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Reflections on Connected Health Week

Posted by Chad O'Connor  October 27, 2013 06:00 AM

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A robot that assists nurses and helps lift patients.

A shoe insole that tracks stride and helps rehabilitation.

A mobile and web based platform that enables consumers to take an active role in their health and wellbeing.

As a judge for the third-annual Innovator’s Challenge, held during this week’s Partners Connected Health Symposium, these were just a few of the hundred or so game-changing technologies I was privileged to review that will impact the future of connected health.

Boston’s Connected Health Week showcased the Greater Boston area’s continued leadership in pushing the boundaries of technological innovation in healthcare.
It began with leading policymakers from the United States and European Union gathering at the EU-US eHealth Marketplace and Conference to discuss how health-related ICT can support advancements in patient care and improve economic benefits while promoting constant innovation.

It continued at the Partners Connected Health Symposium with industry visionaries and thought leaders from around the world envisaging the intersection of health and technology, moving healthcare beyond the hospital into the day-to-day lives of patients through mobile devices and social media to sensors – and even robots.

Connected Health Week highlighted a market that has been undergoing significant change as the healthcare cost burden weighs heavily on some of the world’s largest economies. Along with an increasingly competitive industry looking for ways to improve health outcomes, we are seeing technology reaching a level of maturity that makes it both accessible and affordable for previously unavailable applications.

As the healthcare focus shifts from incident-based treatment and care delivery to continuous disease management, tools made possible by wireless medical devices and information technology are a potential route to reducing the high levels of non-adherence, enabling continuous monitoring of patients and promoting a regular dialog between patients and care providers. The proven importance of patient engagement as well as the need to increase focus on preventive care emphasizes technology-based solutions that keep people healthier and out of hospitals.

Consider the application of technology to medication adherence. At the simple end, there are connected pill bottles or boxes that can provide reminders and track when the patient has taken their pills. Slightly more complex is the deployment of sensors and wireless technology in drug delivery devices. While this seems like a daunting undertaking, smart design can ensure that the additional electronics do not interfere with drug delivery performance and enable a suite of possibilities including tracking device activation and usage. Data from these intelligent devices can provide valuable information to pharmaceutical companies during clinical trials to correlate drug intake with benefits and side effects as well as the ability to offer patient focused disease management solutions in the commercial setting.

Speaking of data, intelligent devices will not live up to their promise if the data they gather is not turned into information for care providers. Several speakers this week discussed how to tackle Big Data in healthcare. While most healthcare data is structured, the importance of analytics that yield meaningful actionable information cannot be ignored.

Moreover, having a thorough and complete data set for an individual in one place becomes critical if analytics are to be effective. This highlights the challenge of data exchange from various sources and between different health systems, and emphasizes the need for a single harmonized standard. Inter-operability is something the industry is still far from achieving, but an issue that US and European officials are seeking to address in the context of current bilateral trade talks.

We all know that tomorrow’s healthcare market will be different, one that demands tangible outcome improvement and higher engagement from patients. Wireless medical devices, mobile and other IT platforms have the potential to make it happen – and significant innovation is taking place in this space. If we do move to performance based payment systems, then connected health technology may well be critical to achieve and prove improved outcomes. While this may seem like a significant jump into uncertain territory, Connected Health Week has shown us that a good strategy and sound technical approach can help minimize risk and deliver platforms for future growth.

Vaishali Kamat is Associate Director & Head of Digital Health at Cambridge Consultants, with offices in Cambridge MA, Cambridge UK and Singapore. It is expanding its Massachusetts operations to capitalize on the growing medical technology opportunity.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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