar, to become too high because the pancreas can’t produce enough insulin. This hormone keeps blood glucose under control. People with type 1 diabetes need to monitor their glucose levels and take insulin daily. Other types of artificial pancreas exist, but they typically require the user to input information before they will deliver insulin, including the amount of carbohydrates they ate in their last meal. Instead, the iLet takes the user’s weight and the type of meal they’re eating, such as breakfast, lunch, or dinner, added by the user via the iLet interface. It uses an adaptive learning algorithm to deliver insulin automatically. The device could remove the need for a person with diabetes to calculate the amount of carbohydrates in a meal, which is a significant benefit.


Pfizer pays almost $120 million for app that detects COVID from a cough

Pharma giant Pfizer has shelled out nearly US$120 million to acquire a small Australian company claiming to have developed a smartphone app that can accurately diagnose COVID-19 by analyzing the sound of a cough. Rich Hardy covers the story in his article in New Atlas online. For around a decade, the small Australian digital healthcare company ResApp has been working on developing an algorithm that can diagnose respiratory illnesses by simply studying the sound of a patient’s cough. Initially, the system was trained to diagnose pneumonia, but by 2019 the researchers had shown the technology could effectively distinguish asthma, croup, and bronchiolitis. When the pandemic struck in 2020, the team unsurprisingly quickly pivoted to incorporate COVID-19 diagnoses into its cough-recognition technology. By early 2022 the first data from a pilot trial testing the COVID algorithm revealed impressively good results. The trial found the system could accurately detect 92% of positive COVID cases solely from the sound of a cough. The system also recorded 80% specificity, meaning only two out of every ten people screened received false positive results.

Image Credit: ResApp Health

Why it’s important – Pfizer believes the COVID-19 screening tool is the next step to potentially provide new solutions for consumers that aim to quell this disease. They plan on refining this algorithm further and working with regulators worldwide to bring this vital product to consumers as quickly as possible.


Stem cell patch surgery to mend spina bifida in the womb

Michelle Roberts brings us this story in the BBC News online. US doctors say they have successfully performed surgery on babies in the womb to repair harmful spine defects using a special, therapeutic stem cell patch method. It is a patch that contains immature cells, called stem cells, that can grow with the baby. Baby Robbie is one of the first humans to have the treatment. The UC Davis team plan to treat about 35 babies as part of their trial. More studies and follow-ups are needed to assess how well the treatment works. Robbie and the other babies will have check-ups to see their progress with skills such as walking and potty training.

Image Credit: UC Davis Health

Why it’s important – Without treatment, spina bifida can sometimes lead to a range of lifelong issues, including problems with mobility because of nerve damage. In extreme cases, the spinal canal remains open and exposed. If the defect is not closed to protect it shortly before or after birth, it can cause total paralysis of the legs. Surgeons have already used keyhole surgery on babies in the womb to mend the gap. Now the US team has gone a step further, fitting a graft or implant to bridge the repair.


MIT team develops burrowing robotic pill to break through the intestine’s drug-blocking mucus

One of the many barriers to getting drugs where they need to be in the human body lies in the digestive tract, where walls of mucus line the insides of the intestines. This layer can be an especially tricky obstacle for converting large-molecule biological treatments such as insulin into an easy-to-take pill. MIT’s solution? Burrow through it, using a robotic capsule that can tunnel its way through the thick mucus wall. Connor Hale reports that researchers at the university have developed a motorized pill with a spinning auger-like endpiece designed to displace the mucus and deliver its payload directly to the organ in his article in Fierce Biotech. They say it could be developed into a more straightforward method for administering various drugs, such as insulin or the antibiotic vancomycin, which currently have to be given via an injection.

Why it’s important – What the RoboCap does is transiently displace the initial mucus barrier and then enhance absorption by maximizing the dispersion of the drug locally. By combining all of these elements, they are maximizing their capacity to provide the optimal situation for the drug to be absorbed. In the National Institutes of Health-funded study, researchers found their capsule could deliver 20 to 40 times more insulin or vancomycin in animals compared to similar capsules without the mucus-clearing mechanism. Once the drug is released, the capsule passes through the digestive tract on its own, and the study found that the mucus layer reforms after a few hours.


Inflation has digital health companies shifting gears

It’s not the best economic environment for consumer-driven digital health businesses. As Gabriel Perna reports in his article on Digital Health Business & Technology, this has caused some organizations to accelerate a shift toward a business-to-business (B2B) strategy.

“To offer a value proposition that is appealing enough for consumers in the direct-to-consumer space, you have to appeal to them in a way where they’re motivated to take action. The reality is that most people are not motivated to take action.”

Aike Ho, partner at the San Francisco-based venture capital firm ACME Capital

Why it’s important – The B2B opportunity is bigger, the margins are better, and the acquisition cost is lower. If you’re B2B and your value proposition is that you can make a company’s members healthier and, therefore, you’ll spend less on them, this resonates even more in an economic downturn. Employers are interested in using digital health solutions to retain talent in a tight labor market. An August survey from the Business Group on Health, a trade group representing 72 Fortune 100 companies and other large public-sector employers, found that expanded virtual health and telehealth services are here to stay for 94% of employers.