“I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning.”
Those were the words of legendary Apple and tech guru Steve Jobs, as quoted in Walter Issacson’s recent biography. And, as evidenced by the Digital Health summit held in New York City on June 26, 2013, as part of CE Week, that new era is here with a vengeance—along with plenty of potential for rapid growth.
The event kicked off with some local flavor—an address by Kyle Kimball, Executive Director for the New York City Economic Development Corp. Kimball spoke of the city’s recent efforts, spearheaded by current NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to improve the health of the city’s citizens—including future ones, citing a study that concluded that children born in New York in 2013 will live three years longer due to these efforts.
Addressing NYC Challenges
Along those lines, the first session of the event, “Digital Health Takes New York”, focused on health-oriented tech that addressed the problems Bloomberg has targeted.
Hearing protection tech was the focus of speaker Cynthia Compton-Conley, Ph.D., Director of Hearing Wellness for Etymotic. She spoke of how even seemingly harmless places such as the New York Subway (which, she said, generates 90dB of sound) could damage one’s hearing. “There are 38 million people in the U.S. with hearing loss,” she said.
To help people conveniently diagnose whether or not they have a hearing problem, Etymotic has developed a home hearing test, which includes calibrated headphones and is similar to tests conducted at doctors’ offices.
For those with hearing loss, Compton-Conley spoke of her company’s Personal Sound Amplification Product (PSAP), that will assist those who have difficulty hearing in challenging situations. The next version of this product will contain a telecoil circuit enabling the PSAP to be used as a wireless receiver along with loop systems and other hearing assistance technologies installed in public areas, workplaces and homes.
She also spoke of the company’s customized hearing protection system, which is modeled in a style similar to in-ear monitors used by musicians, as they are custom-molded to the user’s ear, and specifically tailored to their communication needs.
As a proactive measure to help prevent hearing loss, the company also has rolled out a line of customized noise isolation earphones and headsets that limit volume levels and come with an awareness app to reinforce its protection features. www.etymotic.com
Cardiologist and MD Revolution founder and CEO Samir Damani, M.D., spoke of his company’s Web-based personalized health service, which uses data from mobile health-tracking tools to give patients “actionable choices” based on advice from healthcare professionals. The service includes access to a Call Center, and real-time health alerts through its Clinical Interface. mdrevolution.com
“We’re really excited about mobile,” stated Martha Wofford, Vice President, Head of Consumer Platform for health insurance giant Aetna. She spoke of the company’s efforts towards “making healthcare more convenient and connected 365 days a year” through the company’s Carepass online platform. The personalized program enables Aetna members to set health goals and track their progress, see all of their health app data in one place, and access care and information as needed.
“About 60 percent of U.S. adults are tracking their weight,” Wofford said, “but most are doing it in their heads.” She cited whether one’s favorite pair of jeans fit as a common metric. Carepass, she said, will enable people to more accurately track their weight and other health statistics.
The program, which was launched in June, is powered by popular mobile health apps. Check it out at www.carepass.com
The Next Big Things
“Five Technologies We’re Betting Your Health On” was a session spotlighting five areas believed to be the next big trends in digital healthcare:
• Aging Population—Tech for folks over 60
• Big Data—Aggregating one’s health data with stats for the entire population
• Consumer Platforms—Online portals for tracking health data
• Genomics—Transforming life-threatening diseases into managed conditions
• Robotics—Prosthetics, caretaking and telehealth robots and other devices to help the disabled and ailing
Addressing the genomics side of things, Michael Gallad, Strategic Sequencing Center Leader for Life Technologies, spoke of his company’s new process for conducting DNA sequencing on semiconductor chips—digital chips similar to those in digital cameras. “An additional layer allows us to do chemistry,” he said. “We can change the chemistry of genes. We can do hundreds of millions of reactions at one time, on one chip, fast and cheap.” This technology could potentially enable doctors to address the underpinnings of diseases such as breast cancer and other forms of cancer. www.lifetechnologies.com
Tal Givoly, CEO and Co-Founder of MediVizor, spoke of his company’s consumer platform website, which enables consumers to create their own medical profile—“not self-diagnose, but put in what their doctor told them, and get information personalized for them,” resulting in a “summary for you—how you could be treated right now.” The basic service is currently free, but the platform may offer premium services, such as a concierge-type service, in the future. medivizor.com
Another online platform, MDLIVE, was represented by its Chief Medical Officer Debra Mulligan, M.D., who said, “We’re in the midst of consumerization of healthcare. … We’re all tethered to our smartphones and the net.” She said her company supports “patient self-management,” adding, “if you don’t have a primary care provider, MDLIVE is a wonderful way by which to triage patients.” www.mdlive.com
Dean Williams, VP Technology for GreatCall, spoke of his company’s medical products and services for seniors, saying “We empower aging consumers to live active, independent lives.” The company’s most popular offering is the Jitterbug, an easy-to-use cell phone configured to make calls for medical care. A new iteration, the Jitterbug Touch, recently hit the market. GreatCall also offers the 5Star Urgent Response, a cell phone connected to a 24/7 call center that promises “immediate help anywhere, anytime”, and the company has a series of health and medical apps for iPhones and Android devices. www.greatcall.com
The Sporting View
Sports-based innovator Recon Instruments was represented by VP of Product Management Shane Luke in a session entitled “Sports and Fitness Invades Digital Health.”
He spoke of the hot new trend in sports-centric digital products: “wearable computers now linking to smaller networks … you can be connected to GPS, and have data instantly in the Cloud.”
Luke showed his company’s main product of this type: the Recon Jet, a lightweight set of goggles that connects to the Internet, smartphones and fitness sensors. It also has an inline HD camera, with microphone and speaker, to record and film sports experiences. The Recon Jet measures performance metrics such as distance covered and velocity for recordkeeping and motivating better performance.
“This is a fact about measuring: As soon as you measure, you want to improve,” Luke said. The Recon Jet is ideal for cyclists and runners, but also has tremendous capabilities for participants in more daring sports such as hang gliding.
Luke mentioned that while concerns have been voiced that the use of recording/monitoring devices such as Recon Jet can be distracting during risky events, that’s not the case in his opinion. He felt that not only is the Recon Jet “not very distracting,” but it also could improve one’s safety through better monitoring and awareness of surroundings and conditions. jet.reconinstruments.com