Lara is a successful lawyer. Between her job and two children, her days are full. However, she now has an additional thing to worry about. Jack, her 78-year-old father had a heart attack three weeks ago that almost killed him. He lives alone and is not good about taking his beta blockers. If only there was a way for her to know that he was well and took his pills, she would have a much better day. How about a system that would record and track Jack’s blood pressure every day, urge him to take his medicines and check on him should either of those things not happen? Moreover, the system would send a text message to Lara’s BlackBerry informing her that Dad was okay.
Sound difficult? We don’t think so.
Wireless communications and proliferation of the internet make it possible to bring patients into the loop with their caregivers, physicians and the wider social structure. It won’t be long before connected devices are in the hands of consumers allowing them to measure physiological parameters, deliver medications and track compliance. These devices will collect and transmit valuable data to a range of back-end applications that will enable service-based businesses to help people like Lara take care of their families.
Lara is not alone. Adherence to “life saving” medications is only around 50% in the US, costing the healthcare system about $290 billion annually.* Moreover, poor management of chronic diseases adds to the overall costs of healthcare. The traditional approach to healthcare, which typically includes a ten-minute doctor visit once in six months and medication delivery that relies on consumers following their prescriptions, is clearly not sufficient to solve this problem.
Fortunately, today’s technology enables implementation of innovative solutions. Affordable and simple connected devices are now feasible. Interoperability standards such as those being developed by 200+ members of the Continua Health Alliance enable seamless transmission of data from connected devices to personal computers, telemedicine hubs or mobile phones, thereby eliminating the manual data entry burden on users, enabling usage tracking and reducing device cost. Moreover, data can be transmitted directly into electronic medical records or Personal Health Records available online, thus enabling a feedback loop. The first few Continua Compliant devices have now been certified for use (http://www.continuaalliance.org/products/certified-products.html).
New approach to health outcomes
The adoption of connected devices opens doors to endless opportunity: reminder systems for patients; customized emails or text messages to caregivers based on patient behavior; coaching and education tools; participation in community or peer groups; direct or indirect incentives for both patients and caregivers; and more These are all feasible means to improve medication adherence and, in fact, health outcomes. To get an idea of what is possible, visit www.vena-enabled.com.
Over time, this will seed a variety of new business models. Traditional care patterns will be disrupted and healthcare will begin to follow the rules of the consumer market. Service rather than the drug or device is likely to take center stage. Pharmaceutical companies and device makers that recognize this shift and begin to equip themselves with appropriate tools will gain a significant market advantage. Conducting early user and clinical trials with new technologies will help overcome regulatory hurdles and may even yield evidence for label claims. Moreover, finding new ways to target the “customer” or exploring strategic partnerships to help retain market share in the (connected) healthcare world could only be beneficial.
With governments looking at ways to improve outcomes and curb costs, the Connected Health approach could provide valuable solutions. Studies in the US and Europe have shown that simple monitoring technologies and reminder systems can prevent acute incidents and expensive emergency room visits. Real financial incentives tied to improved medication compliance and healthy behavior can further reduce longer-term health issues. Either using a carrot or a stick, it is clear that engaging the patients in their own care and well-being will save billions of healthcare dollars, while providing opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to differentiate in a competitive and increasingly crowded market.
> Vaishali Kamat is Group Manager, Medical Technology for Cambridge Consultants. www.cambridgeconsultants.com.
*According to a 2009 study by the New England Healthcare Institute