Perched on the banks of the Rhine River, Dusseldorf Germany enjoys a reputation for being a flagship city for the European fashion industry, having some of the liveliest nightlife outside of Berlin, and serving as the annual gathering spot for the MEDICA + COMPAMED medical technology trade fair and conference. From November 13-16, 2017, the double event that comprised MEDICA, one of the world’s largest medical trade fairs, and COMPAMED, a global showcase for the components, materials, and technologies used in today’s medical care products, filled 16 of the cavernous halls that comprise Dusseldorf’s exhibition center.
During their four-day run, the two events played host to over 123,500 attendees and 5,100 exhibitors representing all sectors of the global medical care industry who came to take stock of the state of medical technology and share their latest developments.
The 15 forums and sub-conferences held at MEDICA/COMPAMED offered attendees a chance to learn about the latest developments in everything from wound care and diagnostic laboratory practices to strategies for dealing with the changing economic and regulatory conditions surrounding healthcare. Two of the most popular sessions, the Connected Healthcare Forum and the Health IT Forum focused on different aspects of so-called “Smart Healthcare”, i.e. products and services that use advanced sensors, networking and communications, and advanced data processing to enhance patient monitoring and delivery of services.
Many of the hot topics at the Connected Healthcare Forum involved the technical challenges of building wearable devices that provide medical-grade measurements of physical activity, vital signs, and bio markers such as blood sugar level. The forum’s attendees also looked at the roles that wearable devices would play in rehabilitation, pregnancy care, patient monitoring, and the ongoing treatment of chronic diseases. Its companion event, the Health IT Forum explored the many ways that Big Data, Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence and IoT-enabled medical equipment can provide more accurate, cost-effective, and personalized diagnosis, treatment, and care.
One of the fields where digital technologies are making dramatic improvements in patient care is the treatment of cardiac diseases. In his presentation titled “Advanced Monitoring, Data Integration and Analysis in Cardiac Care“, Dr. Mark van Gils, Principal Investigator, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, showed how connected wearable monitors can be used to significantly reduce the number of patients who needed to be readmitted (or died) after their initial treatment for a heart attack or cardiac failure. Unlike periodic visits to a healthcare provider, a low-cost wearable can read a patient’s vitals continuously and pass them to a server or cloud application for analysis.
“The data is recorded much more continuously than the ‘spot-checks’ that are done in a hospital setting or doctor’s visit” said van Gils. “They thus reflect a more elaborate view of the patient in real-life, and if there are changes, they can be detected quickly. Additionally, essential things issues like stress/relaxation, sleep habits and quality can be observed. These all help to portray an overall picture of the patient, that, combined with the data that we have traditionally measured in the professional care setting, will give us a more accurate and personalized view of each individual patient” he concluded.
Smartphones = Smart Care
Both the Connected Healthcare and Health IT Forums explored the growing role of Smartphones and tablets as platforms for connected healthcare services. Equipped with high-speed wireless connectivity, abundant, well-supported computing resources, and high-resolution displays, mobile devices can be used as terminals for specialized patient care and diagnostic applications, or as a low-cost, user-friendly user interface for medical equipment. Some of the Smartphone-powered products on display at MEDICA included a low-cost ultrasonic imaging system, a blood pressure/heart rate monitor, and a “smart” insulin pump that connected to a cloud-based application that records patients’ dosing history and anticipates future needs.
Smartphone technology also played a key role in MEDICA’s live competition for the best App-based Medical Mobile Solution, held Wednesday, Nov. 15 during the Connected Healthcare Forum. The competition’s goal was to encourage the development of applications that could improve some aspect of healthcare in the daily routine of a patient, a doctor or a hospital.
The 15 finalists who demonstrated their entries that day were the winners of a lengthy qualification process that had begun much earlier this year. The three winning entries were remarkably diverse in their function and intended user base but they all featured well—designed user interfaces that delivered personalized services which would be impractical or impossible to duplicate on a conventional platform:
The 1st place prize was awarded to iSikCure (http://www.isikcure.com/), a “mobile health information exchange” that allows users on the African continent to locate, engage, and pay for health services and medicines. iSikCure functions as a specialized social media platform, that enables clients to check a doctor’s credentials and client reviews before they engage their services. The app also offers e-commerce functions similar to TripAdvisor and Amazon for scheduling care and buying medicines. iSikCure enables its subscribers to pre-pay participating care providers several different ways, including cash, mobile money, credit card, insurance, or an e-wallet. Users can also pay with “MedCoin credits,” which they earn by adhering to the treatment that was prescribed for them.
2nd place was awarded to NuvoAir’s Air Smart Spirometer (www.nuvoair.com). The low-cost device can be connected to a Smartphone, enabling clinicians to remotely monitor and diagnose a patient’s lung function in real time. The device also shares its data with a web-based phone app that displays both the current readings and trends. NuvoAir says their spirometer can also be used to gather real-time anonymous patient outcomes for epidemiology, HEOR, pharmacovigilance, or other types of studies.
The Kaia back pain therapy app took 3rd place in the competition (www.kaia-health.com). Its developers claim that it is the first holistic digital back pain therapy program to include a personalized mind-body program. The app helps users manage their back pain with a 15-minute daily multimodal exercise program. This alternative to drugs or surgical procedures has demonstrated promising results, with one retrospective study showing an average reduction of pain levels by 43% within the first 20 days.
AI in the OR?
Data-Driven Medicine is also revolutionizing how surgery is planned and executed, primarily through the increasing uses of operating room (OR) integration and surgical analytics. OR integration systems have been available for several years, which give surgical teams displays that combine live images, patient vitals and procedure planning information in an easy to assimilate format. Now, companies like Caresyntax (https://caresyntax.com) are going one step further with surgical analytics solutions that converge IoT technology with healthcare analytics that provide surgical teams with deep insights on their patients, the procedures they are executing, and the overall workflow before, during and after the operation.
Caresyntax used a simulated surgical suite on MEDICA’s show floor to demonstrate Qvident, the company’s web-based performance management platform. It can manage, record, and analyze any mix of video, checklists, images, vitals data, surgical risk calculators and other forms. It also automates most of the tasks involved with clinical documentation and reporting. Qvident’s surgical analytics and root-cause identification capabilities allow teams to reconstruct intraoperative events using a continuously synchronized record of key real-time surgical data to identify factors that contributed to an adverse event, or reduced efficiency.
Some of the companies involved with OR integration and surgical analytics have begun to explore whether Artificial Intelligence could enhance their products, possibly allowing them to provide deeper insights and perhaps even serve as real-time “coaches” for surgical teams to advise them on the best way to tackle a tricky situation. Although I did not encounter an AI-based “surgical associate” on the show floor this year, perhaps we’ll see one at MEDICA 2018.