Over three hundred and fifty participants from fifteen countries and three continents, all with the commitment to empower the patient and make healthcare more accessible, cheaper and better, gathered in La Jolla, California for the Wireless Health 2011 Academic/Industry Conference in October, 2011. Organized by the Wireless Life Sciences Alliance (WLSA), this conference represented the convergence of the academic, industry, government and medical communities.
The conference was opened on by Dr. Eric Topol, who called for the “creative destruction of medicine” through the transformative merging of digital infrastructure and medicine. There were several themes running through the conference that reflect trends in the wireless health space: the increasingly global outlook, the need for creating an eco-system around user, and the need to collaborate across industries and disciplines.
The Increasingly Global Outlook of Wireless Health. The increasingly global outlook of wireless health was highlighted by the keynote by Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm. Dr. Jacobs described numerous projects that the Wireless Reach Initiative is running in countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa, with local government agencies and institutes. He also talked about Qualcomm’s ongoing commitment to pushing the boundaries of wireless health innovations and demonstrated devices in development in Qualcomm labs, particularly a new wireless transmission system for ECG.
Later in the conference, Chris Van Hoof of Imec, a multi-national non-profit organization in Europe, presented prototypes of technologies that Imec was in the process of commercializing as well as Imec’s business model. This year’s WLSA conference has attracted many attendees from Asian companies, namely China Mobile, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (Japan) and Samsung, who all came looking for business development opportunities.
The Need to Create an Ecosystem Around the Consumer. As consumers rely more on their mobile phones and devices to access healthcare , and doctors use phones and device to deliver care, there would be demand that medical technology keep pace with consumer electronics. In a panel discussion, Prasad Venkatesh of Ford, Anand Iyer of WellDoc, and James Dallas of Medtronic discussed their collaborated effort in bringing healthcare to the consumer by centering a diabetes monitoring system in his car. Since most Americans spent a lot of time in the car, this presented a unique opportunity for health monitoring and consumer education. Afterwards the attendees were treated to the first public viewing of Ford’s in-car Health & Wellness solution. Consumer-centric product development was also discussed by Bill Riley of the Behavior Change Research Program at NIH. Dr. Riley commented that we need to delve deeper into the “why’s” during product development, so that we would ensure that the right product will reach the consumer at the right juncture.
Dr. Riley also noted that it would take several years to collect, analyze and present data on the adoption and utilization of various mobile phone health apps, echoing another sentiment that the standard of practice in development of new medical technology was not keeping up with the rapid turnover and adoption rates of wireless technology. Hopefully, advances in monitoring as well as data transmission, storage and analysis technology would enable a shift toward more post-market rather than pre-market regulation of new technologies. One should not overlook the proactive role of the consumer in driving the technology development, however, as noted by Gene Frantz, Principal Fellow at Texas Instruments. Mr. Frantz reminded the audience that it is often the consumer who comes up with the best uses for new technology, using it in ways never imagined by the inventor.
The Increasing Complexity of Collaborations Between Institutions, Industries and Countries. For example, in different countries Qualcomm was approached by government agencies to initiate and drive projects that involve multiple institutions and government agencies. In addition, more physicians and engineers were coming together to develop devices that help physicians better understand a patient’s behavioral pattern in addition to his medical history during clinical trials, according to Dr. Bruce Dobkin at the Neuroscience Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. Furthermore, as Medicare mandated the new 30-day Readmission Rate, thereby holding hospitals accountable for better patient outcome, there has been increasing collaboration between insurance payers and hospitals in improving the management of patient monitoring and follow-up appointments. This intense situation also presented an enormous opportunity for the wireless health space.
As more collaborations ensue, the convergence and potential clash of different industry or institutional cultures will be inevitable. During the WLSA meeting, Dr. Wendy Nilsen and other representatives of the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, called for more multidisciplinary work focused on definition of specific problems and desired outcomes, to ensure that new technological advances have practical applications that can truly impact our global health and healthcare needs. On the other hand, as noted by James Dallas of Medtronic during the Ford/WellDoc/Medtronic panel discussion, large companies are in a unique position to lead and drive significant changes.
Industrial Tutorials. A Pre-Session was added this year to make room for industry tutorials that focused on the Anatomy of Wearable Sensors., where leading Industry members from Analog Devices, Artin Engineering, mc10, Texas Instruments and Zarlink presented their technology platforms that aim to develop scalable products and services in wireless health.
Research Papers and Technical Demonstrations. The conference was built around a core of peer-reviewed research including the presentation of 13 papers and 21 technical demonstrations. The research that was presented encompassed a wide range of demographic, medical and technological segments.
Demographics. These research cover a wide demographic range, including the elderly, children, patient at home, wounded soldiers, post-operative patients and consumers.
Diseases and medical conditions. The technology and product prototypes addressed a wide range of chronic diseases that not only had wide prevalence in the U.S. but also the world, such as dementia, dementia-related injury and pressure ulcer in the elderly, asthma in adult and children, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, epilepsy and adult diabetes. Technology targeting the management of prevalent psychological and neurological diseases such as depression and cerebral palsy, respectively, was also presented. In addition, how wireless health could aid soldiers and civilians that had walking disability or were undergoing rehabilitation was discussed in two of the papers. Moreover, the application of technology to clinical situations such as stroke and hemorrhagic shock in wounded soldiers and post-operative respiratory complications was discussed.
Technlogy. The technology presented could be parsed into the following categories: motion classification (such as in identifying and distinguishing falls from other movements), sound identification and classification, facial expression identification and classification, improving energy efficiency of a medical device to not only reduce cost of production but also increase the ease of use, and technology integration to also reduce cost and improve the ease of use.