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Digital Health Tools Are No Fad
Data generating devices may seem gimmicky, but they are poised to transform healthcare
Digital health tools offer a tantalizing picture of a more democratic, prosperous future. As patients take greater ownership of their health, through such digital tools as mobile apps and wearables, their influence on health decisions will inevitably increase. This is good for everyone – the data collected by these tools, and the insights that can be derived, have unlimited potential to boost R&D productivity, fuel outcome-based initiatives and perhaps even solve the great healthcare dilemma of our age – affordability.
After several years at the nexus of healthcare and technology, one thing is clear to Merat Bagha, until very recently Director of Marketing, Digital Health & Patient Care Business at Merck – the pace of change is showing no sign of slowing down.
“If you look at the digital health landscape, it has evolved and shifted and will continue to do so. It receives $6-7bn in investment every year from venture capital funding and other investors,” says Bagha.
This money is being funneled into finding new and dynamic ways to employ digital health technology throughout the whole spectrum, from drug discovery to the patient care experience.
Merck launched a platform that employs digital tools to track drug adherence in children with growth hormone disorders. An autoinjector enables Merck to track when the child or the parent injected the growth hormone into the child and the dosage amount. The connected device captures this real time data and transmits it back to Merck via the cloud. While these insights drive internal decision-making, they are also fed back to the child in ways that are relevant and engaging. Helping HCPs, nurses and parents to provide personalized support.
In a clinical trial setting, somebody's Fitbit data is useless, says Bagha. “What is a researcher who is studying a particular molecule going to do with Fitbit data?” The device will not stand up on its own, but if you can figure out how to make that data “actionable and insightful, where you correlate it with other things, then it could be meaningful,” he says.
If the power of these digital tools is harnessed, they could drastically upscale clinical trial turnout, he says.
“You don't have to have project administrators and monitors and the enrolment process, the recruitment process, the monitoring, it’s all there but technology makes it streamline so that you can really push the numbers. Instead of 60 patients, 100 patients or 500 patients, you've got 10,000 or 100,000 patients, and these numbers can yield powerful insights.”
Bagha cites a couple of companies that are employing wearable technologies in a meaningful way.
Empatica has developed an epilepsy monitoring wearable called Embrace. The band utilizes AI technology to analyze physiological data from the wrist, this data is then correlated to identify convulsive seizures and send alerts to caregivers. Generating real-world data to identify onsets of seizures hints at the preventative care potential of wearables.
Similarly, Ava demonstrates their predictive power. The bracelet draws on nine physiological data points to help women track their fertility cycle and to predict when they are ovulating to increase their chances of pregnancy. This increases women’s options before to going straight into the In Vitro Fertilization process.
Despite exciting advances, health tools are still hampered by the fact that data is siloed, says Bagha.
“Anybody who has data sees it as valuable, so they control it very tightly. That's why companies like IQVA have made lots of money because they go out and buy this data and license it to everybody else. But if you can figure out how to bridge some of this data and make meaningful use out of it, I think that's a tremendous opportunity.”
Sean McElligott, Global Market Access Lead in Dermatology at Janssen, shares the sentiment that data siloes stymie digital health’s progress. Data linking holds the key to tapping into RWE’s potential, he says.
“I run a collaborative study in Sweden, where every patient has an identified number. I am able to link up to every outcome I have ever wanted, whether it’s a person's income, when they got married, when they were born, what's their highest level of education.
“We are currently running a study right now, drawing on data from psoriasis patients that have been followed for 60 years, so we can actually demonstrate the change over the course of a lifetime. It is about recognizing that a lot of these data sets have been running a long time, they capture a lot of things and if we can get these integrated data sets in the US, the amount of value we can demonstrate is massive. It is great that we can run this study in Sweden, but they are a different population.”
“What I am most excited about is having have all of my information readily available and it will become seamless through better tracking and management tools. Maybe we will have an imbedded chip in our skin that reports things that need to be known and that will also drive better decisions through advanced machine learning and AI,” says Bagha.
While Bagha welcomes the move to greater personalization, he also stresses the human element will remain essential.
“I absolutely do not believe that doctors will go away, doctors will always play an important role in our lives. They will continue to support and care for us, but I think that the rich trove of data and actionable insights that data brings will make life easier, better and helpful for all of us and ease the pressure off doctors; helping them make better decisions about our healthcare and to help them prioritize the people that need their attention most.”
Merat will be speaking at the Real-World Evidence and Access Europe 2018 between the 24th and 25th of April.
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