Will there ever be a medical ‘tricorder’?

ZDNet teases us that ‘the race is on’, but is it? It’s a great clickbait headline, but the substance of the article illustrates the distance between today’s tech reality versus the picture of Star Trek’s Bones pointing a Tricorder at a patient and immediately pronouncing that your malady was Sakuro’s Disease or some strange Vulcan malady.

Was it that long ago that the Scanadu Scout was the odds-on bet to be the Tricorder? The hype began in 2012 [TTA 23 May 2013] with Indiegogo funding, competing for the XPRIZE, and breathless pronouncements at nearly every healthcare conference. By 2016, it missed the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE finals (with Northern Ireland’s Intelesens), bricked all sold units to date to comply with FDA regulations on investigational devices, and with Chinese money in hand, moved into other testing devices. Those looking for Scanadu today will be disappointed as their website is unreachable. The DeBrowers and medical director Alan Greene, all of whom were fêted on the healthcare scene, are engaged over at Doc.ai with a new mission of decentralizing precision medicine onto the blockchain using AI, using your medical data gathered on an app (of course).

Google X was up next as Scanadu was fading. There were various devices they were hyping and testing as Google’s life sciences skunk works morphed into Verily, but to date they have all petered out, with some questions raised about people and project churn at the Alphabet unit [TTA 6 April 2016] .

Basil Leaf Technologies (as Final Frontier Medical Devices) wound up winning last year’s final Qualcomm XPRIZE with DxtER, which could diagnose and interpret a defined set of 13 health conditions to various degrees, while continuously monitoring five vital health metrics, using a mix of sensors and an AI-powered diagnostic engine. What they are planning to market first is not DxtER, but a single-disease device to monitor congestive cardiac failure (CCF) since FDA approval for DxtER “would take aeons to be approved.”

Urine tests are also a ‘wet’ way into a tricorder state, with both Basil Leaf and the University of Glasgow working on devices which could quickly scan for metabolites in urine that indicate particular diseases.

QuantuMDx’s Q-POC, from Newcastle UK, is expected to launch in 2019 with handheld diagnostics for bacterial and viral infections. In addition to quick diagnostics for outbreaks in less developed countries, they are also developing diagnostics to prescribe the right antibiotic the first time. This is critical in treatment superbugs such as MRSA and MSSA, as well as more garden variety infections which can go wrong quickly. TTA profiled their crowdfunding launch in 2014.

The ZDNet article wraps up with a bit of romance about how a tricorder is needed for Mars, but down here on Earth, the reality is that a tricorder will likely be a combination of devices and analytics, stitched together by machine learning and AI.

Rounding up the roundups in health tech and digital health for 2017; looking forward to 2018’s Nitty-Gritty

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Lasso.jpg” thumb_width=”100″ /]Our Editors will be lassoing our thoughts for what happened in 2017 and looking forward to 2018 in several articles. So let’s get started! Happy Trails!

2017’s digital health M&A is well-covered by Jonah Comstock’s Mobihealthnews overview. In this aggregation, the M&A trends to be seen are 1) merging of services that are rather alike (e.g. two diabetes app/education or telehealth/telemedicine providers) to buy market share, 2) services that complement each other by being similar but with strengths in different markets or broaden capabilities (Teladoc and Best Doctors, GlobalMed and TreatMD), 3) fill a gap in a portfolio (Philips‘ various acquisitions), or 4) payers trying yet again to cement themselves into digital health, which has had a checkered record indeed. This consolidation is to be expected in a fluid and relatively early stage environment.

In this roundup, we miss the telecom moves of prior years, most of which have misfired. WebMD, once an acquirer, once on the ropes, is being acquired into a fully corporate info provider structure with its pending acquisition by KKR’s Internet Brands, an information SaaS/web hoster in multiple verticals. This points to the commodification of healthcare information. 

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/canary-in-the-coal-mine.jpgw595.jpeg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Love that canary! We have a paradigm breaker in the pending CVS-Aetna merger into the very structure of how healthcare can be made more convenient, delivered, billed, and paid for–if it is approved and not challenged, which is a very real possibility. Over the next two years, if this works, look for supermarkets to get into the healthcare business. Payers, drug stores, and retailers have few places to go. The worldwide wild card: Walgreens Boots. Start with our article here and move to our previous articles linked at the end.

US telehealth and telemedicine’s march towards reimbursement and parity payment continues. See our article on the CCHP roundup and policy paper (for the most stalwart of wonks only). Another major change in the US is payment for more services under Medicare, issued in early November by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in its Final Rule for the 2018 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. This also increases payment to nearly $60 per month for remote patient monitoring, which will help struggling RPM providers. Not quite a stride, but less of a stumble for the Grizzled Survivors. MedCityNews

In the UK, our friends at The King’s Fund have rounded up their most popular content of 2017 here. Newer models of telehealth and telemedicine such as Babylon Health and PushDoctor continue to struggle to find a place in the national structure. (Babylon’s challenge to the CQC was dropped before Christmas at their cost of £11,000 in High Court costs.) Judging from our Tender Alerts, compared to the US, telecare integration into housing is far ahead for those most in need especially in support at home. Yet there are glaring disparities due to funding–witness the national scandal of NHS Kernow withdrawing telehealth from local residents earlier this year [TTA coverage here]. This Editor is pleased to report that as of 5 December, NHS Kernow’s Governing Body has approved plans to retain and reconfigure Telehealth services, working in partnership with the provider Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT). Their notice is here.

More UK roundups are available on Digital Health News: 2017 review, most read stories, and cybersecurity predictions for 2018. David Doherty’s compiled a group of the major international health tech events for 2018 over at 3G Doctor. Which reminds this Editor to tell him to list #MedMo18 November 29-30 in NYC and that he might want to consider updating the name to 5G Doctor to mark the transition over to 5G wireless service advancing in 2018.

Data breaches continue to be a worry. The Protenus/DataBreaches.net roundup for November continues the breach a day trend. The largest breach they detected was of over 16,000 patient records at the Hackensack Sleep and Pulmonary Center in New Jersey. The monthly total was almost 84,000 records, a low compared to the prior few months, but there may be some reporting shifting into December. Protenus blog, MedCityNews

And perhaps there’s a future for wearables, in the watch form. The Apple Watch’s disconnecting from the phone (and the slowness of older models) has led to companies like AliveCor’s KardiaBand EKG (ECG) providing add-ons to the watch. Apple is trying to develop its own non-invasive blood glucose monitor, with Alphabet’s (Google) Verily Study Watch in test having sensors that can collect data on heart rate, gait and skin temperature. More here from CNBC on Big Tech and healthcare, Apple’s wearables.

Telehealth saves lives, as an Australian nurse at an isolated Coral Bay clinic found out. He hooked himself up to the ECG machine and dialed into the Emergency Telehealth Service (ETS). With assistance from volunteers, he was able to medicate himself with clotbusters until the Royal Flying Doctor Service transferred him to a Perth hospital. Now if he had a KardiaBand….WAToday.com.au  Hat tip to Mike Clark

This Editor’s parting words for 2017 will be right down to the Real Nitty-Gritty, so read on!: (more…)

Verily’s million points of BYO health data to take to your next doctor visit

Verily‘s visit to last week’s Health 2.0 conference had an odd-but-fun tack, comparing the data received from human bodies to the billions of data points generated by an average late-model automobile in normal operations. We generate a lot less (ten orders of magnitude difference, according to Verily Chief Technology Officer Brian Otis), but Verily wants to maximize the output by wiring us to multiple sensors and to use the data in a predictive health model. Some of the Verily devices this Editor predicts will be non-starters (the sensor contact lens developed with Alcon) but others like the Dexcom partnership to develop a smaller, cheaper continuous blood glucose monitor and Liftware, the tremor-canceling silverware company Google acquired in 2014, appear promising. Key to predictive health is the Study Watch, which is a wearable that collects a lot of data but is easy to wear for a long time. Mobihealthnews

But what to do with this All That Data? Where this differs from a car is that the operational data goes into feedback loops that tune the engine’s performance, perform long-term monitoring, electrical system, braking, and more. (When the sensors go south or the battery’s low, watch out!) It’s not clear from the talk where this overwhelming amount of healthcare data generated goes to and how it becomes useful to a person or a doctor. This has its own feedback loop this Editor dubbed a few years ago as the Five Big Questions (FBQs): who pays, how much, who’s looking at the data, who’s actioning it, how data is integrated into patient records. That’s not answered, but presumably these technologies will incorporate machine learning and AI to Crunch That Data into bite-sized parts.

Which leads us back to Verily’s parent, Alphabet a/k/a Google. All that data into Verily devices could be monitored by Google and fed into other Google programs like their search engines and Adwords. Another privacy problem? 

Perhaps health systems are arriving at the realization that they have to crunch the data, not avoid it. For the first time, this Editor has observed that a CMIO of a small health system in Illinois and Sanford Health‘s executive director of analytics are actually welcoming patient data and research. Startups in this area such as PreventScripts labor on that “last mile” of clinical decision support, preventative medicine. EHRs are also into the act. Epic launched Share Everywhere, where patients can grant access to their data and clinicians can send updates into the patient portal (MyChart). What’s needed, CMIO Goel admits, is software that combines natural language processing and algorithms to track by disease and specialty–once again, machine learning. Healthcare IT News 

Diabetes management: the Next Big Health Tech Thing?

Big Data? Passé. Health IT security and hacking? At a peak. So what’s the Next Big Thing? If you’re tracking where the money’s going, it’s diabetes management. This week saw the joint venture Onduo formed by the controversial [TTA 6 Apr] life sciences-focused Verily (Google Alphabet) and Big Pharma Sanofi with a nest egg of $500 million. Onduo will be combining devices with services to help Type II diabetics. Based upon CEO Joshua Riff’s statements to MedCityNews, their platforms are yet to be developed, but “will be a digital platform that will involve software, hardware, and very importantly service” to change patient behaviors. Partnerships with Sutter Health in Northern California and Allegheny Health Network of western Pennsylvania will test their approaches in a clinical setting. Xconomy, Reuters

Verily’s other diabetes project include the £540 million bioelectronics partnership announced in August with UK-based GSK in Galvani Electronics [TTA 3 Aug] with a focus on inflammatory, metabolic and endocrine disorders, including Type II diabetes. With Dexcom, Verily is also building an inexpensive, smaller next-gen continuous glucose monitoring sensor; Mr Riff was coy about whether this sensor would be used but allowed that sensors might be used in Onduo’s approaches. Verily is also developing the well-known glucose-reading contact lens with Novartis [TTA 1 Sep 15].

Also this week, Glooko and Sweden’s Diasend announced their merger (more…)

Google’s Verily joint ventures with GSK into bioelectronics (UK/US)

Verily, the Alphabet (Google) life sciences research group, and GlaxoSmithKline are partnering in a joint venture that may replace drugs for disease with micro-electronic implantable devices. GSK will own 55 percent of Galvani Bioelectronics, with Verily owning 45 percent. They have pledged an investment of £540 million in the new UK-based business over 7 years, as well as contributing intellectual property rights to Galvani. Most of the staff will be at GSK in Stevenage with some at Verily’s HQ in South San Francisco, and led by Kris Famm, formerly GSK’s vice president of bioelectronics R&D. The deal is expected to close by end of year.

According to Business Insider UK, GSK has been involved with bioelectronics for four years. It’s defined as “a relatively new scientific field that aims to tackle a wide range of chronic diseases using miniaturised, implantable devices that can modify electrical signals that pass along nerves in the body, including irregular or altered impulses that occur in many illnesses.” The diseases that are being targeted are inflammatory, metabolic and endocrine disorders, including type 2 diabetes. According to the MedCityNews interview of Verily’s CTO Brian Otis, the systems will be closed loop where the devices listen to the nerve signals, do real-time signal processing and send the optimized signal back to the nerve to restore healthy function. GSK has the diagnostic and biologic expertise, Verily has the device smarts. Also Mobihealthnews, Recode

Google’s Verily rolls along. Bumpily? (updated)

Several articles of late have reported on the Google Alphabet life sciences company Verily. By fall last year, they had developed partnerships with Novartis-Alcon on development of a smart contact lens (for measuring glucose), plus Dexcom, Abbvie and Biogen. STAT, a health/medicine news website owned by Boston Globe Media which is still in beta, has a well-researched article that details, seemingly with a lot of inside scoop, its current turmoil. 12 top engineering and science executives have taken a powder. Some of the execs date back to the Google X days; most have fled back to Mother Google, others to Amazon or to life sciences competitors. STAT: “No similar brain drain has occurred at Calico, another ambitious Google spinoff, which is focused on increasing the human lifespan.” The reasons are the apparently abrasive CEO Andrew Conrad, depicted as ambitious, fickle and moody–and the constant shifting of support from approved projects to short-term initiatives ‘that show little promise’. Google’s bold bid to transform medicine hits turbulence.

Update: STAT published today information on a possible conflict of interest in Verily awarding a short-term research contract to a luxury health clinic, California Health & Longevity Institute, where Dr Conrad holds a majority ownership. According to the publication, it has no documented experience with this kind of work. The clinic will gather, in a 200-person ‘feasibility study’ for the larger Baseline study, genetic, molecular, clinical, and other data. According to Dr Conrad, it was done “Because I think it’s cool. Because it’s super efficient to have everything in one spot.” What may not be cool to the participants is that Baseline is already planning to sell the data to pharmaceutical companies–with patient consent, of course, in a document not yet public. Google’s biotech venture hit by ethical concerns