I talked last week with Sony Network Communications Europe, a division that develops tools for networking and the Internet of Things. Their newest addition to health care is the mSafety watch. Although superficially similar to the Apple Watch, Fitbit, and other wearables, the others are consumer devices aimed at fitness and basic health alerts. mSafety, in contrast, will be used by health care providers to manage recalcitrant chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and to deliver coordinated care integrated into the providers’ systems.
My interview took place with Arnol Rios, head of network communications sales and business development in North America for the Sony subsidiary Takeoff Point LLC. They are currently conducting pilot studies with partners to see how the mSafety platform can help the health care industry cross the threshold into connected health. Let me give a quick overview of remote monitoring today and a recent Sony study, to show why this is so important.
On June 22, the company released a study of consumer attitudes toward remote monitoring, surveying people with chronic conditions or their caretakers. The search for better health is fraught with barriers: 70 percent found it difficult to track vital measurements and share these with their doctor. An impressive 88 percent of the 2,005 respondents believe that monitors could help them better manage their health. But only 28 percent would trust a consumer device. Instead, 75 percent want a device prescribed by their doctor, and expect it to be used to treat a specific chronic condition.
These responses suggest that the public has an intuitive grasp of what researchers usually find about consumer devices. Certain highly motivated people, probably already taking good care of their health, can benefit by counting their steps or tracking their oxygen consumption. But most people don’t know what to do with the information or lack a disciplined framework for using it, so they give up on the consumer devices in six months.
In addition to the health benefits of remote monitoring with clinical support, the study suggested some of the cost savings that could result. They found that 90 percent of people with chronic conditions could cut at least one visits per year to the doctor, if they could use monitoring effectively, and 54 percent could eliminate at least three visits per year.
So where is the health care field, in terms of remote monitoring? Triage and alerts are the main applications now. They’re important, but limited in the impact they can have on healthcare.
Triage is illustrated by COVID-19 testing apps, where I have recently covered successes by Lumeon and GYANT. The app answers the basic yes/no question of whether your symptoms and medical history suggest that it’s time to go to the hospital.
Alerts are also yes/no applications. They may warn a doctor that a patient is in danger of falling, or having a diabetic attack, or in some other condition where intervention is needed.
Triage and alerts just touch the low edge of connected health. To manage the chronic conditions that bother most people today–diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, Crohn’s Disease, HIV, and so on–what the health care system needs is a form of monitoring that helps the patient and care team continuously adjust the patient’s treatment plan, with frequent evaluations to note where problems are cropping up.
And this is hard–much harder than an incremental ramp-up of triage and alerts. True connected health is hard because it requires a historical view of data, and a combination of many data sets captured in different ways. Few institutions are prepared to set up the necessary analytics and the workflows needed to turn data into effective medical interventions.
So how can mSafety help? It’s a watch worn on the wrist (so that patients find it easy to keep with them at all times), like many other health devices. And like the others, it offers an API and software development kit (SDK) for developing apps, some built-in sensors, and wireless connections for other devices. But the company is committed to working with health care providers so they can go further, creating the kinds of connected health applications we’ve been waiting so many years for.
Whereas Fitbit, Apple, and so keep the patients’ data on their services, mSafety passes it directly to the health care provider. Although the data passes through mSafety’s servers, it is inaccessible to the vendor because it’s encrypted, and is deleted after 24 hours.
Data sharing is also easy to implement, so that patients can get the data from the health care provider and share it with other providers or researchers. Thus, mSafety can help facilitate the patient access required by HIPPA.
I asked Rios whether his company could develop standard apps for common conditions such as heart failure, and market them to all their provider clients. He answered that each provider has to make its own decisions about how to monitor its patients and how to integrate the monitoring into its practice. I am assuming that a hospital chain will conduct some experiments on-premises with the mSafety platform, seeding the application with clinical practices drawn from their current expertise, and then rolling out the mSafety devices with their app when they conclude that they have the right algorithm.
Here are a few more mSafety features of interest:
- Apps can run directly on the device, or send data to the provider’s server for processing. Running directly has the benefit of providing the patient with immediate feedback.
- An embedded SIM (eSIM) card makes it easy to send data over a cellular network, without the need to go through a separate mobile device.
- The device has excellent battery use, requiring a recharge only once a week. This is because it uses LTE Cat-M1 networks to connect to cellular networks. This protocol was designed for IoT devices and is very low-bandwidth. This in turns means low power usage, which permits longer gaps between battery charges.
- The preloaded devices are a heart rate sensor, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope. The accelerometer and gyroscope allow the device to make basic calculations such as steps taken, sleep patterns, and calories burned. The mSafety also contains a GPS device, and can connect to as many as five external devices over Bluetooth Low Energy or near-field communication (NFC).
- The device can be updated remotely through Firmware Over-The-Air (FOTA).
- Data coming from the mSafety device is tagged with its serial number. The provider internally matches up the serial number with its patient records, another measure to preserve privacy.
It will be exciting to see how the mSafety platform affects health care over the upcoming year, and what competing companies will do to support connected health.
This article is part of the #HealthIT100in100