What happened in health care technology this week, and why it’s important
Virtual Platforms For Surgery Are Gaining Traction
Sai Balasubramanian, M.D., J.D., a contributor to Forbes, published this article on the ongoing development of virtual platforms for surgery. He highlights companies like Proximie, a technology company “that that allows clinicians to virtually ‘scrub in’ to any operating room or cath lab from anywhere in the world. By empowering clinicians to share their skills in real-time, we can reduce variation in care and ensure every patient receives the best healthcare every time.”
While Proximie is making waves, it is certainly not the only technology company navigating this arena. Another prominent player that has already established its name in the space is Microsoft’s Hololens platform. This platform aims to provide a similar solution.
Why it’s important – In terms of actually performing surgery remotely, the technology is still a work in progress. While we’re still in the early stages of this research, the goal is to one day pair the gloves with your VR headset for an immersive experience like playing in a concert or poker game in the metaverse, and eventually, they’d work with your AR glasses.” Sensations such as touch, feel, and pressure is crucially important in a surgical or clinical procedure. Without a doubt, there is a significant amount of work left to be done in this space to make virtual surgery a reality—however, the concept is promising.
Infographics of the week – I love this graphic from the National Academy of Medicine. Digital technology has now been developed and applied to every aspect of health and health care. Figure 1 groups the various digital health tools into a dozen application arenas, but the individual applications number in the thousands.
Another great infographic, this time from Rock Health. Rock Health has tracked 124 U.S.-based digital health startups that support health data infrastructure and interoperability innovation, many of which address interoperability to improve patient quality of care. At a high level, they segment patient-care-focused interoperability players into two functional categories: (1) data access and exchange, streamlining data transference between stakeholders (especially providers and patients), and (2) data integration, embedding data from different technologies into broader information platforms that inform care decisions.
Changing the field of stroke rehabilitation
Lior Novik published this article in The Jerusalem Post highlighting BioXtreme, an Israeli company that helps shorten upper post-stroke limb rehabilitation using innovative robotic technology. BioXtreme has developed deXtreme™, a groundbreaking robotic system for patients recovering from stroke or other traumatic brain injuries that applies motor error enhancement forces in a combined virtual environment to restore motor learning and rehabilitate upper limbs. The device features an array of sensors, controllers, and motors powered by unique algorithms.
The company claims its unique patented error enhancement technology will shorten rehabilitation time by up to 50% and improve the range of motion by 100%, compared to traditional rehabilitation methods, as shown in three clinical trials and an independent research study conducted by Northwestern University in the United States.
Why it’s important – Millions of people worldwide suffer strokes or other brain injuries each year, requiring a long and expensive rehabilitation process. At the same time, all traditional rehabilitation methods that aim to correct the patient’s motor error using cognition require a long rehabilitation time and allow only limited success. This system, using machine learning and AI, learn the required error enhancement each time and adjusts it to the patient’s progress during each repetition, which makes practice sessions more effective. Within 10-12 training sessions, the correct movement is embedded into the patient’s brain and becomes a habit.
Operational Health Tech: A New Billion Dollar Market
A sponsored post by Bloom Health Partners on the Visual Capitalist website reviews the topic of operational health, which is an industry that provides health services to employees to help keep companies running smoothly. A critical piece of operational health is workplace health, which is expected to soar in value. From 2021 to 2025, the market for workplace health is expected to grow 200%, from $6.5 billion to $19.5 billion.
The authors make the case that this area is disruptive to traditional health care by providing direct services to employees in the workplace. They contend that in the future, employees will gravitate towards employers that provide standout health benefits like workplace healthcare options offered by operational health. Mental health is high on the list of services that many potential employees seek when considering accepting a position with companies in today’s job market.
Why it’s important – I think the authors have hit the nail on the head in their review and discussion on the importance of providing direct services to employees in the workplace. Every piece of research that I have seen about what potential employees want in terms of benefits when they join an organization includes robust and comprehensive health benefits.
The Talking Knee Is a Reality: What Your Knee Can Tell You After Total Knee Arthroplasty
This article in The Journal of Orthopedic Experience and Innovation gets the “headline of the week” award, in my opinion. Despite significant technological advancements since the first recorded TKA surgery, smart technology remains largely absent in manufactured orthopedic implants. The Canary Tibial Extension with CHIRP™ System is intended to provide objective kinematic data from the implanted medical device to assist the patient and clinician during a patient’s TKA post-surgical care. The kinematic data is designed as an adjunct to other physiological parameter measurement tools applied or utilized by the physician during patient monitoring and treatment post-surgery. The CTE implant design is intended to offer an implantable sensor capable of monitoring activity and gait that provides consistent data that does not require a patient to track or remember to wear a device actively.
Why it’s important – Total knee arthroplasty (TKA) surgeries performed in the United States are projected to increase over the next 30 years, with TKA annual projections of (in thousands) 1,272 in 2030 and 1,921 by the year 2040. While TKA is generally considered an effective intervention to improve pain and function, 15-30% of patients experience continuing problems in pain, impairment, and functional limitations post-operatively. Ultimately, this innovative technology will allow surgeons to use data and analytics to examine differences in recovery between patient groups and thus set better recovery goals.
Holographic patients are now helping to train the next generation of doctors
Future doctors at a hospital in the United Kingdom have become the first in the world to train with holographic patients. As Study Finds online reports, researchers at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge developed the pioneering technology. During the simulation, medical students encounter a virtual patient with symptoms – such as being asthmatic – and must make real-time decisions about their care. The first training module features a hologram patient with asthma, followed by scenarios of anaphylaxis, a blocked blood vessel, and pneumonia. Further modules in cardiology and neurology are currently in development.
Why it’s important – This development by teams in Cambridge – to use life-like holographic patients in medical training – could enhance the learning experience of the next generation of doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers, by creating new environments to practice medicine in real-time while improving access to training worldwide. Another excellent example of the use of mixed reality (MR) in medical training.
Electronic Skin Lets Humans Feel What Robots Do—And Vice Versa
Fiona Samuels in Scientific American reports that new research is adding more abilities and complexities to bring this field closer to its ultimate goal: an electronic skin, or e-skin, with uses ranging from covering robots to sticking wearable devices onto humans. Gao’s lab used an inkjet printer to layer a specialized ink made of nanomaterials—mixtures of microscopic bits of metals, carbon, or other compounds—within a soft hydrogel base. By printing with different nanomaterial inks, each formulated to detect a specific chemical, Gao’s team developed skins that could sense explosives, nerve agents such as those used in chemical warfare, and even viruses such as the COVID-causing SARS-CoV-2. The researchers also incorporated previously developed pressure and temperature sensors. The resulting e-skin looks like a transparent Band-Aid with metallic designs embedded on its surface.
Why it’s important – Besides remotely controlling robots or teaching them to adapt to their environments, electronic skins could have many other applications. They could become the basis of soft, flexible touch pads for interactive electronic devices, for example, or for sensitive clothing or upholstery capable of detecting extreme temperatures and other environmental conditions. Such skins could also be helpful in medicine. While issues must be addressed, these developments will encourage more research into other potential applications – especially in health care.
This Dissolvable Implant Could Revolutionize Pain Management
Smithsonian Magazine’s Margaret Osborne posted this article on developments at Northwestern University. Since discovering the addictive properties of opioids, scientists have been searching for safer alternatives to relieve pain. Biomedical engineer John A. Rogers of Northwestern University thinks he may have created one—an implantable, dissolvable device that cools nerves in the body. The device is described in a new study published in Science. His team engineered a device allowing more targeted pain relief that could be ramped up or tapered down depending on pain intensity. Using cooling, the implant would numb specific peripheral nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. This measure would block pain signals to the brain, effectively regulating pain in specific parts of the body. The device is also fully dissolvable in the body, which eliminates the risks involved in surgical removal. The time it takes to dissolve—usually days or weeks—depends on the material used and its thickness.
Why it’s important – Millions of Americans live with pain. While pain can be an important indicator of health, it can also be debilitating, causing fatigue, depression, and a decreased quality of life. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University estimated that pain cost the United States $560 billion to $635 billion in 2011. But, opioid overdoses killed nearly 500,000 people in the U.S. In 2017, the United States Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. Some are skeptical, however. John Wood, a neurobiologist at the University College London, studies pain pathways, including Nav1.8, vital in relaying pain signals from nerves throughout the body to the spinal cord. Wood says drugs like the Nav1.8 inhibitor from the pharmaceutical company Vertex, administered in pill form, have shown strong pain-relieving effects in humans.
FDA clears LiveMetric’s smartwatch-like, cuffless blood pressure sensor
No more squeezing: The FDA has cleared a smartwatch-like blood pressure device that foregoes the need for an inflatable cuff. Conor Hale reports on the clearance in his article for Fierce Biotech. Developed by LiveMetric, the electronic wearable can take a reading every 10 seconds, using an array of tiny sensors that can physically measure the minuscule movements of blood as it passes under the skin beat by beat. The device can be worn day or night, allowing for 24-hour logs of changes in blood pressure by tracking the wrist’s radial artery without requiring separate calibrations.
Why it’s important – LiveMetric’s device clearance adds to the list of companies pursuing light-based, as opposed to physical, sensors for tracking blood pressure. These include Rockley Photonics, Caretaker Medical’s VitalStream device, and Biobeat—which previously received a blood pressure clearance for its smartwatch and chest patch in 2019—added additional monitoring features to its wearable sensors, with agency green lights for tracking respiratory rate and body temperature.