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The Challenges of Validating Digital Health Devices for Remote Monitoring

Nokia's Cedric Hutchings says digital health devices hold powerful potential in remote care if they allow healthcare providers to gather and analyze the right data.

- Digital health devices like blood pressure cuffs are great for keeping tabs on daily health and wellness, but their true value comes when a healthcare provider is looking at that data.

Companies like Philips, Intel-GE Care Innovations and Nokia see connected devices as part of the “smart home” of the future. And while a majority of those devices are marketed to consumers, the underlying framework focuses on connectivity with doctors and nurses, who can analyze data for health issues and trends that just might save a life.

Nokia, the Finnish telecom that acquired mHealth device company Withings in April, is touting a recent study in Circulation which indicates that monitoring people during their daily activities can do a better job of undercovering undetected high blood pressure than regular blood pressure checks in a doctor’s office.

The condition, called “masked hypertension,” might not show up during doctor’s visits but can be detected when a doctor monitors a patient’s blood pressure over the course of a few days via a digital blood pressure cuff.

Cedric Hutchings, the former CEO of Withings who became Nokia’s vice president of digital health following the merger, says the study proves that digital health devices have value at home if they’re connected to a clinical platform.

“There is a growing interest in healthcare to use digital devices at home,” he says. “Doctors have a lot to learn about how the home environment [contributes] to someone’s health … and these devices can give us a much more complete picture.”

The healthcare ecosystem has so far tread very cautiously in the smart home environment, primarily because doctors don’t want to be swamped with data that’s useless to them or not reliable enough to use for clinical purposes.

“We’re generating massive amounts of new data,” says Hutchings, who adds that healthcare has to steer clear of the “cool and sexy devices” that dominate the consumer markets and focus on clinical-facing connected health devices. “We have to work on intelligent systems that process that data and give [providers] what they need.”

Hutchings says the potential of the smart home and remote monitoring platforms is that they can give healthcare providers insight that can’t be gleaned from a visit to the doctor’s office. In the blood pressure study highlighted in Circulation, for instance, readings taken during a doctor’s visit might be normal, whereas readings taken during the course of a normal day might uncover hypertension that could, if left untreated, prove fatal.

Hutchings says it’s important that digital devices not only track vital signs and relay them back to providers, but that the data is integrated with the electronic medical record. This compels doctors to then use that data in care management plans.

That was the basis for a partnership announced in September between Philips and Qualcomm Life, whose 2net hub focuses on pulling medical grade data from remote devices and routing it back to the hospital.

“As the home is fast becoming a viable care setting, care providers, home health agencies and other institutions are increasingly using connected care to reduce emergency care, readmissions of patients with chronic diseases,” Jeroen Tas, CEO of Philips’ connected care and health informatics business, said in a press release. “By collaborating with Qualcomm Life and leveraging its connectivity and wireless expertise, we aim to help care providers to engage better with their patients and contribute to the goal of improving outcomes. Patient self-management combined with 24/7 connectivity to a care network is an emerging model that enables scalable chronic disease management for patients and providers.”

Hutchings says connected devices and remote monitoring platforms offer advantages that healthcare providers might not even know about yet. The challenge lies in tying data to health outcomes, and figuring out how those outcomes can be influenced. Whereas a consumer might feel good about daily blood pressure readings, diet and exercise tracking and weight readings, a clinician might be able to determine how one influences the other.

“We’ll be coming up with all new insights,” he says. 

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