How Medical Innovation is Already Changing the Future of Healthcare

November 6, 2023
close up of a medical test monitor with a patient wearing a brain cap in the background

I attended the Digital Health Innovation Summit this summer in San Francisco, which brought together leading innovators in healthcare and medical technology. They shared fascinating, cutting-edge medical innovation research being done by clinicians, scientists, technologists, and biomedical engineers that will fundamentally change the way we approach the diagnosis, treatment, and management of patients in the future.

As an Engagement Manager at SEP, I’ve seen first-hand how powerful software solutions can improve patient outcomes and help providers access data, administer medication, and so much more. Attending this conference gave critical insights into the collaboration taking place in the scientific, medical, and technology communities and some of the pain points in bridging the gaps among them.

Lesson One: Medical innovation is powerful and full of obstacles.

My key takeaway from the Digital Health Innovation Summit was the commitment everyone there had to improve the future of healthcare tools and technologies. Each speaker, attendee, and keynote was passionate about harnessing technology in innovative ways for patients and providers. Even as they are all working toward common goals, the different educational backgrounds, industry standards, and sometimes even ethical dilemmas can cause friction.

Some of the recurring challenges these innovators are faced with in their work include:

Communication Barriers

Medical scientists and technologists can feel like they are speaking different languages, making it challenging to communicate effectively, as each industry has its own set of shorthand, acronyms, professional journals, etc. Getting each other up-to-speed can take valuable time during a collaborative project.

Divergent Priorities

Technology changes rapidly, so the tech community often prioritizes quick innovation and agile adjustments to projects in development. In science and medicine, with stringent standards for conducting research studies and protecting patient health and privacy, the focus is often on long-term research goals and gathering knowledge. These divergent priorities, while equally valid within their own spheres, can feel fundamentally at odds during collaboration.

Data, Privacy, and Regulatory Concerns

Medical research relies on sensitive patient data, and privacy and security concerns are paramount. They are also highly regulated, with strict testing, approval, and compliance requirements. To develop innovative tech, finding development partners to adhere to strict medical data regulations can be a struggle, making it challenging to share and collaborate on valuable datasets without compromising patient privacy or causing costly delays.

Ethical Concerns

The integration of emerging technologies, such as AI and machine learning, into medical research raises ethical questions about decision-making, accountability, and biases in algorithms. As with any new technology, how these will play out in the future remains to be seen and will continue to evolve. In fact, the FDA is in the early stages of authorizing and drafting guidance for AI/ML-enabled medical devices.

These pain points illustrate the challenges faced by today’s innovators as they overcome these obstacles and more to harness the full potential of technology in advancing healthcare and medical research.

Lesson Two: Medical innovation is already making big changes.

Making Neurological Tests More Accessible

Another cutting-edge theme during the conference is using smartphones and wearables to help assess neurological conditions and monitor neurological disease progress. The data from digital devices is rich and continuous compared to patient self-reporting, meaning high efficacy compared to traditional pen and paper.

Barriers for patients are also not as high since many people already have a phone or fitness tracker, so it’s an accessible technology that is easy to use remotely and share data with clinicians, even when patients may have trouble traveling to appointments or other obstacles. One innovative example is Canvas Dx by Cognoa, which is an app paired with pediatrician support to help with the early detection of autism for families within the comfort of their own homes.

Prescribing Digital Therapeutics

As the body of research grows on the benefits of tech health interventions, we see more digital therapeutics pushing us to new heights of innovation and patient care. Two of the stand-out examples from the conference were:

  • MedRhythms, which leverages the power of music and technology designed to improve walking impairments caused by neurologic diseases and injuries
  • Akili is a cognitive medicine available as a prescription video game treatment. It has been clinically proven to improve attention and focus, specifically in adults with ADHD

Replacing the EDSS

One topic that came up as a theme was frustration with the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS). Many found it too subjective to be reliable, noting the scale had never been validated even though it has been widely accepted. Efforts to make the EDSS more objective and produce reliable results include pairing it with clinically validated mobile apps.

Using Mobile Apps to Track Digital Biomarkers

Similar to the idea of using smartphones and wearables for neurological tests. Some are exploring the possibilities for using these technologies to monitor biomarkers actively. This could help with early indication of disease onset and progress. For example, Jansen is using digital tech to unlock biomarker measurements for Alzheimer’s. A phone app tracks things like verbal recall tests and speech monitoring. They are pairing this active cognitive function data with passive data tracking, like heart rate, sleep data, etc., to look for correlations.

Unlocking the Power of Decentralized Clinical Trials (DCT)

DCTs are becoming an increasingly important part of the medical research landscape. They offer many benefits, such as

  • increased accessibility,
  • reduced patient burden,
  • increased patient engagement,
  • increased enrollment and retention rates, and
  • decreased cost.

However, they are not without challenges. The complexity and regulatory burden around trial data swells when moved from a controlled clinical setting to the home.

Digital Health Technologies (DHT) are one of the primary keys to unlocking the power of DCTs. They tap into the computing power we all carry around in our pockets and wrists (sometimes combined with custom hardware). These are becoming increasingly adept at collecting, storing, and transferring data in reliable, secure, and private ways. Often, the data meet the requiremets that Clinical Trials demand. Much work is being poured into turning consumer electronics into Digital Endpoints, but there is still work to do.

It was refreshing to see the medical, scientific, and technology camps come together to solve significant, complex health field problems. To continue advancing medical innovation, these groups must continue collaborating and learning from each other.

Let’s connect about how to tackle the hard stuff.

I have the pleasure of working with smart people who love to bring big ideas to life. This conference opened my eyes to even more amazing work in this area. I’d love to talk about how custom software can help further the work you’re doing in the field!

Let’s Talk »

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