“For the last decade or two, human beings have basically become cyborgs, part man, part machine.”
That’s how Gene Dantsker explains what’s happened since smart phones “forever changed how we communicate with each other, how we entertain ourselves, how we work.”
Smart cars, smart homes and smart appliances are all enabled by their ability to receive and transmit digital data. Health care is the next natural “smart” field, says Dantsker, the Director of Business Development and Licensing at Qualcomm Life.
His San Diego-based company, a subsidiary of Qualcomm, has developed one of the world’s largest ecosystems that allows any device that generates medical data to send it through wireless networks to a destination, such as a doctor’s office, hospital or insurer.
The firm’s ecosystem currently works with about 140 medical devices -- including blood glucose monitors, oximeters and weight scales made by various manufacturers – that are deployed worldwide, including in the San Diego region.
In fact, a study led by Be There San Diego used the firm’s “2Net” system to assess whether patients who used wireless blood pressure monitoring had better blood pressure control than those who used conventional blood pressure cuffs. Results are being analyzed.
Dantsker said smart technology is ushering in a new era in health care, one driven by data.
To begin to understand its impact, he gives an example of a patient with heart disease. Such a patient would be evaluated at a medical office and the doctor would decide on a course of action. The patient would begin treatment at home -- say taking a certain medication – and return to the doctor’s office periodically to evaluate his progress.
Enter smart medical technology.
The patient goes home with a wireless weight scale, for instance, and is told to weight himself once a day. He also gets a “gateway” device, such as the 2Net Hub made by Qualcomm Life, that electronically “sniffs the air” and finds a nearby medical device, in this case the scale, collects its data and sends it wirelessly through cellular networks to the doctor’s office.
The gateway can also be the patient’s smart phone, which can communicate with the medical device and send the data to its destination.
Back at the office, the doctor gets the readings and can evaluate what’s happening in near real time. Is the patient gaining weight too quickly, indicating a high risk of heart failure? How is he responding to the medication? Is he even compliant in weighing himself? Based on this data, the doctor can adjust the treatment.
“If someone’s weight is going up too fast, it could be indicative that they are not taking the $5 a day medication,” Dantsker says. “And if they keep doing that, that $5 a day medication miss might result in a $20,000 re-admit to the hospital.”
That’s why all the players in healthcare system are interested in this new technology, he says. The company’s clients include medical providers, hospitals, insurers, and pharmaceutical firms – anyone who has a vested interest in using medical data.
And being able to collect data from a large population, say the residents of San Diego County, will allow public health leaders to better identify health needs and budget for them, he said.
“If you determine that the population collectively is more hypertensive or less compliant, you can focus on that and improve the situation,” Dantsker says. “That’s where programs like Be There San Diego are really avant-garde here.”
Smart technology can help providers to connect to any patient, including those facing the greatest social barriers to health care.
“Even the poorest populations have smart phones,” he says. “They are already using these communication channels. Medicine can take advantage of that.”
For instance, he said healthcare organizations can give at-risk populations tools, such as wireless blood pressure monitors, and incentives to use them.
With smart technology, he says, “We tell patients that they are not alone.”