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Smarter medical monitoring

By Thomas Søderholm May 24, 2017

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Connected smart devices are already helping millions of people live healthier lives. We’re only just scratching the surface of what can be done and the potential is there to transform medical care to bring ever greater benefits.

Smart medication

Dosage compliance is the problem of people not taking medication correctly and it is a huge issue in the medical world. Doctors can diagnose and prescribe but the patient may not take their medication – for whatever reason – and then return to their doctor and receive ever stronger drugs as they show no improvement.

This puts patients at risk and wastes money. Studies estimate 125,000 deaths and 10% of hospital admissions can be attributed to lack of compliance, and the cost of waste could be as high as $289 billion a year in the US alone.

This isn’t a problem that technology could solve overnight but there are some things that could make an immediate impact. Some insulin injectors now display last dose and time since last dose. It would be simple and cheap to connect these devices via a smartphone to allow closer monitoring, history recording and reminders to take doses when missed. Doctors could be alerted if a patient is regularly missing doses.

Diabetics need to monitor glucose levels and adjust their dose accordingly. Wearable patches are now being developed that can monitor blood glucose levels via a wearable patch, vastly reducing costs and removing the need for patients to stab their fingers several times a day!

Advancements can be made by combining these existing technologies. Imagine a system where either the insulin pen connects to the glucose monitor and prompts the user to inject the right amount at the right time. Or using an insulin pump – an insulin device that’s permanently attached to a cannula under the skin – to inject the right amount directly, removing the need for any user input and effectively working as an artificial pancreas.

Using technology to mimic nature closely like this will bring us close to the goal of allowing these patients to live the same life as if they didn’t have diabetes – eating whatever they want, exercising when they want and so on – bringing huge improvements to quality of life and lowering costs associated with drug compliance and hospital admissions.

A win for the manufacturers

For companies manufacturing insulin, the biggest benefit from connected products is being able to prove to insurance companies and healthcare systems that your product is being taken. This leads to increased sales as Insurance companies understand that a slight increase in cost is worthwhile to ensure medication is being used correctly. 

A win for insurance companies

Insurance companies will benefit greatly from connected monitoring. Like motor insurers who incentivize customers by reducing premiums for patients who agree to having their driving monitored, so health insurers could reduce premiums for patients who can prove their compliance.

A win for patients

Along with the huge increase in quality of life, patients can also benefit from reduced doctor’s visits as the system is reporting back to the doctors so they don’t need face to face meeting just to say that all is well. It is also a benefit to families, especially in the case of elderly relatives who may live alone some distance away, or children who need medication while at school but school policies don’t allow staff to assist with dangerous items such as needles.

A win for hospitals

Another benefit of connected technology is in remote monitoring of conditions. A lot of patients remain in hospital simply so they can be monitored regularly. As more and better monitors become available for a greater range of factors, so more and more monitoring can be performed in the home, freeing up hospital beds and staff time to concentrate on patients who need direct care.

Looking to the future

Reducing the costs of injectable products such as insulin would see a big financial benefit, but the sums become more difficult with more common medication like tablets and liquids. 

For low-cost generic medicines this doesn’t really matter too much. But some tablets cost $10 or more each so ensuring they’re being used effectively becomes very important. In-pack technology could detect when medication is removed from the pack but, short of putting a sensor in each pill, nothing can say whether that pill is swallowed or discarded.

In the near future, it may be possible to detect blood levels of various drugs via skin patches. You could then have a solution where each monthly patient pack comes with a monitoring patch and prescriptions can only be refilled if the data shows that the patient is using the medication correctly.

> Read more: Is electronic skin the future of wearables?

This can also solve a number of other problems such as counterfeit medication ending up in the legitimate supply chain, patients getting high value medication cheaply or free on prescription and then selling it on, and it could also allow branded medication to differentiate further from cheap generic companies.

The future of healthcare is always difficult to predict. One thing is for sure, an increase in connected technology can finally help solve some age-old problems leading to reduced costs, increased convenience and greater quality of life.

 

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Topics: medical


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By: Thomas Søderholm

Thomas Søderholm holds a Master of Science in electronics from Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway in 1999. He has 17 years of experience within the industry, having worked as a digital designer and Regional Sales Manager for Nordic Semiconductor in Europe. As of now, Thomas has a position as Business Development Manager at Nordic Semiconductor. This role include world wide responsibility for the wearable market.

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