We face an exciting frontier. Personalized, connected health could support patients for decades to come. Existing and emergent technologies are becoming increasingly interoperable, and care strategies, as well as medicine, are evolving to be more patient-centric and precision-focused. Putting connected digital health tools in the hands (and bodies) of patients, empowers them to have active insights from which to better manage their own health, while giving care providers and loved ones real time data for intervention and support.

Keeping patients informed, activated, and empowered

Managing chronic health conditions in America is not without it’s hurdles. Primary physicians are in short supply—rural areas especially are healthcare provider insecure. Only roughly half of patients adhere to their medication and treatment plan as directed by their doctor, taking a toll on their health. The additional illnesses and hospitalizations drive up costs for payers, who are carrying more of the cost-burden. Connected health eases the strain all these factors contribute to personal health management.

An exploration of the impact of digital health on healthcare and people, published by Deloitte, found that “patients are more likely to be engaged in their health and make better choices about their care if they have easy access to information.” It noted that “the use of digital tech to educate and instruct is an important driver to patient engagement.”

When people have connected tools to give them data about their own health, it shifts the power imbalance in the doctor and patient relationship to one of collaboration. Patients don’t have to make appointments for routine questions or information delivery. They can share or send their health data to their physician, care team, or to telehealth providers if their area is lacking in healthcare resources or they prioritize privacy. By sharing their health data, patients avoid unnecessary co-pays for provider visits and reduce extraneous lab work, lightening the financial burden to payers. When patients do see their providers, instead of relying memory to reconstruct a history of their disease, their health surveillance is captured in real time for review.

Digital messages and alerts can notify patients to take medication in accordance  with their treatment plan. People can be reminded to eat, exercise, even monitor their glucose. Patients can record all activity, food, moods, and medication, which helps them learn about and avoid triggers of adverse events, ranging from low glucose episodes to re-experiencing PTSD symptoms. Connected patients are activated patients, empowered by their own data.

Bio-sensing for intervention and precision health

You might wear a Fitbit, or perhaps you’ve read about Muse’s brain-sensing headband. Biosensing wearables are becoming the standard for wellness and behavior monitoring, for direct to consumer products, as well as medical therapies and diagnostics. The connected devices help people with chronic disease by continuously monitoring their conditions, detecting changes as they occur. A patient’s data can be uploaded to their Electronic Patient Record (ERP), illustrating a clear picture of their medical history to inform diagnosis and deter critical events.

When potentially threatening changes occur, patients, guardians and caretakers can intervene for timely medical aid, possibly heading deterioration or hospitalization off at the pass. This well-timed assistance makes biosensing wearables for patients who may need consistent monitoring – such as people aging in place, or children with chronic diseases – particularly useful.

Innovators and entrants

Fitness trackers seem quaint compared to the endless possibilities and scope of biometric sensing wearables and connected patient devices for specialized use cases. The ubiquity of smartphones and interoperability in emerging technologies have fired the starter pistol for biosensing entrants. They can inform diagnoses or monitor everything from arrhythmia to hypertension by converting the patient information into hard data using connected software.

Scientific Intake masterminded the SmartByte. Akin to a smart retainer, the device helps patients take smaller bites while a sensor transmits their eating behavior data to their mobile app. The patient’s care team uses the data from the SmartByte, as well as a cellular-enabled scale, to help the user achieve their medical weight-loss goals.

Continuous glucose monitor (CGM) devices such as Dexcom are inserted by patients with diabetes into their skin to track blood sugar readings in near real time, which can be read on smartphones, the Apple watch, or a Dexcom receiver. They’ve partnered with Tandem Diabetes Care to integrate their G5 to Tandem’s t:slim X2 insulin pump, effectively creating a closed-loop “artificial pancreas” for patients with type 1 diabetes. In September 2017, Dexcom announced they were making their API public to encourage developers to craft innovative software applications which can used with their CGM for improving diabetes management.

Another company aiming to help patients better manage diabetes using connectivity is Common Sensing. Their Gocap smart cap surveils patient health by twisting onto insulin pens to take user-input dosage readings. The data is  then automatically logged on their app. In addition to acting as a digital logbook, the Gocap App reminds patients to check their blood sugars, take their medication, and initiates feedback to keep patients engaged.

Proteus Digital Health has created an ingestible sensor which measures patient medication adherence and effectiveness. The sensor connects to a wearable patch and their mobile app, helping doctors make informed decisions for patients with hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

TempTraq and Fever Scout are patches which send continuous temperature readings to their corresponding smartphone apps, issuing alerts and trend reports to worried parents and loved ones.

Some avant-garde technology is experimenting beyond wearable health surveillance products, such as biosensing skin grafts and sensors which affect the look of temporary tattoos. Apple’s ResearchKit allows developers to build apps for their research studies, running clinical trials using patient data from their connected devices. That same open source framework is being leveraged on their CareKit platform, enabling developers to create third-party software for patients to better manage their chronic disease.

Connected health technology opens the future up for any number of creative software solutions to empower people with their own health data, who can then make educated decisions for improved outcomes along their journey.