In the business and consumer world, device convergence — whereby music players, cameras, and other devices are merged into a smartphone — has been going on for some time now. Now, designers of medical devices have discovered smartphones, and they, too, are beginning to converge health care with the always-on, GPS-enabled and networked capabilities of smartphones to help keep people healthier — and keep medical insurance prices down.
It’s all part of the burgeoning digital health/connected health movement, in which health officials have begun marshaling the power of digital devices to help people live healthier lifestyles, as well as to enable doctors, employers, and insurance companies to keep tabs on patients, ensuring that they follow guidelines designed to keep them out of the hospital.
The apps can be used to monitor weight, blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol levels, glucose levels, and other information that indicate a user’s health. The data can be used to develop a fitness profile for users, enabling doctors to tailor a health program specifically for them. Sensors that communicate with smartphones can read what is going on inside the body and upload it to an individual’s online medical file; and the doctors can access the files to get a full picture of the progress patients are making in getting healthier. The collected data can even be used to prevent medical emergencies, with an alarm going off at an emergency rescue service, indicating that the patient needs immediate care.
Israel has been in the forefront of developing connected medical devices, which use sensors connected to devices such as glucose meters to read blood-sugar levels and upload the data to care practitioners. So it stands to reason that Israel would be at the forefront of the movement to use smartphones to keep track of, and upload, recorded data.
And, indeed, a number of Israeli start-ups have developed innovative applications in this area. Some of those apps and technologies will be on display this week at the annual ICI (Innovations in Cardiovascular Interventions) event in Tel Aviv this week. Along with presentations by leading cardiologists and medical officials from the world’s leading hospitals, health maintenance organizations, and insurance companies on innovations in heart health, this year’s event will feature several panel discussions on digital/connected health, with presentations by a number of Israeli start-ups.
Among those start-ups is Healarium, an app that helps employers, insurance providers, and employees keep on top of their health. “We provide a platform that allows for self-monitoring, enabling individuals to ensure that they are meeting benchmarks provided by doctors and other health-care practitioners,” said Dr. Amir Lehrman, a prominent cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, who helped design Healarium. “Information on a person’s health can be uploaded and placed in their account, and can be accessed by practitioners, employers, and insurance companies to ensure that employees and users stick to their health program.”
The information is totally secure, explained Lehrman. “A user can choose to upload it to their account on the web, or leave it on their phone” for manual downloading to a server at their HMO or doctor’s office. “The system encourages doctor-patient interaction to encourage users to improve their lifestyle.”
The app not only records and uploads information, said Lehrman, but it also connects a user to an online community, which makes it easier for users to do something about their health. “For example, if a user is supposed to be eating properly, the app will enable them to connect to an online forum or database that contains recipes and information that will be useful to them. They can also connect with other users and with experts for information and encouragement.”
The app isn’t useful only for individuals — it’s also useful for employers, who are in many cases paying for health insurance for their employees. “With companies looking to cut health-insurance costs, we have found that there is a great deal of interest in an app like ours, which puts users and employers on the same team,” continued Lehrman. “The app can be used as a reward system, grading performance on a point system, for example, with users who achieve goals receiving rewards, such as health-insurance discounts or other perks.”
According to Lehrman, the app, which is being tested at the Mayo Clinic, has been lauded by users, employers, and insurance companies, providing a solid information and incentive system that not only promotes healthier living, but lowers insurance costs.
Among the other apps that will be presented will be Mobile-CliniQ , by Israeli company Aerotel, which specializes in telemedicine — transferring essential medical and lifestyle data over the telephone, mobile phone, wireless, the Internet and other electronic media. The Mobile-CliniQ Android app hooks up with medical equipment or sensors and transmits information on a patient’s health parameters, such as electrocardiogram (ECG), blood pressure, blood glucose level, and weight, to doctors or hospitals. The information gets updated on a regular basis, and if anything is amiss in the data — blood pressure too high, ECG too unstable — an alarm goes off, alerting patients and doctors that action is necessary.
Also on display will be Labstyle Innovation’s Dario, a portable glucose meter that will allow diabetics to use their smartphones to measure their glucose levels. The Dario device is an integrated unit that includes an adapter (specifically designed to connect a glucose test strip to a smartphone) with a lancing device (a reusable blood-sampling device loaded with disposable lancets) and an integrated disposable cartridge for test strips.
The app reads the strip and displays the glucose data, indicating whether a user needs an insulin injection. It also records the information and can upload it to a patient’s doctors, allowing him to get a full picture of a patient’s blood sugar patterns.
With smartphones quickly replacing so many other devices, it was just a matter of time before they began replacing medical devices, such as glucose meters — and with Israel’s advanced medical-device industry beginning to apply its collective knowledge and experience to digital/connected health apps, there is no doubt that smartphone-connected medical device apps will become another area where Israeli technology will blaze an important trail.