Healthcare Innovations: New technology is changing all facets of healthcare

Digital-age innovations are changing the face of healthcare across the nation, revolutionizing several areas of the industry. New technology is changing how diseases are diagnosed and treated, how patients and physicians communicate, and even how the average person eats, sleeps and exercises.

Several Utah companies are leading this technological revolution in the healthcare industry, bringing about changes that will redefine how health and fitness influence the average person’s day-to-day life.

Photo courtesy of Jaybird

Taking action with wearables

Innovation sometimes requires taking the road less traveled. That describes how Jaybird brought to life Reign, a wristband that pushes the concept of an activity tracker in a different direction.

Jaybird built its brand on wireless headphones that stream music from a mobile device. The Salt Lake City-based company wanted to develop a product that made it easier for people with active lifestyles to listen to music without cords getting in the way. People have responded with enthusiasm since Jaybird ranked No. 3 in headphone sales in the United States in 2014.

Plunging into the wearable market came out of that same desire to promote an active lifestyle.

“We’re an active lifestyle brand,” Jaybird CMO Rene Oehlerking says. “We’re not a headphone company. That’s never been us. We’ve never seen ourselves as a headphone company.”

Reign is no simple pedometer tracking steps or a heart rate monitor. This wearable incorporates biometrics in a different way by monitoring heart rate variability. A sensor embedded in the wristband measures the distance between each heartbeat 24 hours a day. These measurements continue through eating, sleeping, working, exercising and other activities.

All of the data collected by Reign is used to craft personalized recommendations for daily activity. These recommendations let a person know everything they need to know from how much sleep they need that night to how much recovery time their body requires after a lengthy bike ride.

“It’s a whole different take on wearables and it’s a whole different take on activity trackers,” Oehlerking says. “We didn’t go out and try and do an activity tracker. We just looked to see what technology could benefit us for our sake, and heart rate variability was it. What it is doing is it is allowing us to have a peek into our body at any given time.”

Reign eschews the primary goal of a traditional activity tracker. It isn’t about counting calories, tracking steps or promoting weight loss. The wristband is more about helping people read exactly what their body needs so they can engage in an active lifestyle seven days a week.

“For us, it wasn’t about activity tracking,” Oehlerking says. “It was about: ‘What can biometric data do for us?’ We’re not about the data. We’re about the thrill of the adventure.”

Jaybird isn’t the only company putting a new spin on tracking personal fitness. Logan-based ICON Health and Fitness has blended wearables like Vue, Act and Link with the iFit app to help people create personalized daily routines that are designed to incorporate better sleep patterns, quality nutrition and more effective exercise.

Each iFit wearable analyzes data drawn from a day’s worth of activities and maps out recommendations for the following day. For nutrition, this can include calorie balances for breakfast, lunch, dinner and recommendations for meals and snacks based on the previous day’s information logged into the app. For sleeping, it can offer tips and suggestions on how to sleep and how long to sleep. For exercise, this means routines and activities tailored to the wearer’s current fitness level.

“I don’t just want a wearable,” says Mark Patterson, director of iFit. “I want something that is a doable that’s telling me what to do. It’s not what I’ve done. It’s what I do next. We’re helping people and teaching them how to change their lifestyles.”

One of the fun wrinkles in the iFit app is that it records accurate data from exercising done on exercise equipment like a treadmill or elliptical trainer. It will update calories on the wristband, steps taken and distance traveled and give a better picture of progress toward fitness goals.

This makes it possible to create personalized exercise routines. An update to the iFit app introduced in November now lets people follow video workouts on their mobile device or even list-based workouts on their wearable.

“That’s why people are buying these—to lose weight or to become healthier,” Patterson says. “A lot of the other wearables get thrown into the desk drawer after three months because it’s not giving them data or it’s giving them recommendations that are not helping them achieve the purpose for why they bought the product. What we do is done with the intent of helping people achieve their fitness goals and we do see very promising and positive results from that.”

Speeding up medical diagnostics

Small town life isn’t always easy when it comes to getting access to the best medical care. Many rural hospitals lack the same resources available to urban medical centers. Great Basin Scientific has found a way to alleviate that problem when it comes to diagnosing infectious diseases.

The Salt Lake City-based company created a molecular diagnostic platform that combines isothermal amplification with chip-based detection that lowers the cost of diagnosing diseases while offering faster results and more accurate diagnosing. Molecular diagnosing takes under two hours to yield a result and is up to 99 percent accurate. Traditional culture testing is 70 to 80 percent accurate and takes two to three days to yield a result.

What does this mean in terms of treating infectious diseases? The hospital stay for an average patient is reduced by six days and mortality rates decrease dramatically. A faster and more accurate diagnosis equals patients getting the treatment they need right away.

“You’re saving the hospital money by getting patients diagnosed more quickly,” says Great Basin CEO Ryan Ashton. “You’re saving lives. You’re improving morbidity. The consequences of the infection are diminished because you’re diagnosing more quickly. It’s hugely important to our healthcare system to see molecular diagnosis more completely embraced. Getting it out into these rural areas and smaller suburbs is a huge benefit to these small hospitals.”

Great Basin’s diagnostic system uses a disposable cartridge containing all of the reagents required to test DNA and a bench-top analyzer that executes the assay and interprets results for the clinician. To do a molecular test, a clinician takes the sample and puts a little fluid into the tube to dilute it. They insert the diluted sample into the cartridge and then insert it into the analyzer. It takes less than two hours to get a result.

“That’s the method by which molecular diagnostics works,” Ashton says. “You amplify the DNA and then, once you have enough of it to detect, you detect it. If the DNA is present, then the bacteria is present. If no DNA is present, then the bacteria is not present.”

This type of molecular testing can be done for diseases like Toxigenic Clostridium difficile and Group B Streptococcus.

One of the benefits of molecular testing is that it reduces misuse of antibiotics. The test can detect if a strain of bacteria or virus carries a gene that makes it antibiotic resistant at the DNA level. Physicians can prescribe the correct medicine and prevent the disease from becoming resistant to treatment.

“That’s part of what breeds resistance is using antibiotics too frequently without enough information,” Ashton says. “By getting the physician information more quickly, we’re able to a better job of protecting our antibiotics from resistance.”

Great Basin has 122 customers in the United States. It serves hospitals mainly in Midwestern states and California, although it has plans to expand to the Intermountain West and Utah eventually.

Ashton notes that there are 4,900 hospitals with under 400 beds in the United States. His company’s goal is to one day reach all these smaller medical facilities.

“That’s our focus,” he says. “It’s really a vastly under-served market. We’re really excited with the progress we’ve made and how well the company is doing.”

Evolving communication channels

Asking questions, scheduling appointments and communicating needs can feel a little intimidating for a patient when they see a physician. Patients can often get lost in the system when seeking out treatment for a chronic condition from a doctor who does not specialize in treating that condition.

Solutionreach developed software that creates personalized communication channels between a doctor and each of their patients. The Lehi-based company offers a digital portal where a patient can get proper healthcare and stay on the same page with their doctor.

“For us, the foundation of patient engagement is how do you best reach a patient, communicate with them about their care and make sure they are following through with their care,” says Solutionreach CEO Jim Higgins. “That is really fundamental to everything that is evolving within healthcare.”

Solutionreach software offers a communications platform that can be integrated with hundreds of different practice management (PM), electronic healthcare records (EHR) and electronic medical records (EMR) systems. It pulls out pertinent information from a patient’s medical history and then automatically sends out customized messages from primary physicians and specialists.

Physicians can keep tabs on a patient’s progress and use the platform to communicate with them through personalized newsletters, emails, texts and other messaging. The platform isn’t just reserved for doctors. It offers two-way communication, so that patients can take care of everything from scheduling appointments to asking questions related to treatment of chronic medical conditions.

Solutionreach delivers about 1.8 million outreach messages per day through its platform. All messaging is secure and compliant with HIPAA laws.

Higgins notes that when patients do not get quick or thorough answers, it can become disruptive to providing quality healthcare. They can seek out channels—like Google—outside a primary physician or a specialist who can treat their problems and can come back with incomplete or misleading information. His company’s software aims to close the communication gap and make it easier for a physician to engage and educate patients.

A physician can make virtual house calls with personalized messaging created through Soundreach software and keep patients from getting lost in the shuffle. Having a personal touch in communication makes all the difference in building a relationship between physician and patient.

“You have to be able to get the right information to patients, but you have to get it to the right patient at the right time,” Higgins says. “That’s why you have to be very intelligent with your technology in terms of getting that information out. It has to be personal. It just can’t be something that is one-off alert that said, ‘Do this.’ People don’t respond that way.”

Solutionreach’s software platform also impacts patient relationships with physicians in the financial realm. It can help patients stay on top of medical bills through automated payment reminders designed to help them make monthly payments on time and avoid having their bills sent to collections. Different modules within the platform branch out to handle tasks like real-time scheduling, patient surveys, and online reputation management for practices.

Higgins says better communication in all of these areas is not just good for business for any physician, but is also essential to their survival in the digital age. Complex technology and complex diagnosing have converged to put more pressure on physicians to stay on top of everything related to patient care.

“We’ve seen a dramatic growth on the ambulatory side of our business because of the fact that doctors are now held accountable for patient experiences and having patients understand what they’re telling them to do in terms of the care management,” Higgins says. “They’re actually being judged on the outcome of their care management.”

February Issue