One of the biggest problems facing physicians and other healthcare providers is how to get patients to stick to a dosing regimen for a prescribed medication. Missing doses of antibiotics will over time, build a pathogen’s resistance to medication, but miss a dose of anti-rejection medication if you have a transplanted organ, and you could be dead. The problem becomes especially acute for people with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension, who need regular medication to stay healthy and reduce dangerous complications. Remembering to take pills can also be a problem for older patients with cognitive issues.
Many companies have tackled the patient compliance issue with mixed results. Most products fail because they are too complicated, too intrusive or too expensive. But AdhereTech has come up with a simple and affordable way to ensure patient compliance to a dosing schedule. The company’s battery-powered smart pill bottles use capacitance to weigh the number of pills or amount of liquid in the bottle and alert the patient by text message when a scheduled dose is due. In tests, smart pill bottles increase patient dosing compliance by 60 to 90 percent.
Taking Healthcare to the People
In underserved communities where risk factors for chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension are often higher than in the general population, access to healthcare is limited, and access to wellness care and preventive medicine is practically non-existent. Being told what to do to get and stay healthy is the last thing that will resonate in these neighborhoods, where looking for your next meal is often much more important than worrying about your vital signs.
Emmy and Grammy-award winning producer Quincy Jones III, (aka QD3) and his partner, digital entrepreneur Shawn Ullman, decided health and wellness needed a remix. They started a program called “Feel Rich," which presents free Zumba fitness parties at Beyonce’s House of Dereon in Houston. Guests thought they were just coming to dance and have fun, but as QD3, grandson of the legendary producer, Quincy Jones, puts it, “By the time they left, they not only had a great time, they’d been through a 90-minute workout.” Their mission statement? “To make every ‘hood in the world healthier.”
The parties, hosted by rising local rap stars, quickly became so popular that they were expanded to three days a week instead of just two, and from Houston to Austin, Dallas and beyond. Telling participants that, “Health is the new wealth,” the program quickly expanded to offer nutrition classes, and organizers are now planning to open and operate community gardens in underserved communities. Best of all, many, many success stories are emerging, people like Liana Simms, who went from 350 pounds to 170 pounds, going off all her diabetes meds in the process.
Cheaper devices will make healthcare more widely available
Currently, many people in third world nations have little to no access to healthcare. Many different organizations are working on lower-cost devices to take affordable care to the farthest reaches of the world. It was a hot topic at SXSW.
For example, 2.4 billion people in the world have no access to eye care, so if they have blurry vision, they just live with it as best they can. More than half a billion people worldwide need eyeglasses but cannot get them, which leads to a lack of education, lack of employment and ultimately, poverty.
Using nothing more than 3D printers and an iPhone, engineers at Eyenetra have developed a cheap clip-on eyepiece that attaches to a smart phone to deliver an eye exam and accurate eyeglass prescription in about five minutes. It measures near and far-sightedness and astigmatism. Eyenetra costs about a dollar plus the cost of the smart phone. Compare that to the cost of a typical eye exam machine in any American optometrist’s office, which can cost up to $250 million dollars.
The smart phone application will bring diagnostic eye care to the most remote areas and provide a new way to make a living for people who are able to provide the eye exams and give patients proper eyeglass prescriptions.
The Sensors are Coming
Instead of requiring patients to be hooked up to bulky devices like Holter Monitors, which measures heart rhythms for a period of 24 hours, in the near future patients will be able to wear wireless sensors embedded in their clothing that will send a continuous stream of wireless data to their physicians. This will allow for faster interventions in case a medical emergency develops, and better diagnostics and treatment planning, thanks to more complete and accurate data.
Wireless sensors are being designed to do everything from monitoring blood sugar for diabetics to detecting the onset of breast cancer. In fact, a company called First Warning Systems plans to introduce such a bra in Europe in 2013 and pending FDA approval, in 2014 in the USA. The BSE Bra detects cancerous tumors through the slightly elevated temperature their increased blood supply generates. The bra has a 90 percent accuracy rate, which is higher than mammograms. Like most sensor technologies, the bra is completely painless and non-invasive.
Patient ownership of their own gene sequences and health records
For years, arguments have raged about exactly who owns the data in a patient’s health records and now, in his personal genome. Healthcare providers generally insist they own the records and all the data therein and charge patients to see their own records. They also make it very difficult for patients to access those records, requiring requests to be made in person during business hours, meaning people have to take time from work to get their own health records.
In the field of genomics, it’s even worse, with some companies actually trying to patient unique gene lines they have discovered in certain patients, like a resistance to the HIV virus, for example. Often, these patent attempts are made without ever notifying the people whose tissue yielded the genes being patented.
While the advent of electronic health records would seem to make accessing records easier, in reality hospitals and physicians are still requiring patients to show up in person to get their records, and pay often astronomical fees to do so.
New laws are starting to recognize that patients themselves should own their own records, and their own gene sequences. Biotech analyst, Anne Wojcicki, a co-founder of 23andme.com, made a prediction at SXSWi. “Within ten years, people will be able to get their entire genome sequences for $99.00.” 23andme.com was started as a way to organize and study genetic data, and quickly also became a leading vendor of personal DNA genotyping. For $99, the company currently offers a service that gives individuals their genetic likelihood of developing conditions like diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease.
As the future of healthcare continues to evolve and take shape, one trend is crystal clear. Much like in music and publishing, the power base in healthcare and preventive medicine is moving away from traditional providers into the hands of consumers.
What do you see happening in the healthcare space over the next few years? I’d be interested in your thoughts.