Editor’s note: biotricity is a medical technology company innovating within remote patient monitoring to develop solutions that help diagnose and manage chronic illnesses. In this interview, chairman, CEO and founder Waqaas Al-Siddiq discusses how the wearables benefit patients, integrate into healthcare systems and improve treatment compliance. He also explains how the cloud and the Internet of Things impact the medical wearables space.
What are medical wearables and how are they used?
Waqaas Al-Siddiq: Medical devices are for diagnosing illnesses and helping to treat or prevent disease. They are typically utilized within healthcare facilities. Medical wearables differ from devices in that they provide real-time, continuous remote monitoring. The idea is to have patients wear these devices as they go about their daily lives. The portability factor generates more accurate patient diagnoses since the biometric readings reflect real-life settings as opposed to data measured in a controlled lab or hospital environment. Also, personal medical wearables are very relevant for chronic disease management, as they offer continuous feedback and self-care support to help control symptoms and risk factors.
Please explain how biotricity’s medical wearables differ from other products in the market.
Waqaas Al-Siddiq: We noticed a gap in the market where there are products offered by lifestyle/fitness and medical device companies, but nothing much in between. For instance, lifestyle companies focus on healthy individuals, and they produce consumer fitness devices without clinical value. Then, there are medical device companies centered on patient care within healthcare facilities, but their products cannot monitor patients on an ongoing basis outside of the facility. Neither of these wearable offerings is suitable for people tasked with self-managing long-term illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. biotricity is bridging that gap, providing medical-grade wearable devices that physicians can use to diagnose patients and have that same technology used by patients to care for their chronic illnesses at home.
Since both physicians and patients use these wearables, how do they integrate into healthcare systems?
Waqaas Al-Siddiq: There are three key requirements for a device to be integrated within existing systems. The device should have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance, provide clinical value and there must be a provider reimbursement. Once FDA-approval, clinical value and reimbursement are established, the probability of having the device integrated into the healthcare billing system is very high. Without even one of these components, one must try to convince the hospital from a business perspective that there’s value in integrating that particular device or solution into their system.
Are healthcare professionals reluctant to utilize new technologies in their practices?
Waqaas Al-Siddiq: I’ve found that they are not shy about new technology, but they make decisions based on the economics of clinical value, time and reimbursement. Is the new wearable medically relevant? If so, how much time will it take and is it reimbursable? If it takes an inordinate amount of time to use the new technology, and the reimbursement is very low, then it costs more to implement. However, if a technology improves clinical outcomes and reduces time involvement, then adopting that technology becomes easier.
The current healthcare system in the United States is shifting from pay-per-use to value-based models, and this will add an increased financial burden on hospitals. Within a value-based system, the right remote patient monitoring (RPM) solution would, in fact, create an additional revenue stream. Hospitals would use RPMs as an additional diagnostic tool and get reimbursed, and the RPM solution could be distributed to patients to facilitate an earlier release. This would enable hospitals to continue taking care of patients remotely while also servicing new patients faster, ultimately increasing patient volume and revenue and encouraging a culture of self-managing long-term diseases.
Does the cloud have a significant impact in the medical devices space?
Waqaas Al-Siddiq: Today, the cloud has patient data all over the place, and it’s not centralized. By integrating the data so it’s easily accessible from one source, healthcare professionals can get a comprehensive snapshot of the patient. A consolidated view enables a doctor to see all the patient’s data from each medical specialist, including prescriptions and lab results.
It also offers an insight into which patients cost the hospital system the most, and which ones are readmitted repeatedly. Population health — which is an increasingly important consideration due to an aging demographic — is about looking at patterns that emerge from a group of patients instead of just one patient at a time. So, if a disproportionate number of patients have diabetes, how do we improve the average of the entire population? If there are 10,000 patients coming into the hospital and 2,000 are diabetic, we would look at the worst and best case of the lot to determine how to improve the entire group’s outcome. The cloud is beneficial since the healthcare team would cross reference data across the entire population group and determine common threads and differential factors to isolate potential causes.
How will the Internet of Things-enabled medical wearables affect hospitals and physicians?
Waqaas Al-Siddiq: IoT-connected medical wearables will enable physicians to provide better, more accurate care by transmitting patient data to the EHR instantly, without assistance. For example, a patient may use a glucometer to self-monitor blood sugar levels, while the device simultaneously pushes the glucose readings to the clinic for further analysis. The care team now has valuable insight into a patient’s long-term glucose trends and can better customize treatment plans.
IoT medical wearables have the potential to improve healthcare by remotely monitoring patients with speed and accuracy and generating comprehensive, relevant information. The IoT also has the potential to enable response in critical situations, where anomalies are detected and responded to in near real time.
However, so much data is generated within the IoT that there is a risk of becoming inundated with superfluous data and increasing the time burden on healthcare professionals. We need to leverage the cloud along with the IoT and machine intelligence to deliver summarized and customized reports to healthcare professionals. This will save time and resources that may be used elsewhere.
Patient compliance with physicians’ prescribed treatments is one area that the healthcare industry has tried to improve for several years. How will medical wearables help in this objective?
Waqaas Al-Siddiq: Patient non-adherence costs $290 billion annually in the United States alone, mostly in wasted medication. Medical wearables can decrease such waste and increase compliance. Research supports the notion that patient compliance drops primarily because at-home treatments lack a feedback mechanism. The chronically ill are often left to self-manage a long-term condition for the rest of their lives without appropriate support.
Medical wearables can extend the support a patient receives at a care facility into the patient’s home by providing instant feedback and reminders. As an example, when a patient wears a Holter monitor to record ECG, the information is stored in the device until the next doctor’s visit, which could be weeks away. During this time, the patient has no knowledge of arrhythmias that may have occurred on the condition’s status. Without instant feedback and continuous monitoring through medical wearables, disease symptoms will inevitably relapse.
Waqaas Al-Siddiq is founder and CEO of biotricity. He is a serial entrepreneur, a former investment advisor and expert in wireless communication technology. He has vast experience through executive roles within startups, mid-sized companies, and non-profits. Waqaas has held high-level design positions at IBM, AMD and Intel. In his last venture, he developed the first dry electrode wearable ECG system, and that platform technology was acquired by biotricity and is now being commercialized.