In recent months, Covid-19 showed that we are not where we need to be when it comes to remote care. Still, there is much progress made in the field of technology. A lot is possible, but are healthcare professionals and society ready for it?
Cloud technology provides a greater reach
Where ordinary smartwatches and fitness trackers synchronize with an app via Bluetooth, medical wearables must synchronize directly via the cloud so that they transmit the data in real-time. An example is the FallCall Solutions app presented at CES, which sends an alarm when the person who carries the wearable falls. Because this information enters the connected personal emergency response system directly via the cloud, third parties can come to the rescue. The tool also indicates whether the fall had a severe impact and can immediately call the emergency services. In the event of falls with minimal effect, the technology contacts, for example, the neighborhood app or family. The connection to the cloud ensures that the information is real-time and that the person who carries the wearable can go anywhere, even if there is no WiFi.
Digital twins make monitoring easier
Digital twins are extremely popular in the tech and industry world. This virtual digital model is a complete reconstruction of a device, system, factory, or construction site. It uses AI and IoT to monitor continuously, learn and gain insights. These insights are in real-time so that you can immediately intervene in case of deviations. Healthcare is now also looking at digital twins of people, their virtual doubles. Empa researchers are developing a digital twin to facilitate the development of personalized therapies. The aim is for these avatars to show how to treat someone with pain complaints or a diabetic patient individually. The digital twin also enables a personalized prognosis of the treatment process. Philips presented a digital twin of a fetus at CES. This virtual double allows doctors to monitor pregnant women and their unborn children remotely.
More and more demand, but no compensation system yet
There are increasingly more digital applications that doctors can advise similar to how they currently prescribe medicines, therapy, or other medical interventions. An example of this is Health’s epilepsy app, which won two CES Innovation Awards this year. The app helps epilepsy patients monitor their seizures and other symptoms. In the Netherlands, there is no explicit reimbursement system for prescription apps yet. Germany is leading the way in Europe with reimbursement for so-called digital therapeutics (dtx), or digital therapies. In the Netherlands, doctors are free to use specific apps for treatment. The compensation of an app must be assessed on a case-by-case basis together with insurers. Together they need to agree on reimbursement. Doctors are using digital applications more and more, and this reimbursement system would fit well in the Netherlands.
Privacy and security are a challenge
Wearables and artificial intelligence provide large amounts of health information. A challenge for the healthcare sector is to process data securely in systems while protecting the end-users privacy. Garmin experienced a cyber attack in the past year. The Garmin Connect app, the primary user interface for analyzing data, fell into the wrong hands. Such hacks encourage a large number of parties to take additional security measures.
The development of wearables is unstoppable. Nevertheless, steps still need to be taken to gain long-term trust from healthcare and patients. The most important drivers in this are ease of use, privacy and security, and insight into the added value. Often, doctors are inundated with data that does not fit their workflow. As a result, the information is not optimally used to guide patients, and patients do not know how and when to use a wearable. When the developers of new wearables take this into account, this will result in significant growth in new tools and wearables that make people’s lives easier.