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What will it take for wearables to go mainstream?

Biosensing wearables have recently drawn attention from big companies such as Apple, Google and Samsung, but the devices still have a long way to go before they achieve mainstream acceptance.

That’s the finding of areport released Mondayfrom Rock Health, the Mission Bay accelerator that seeds digital health startups.

Many investors are betting that biosensing wearables — gadgets that continuously monitor a user’s physiological signs, such as Fitbit and Jawbone —  will be the next major trend in consumer electronics. Companies in that industry raised $229 million in venture funding in 2013, a big increase from $20 million in 2011, according to Rock Health. At the same time, the technology that goes into making these devices work is more compact and advanced than ever.

Other companies are taking notice. At its developers conference last week, Apple unveiled  a new Health app, which gives users a dashboard of their health and fitness data, and a tool for developers called HealthKit. The week prior, Samsung showed off a prototype for a smart watch that can detect users’ heart rate, temperature and other vital signs. And Google is also working on a contact lens that’s meant to help diabetics monitor their glucose levels.

But while consumers may be buying wearables, many aren’t using them for very long. According to a survey by Endeavor Partners, one-third of U.S. consumers who have bought an activity tracker stop using it within the first six months.

“If people found great value in devices, they would continue to use them,” said Malay Gandhi, managing director of Rock Health. “That’s just not happening today.”

For wearables to become accepted, Gandhi said, devices will need to become more functional — that is, tell people useful information and advice about their health, rather than just telling them what their heart rate is, for example. Gadgets must provide reliably accurate information. And they must offer convenience, whether they have easily rechargeable batteries or they constantly synchronize data between the device, the smartphones and cloud storage.

If companies go down this path, Gandhi said, “We see something that does become disruptive over time.”

Apple fails to impress with first look at HealthKit

Apple presented their new HealthKit platform at their Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco on Monday.

Our teams reaction? “Mehh.”

We weren’t the only ones with that reaction. Neil Versel called it ‘not revolutionary’ in his Forbes article titled Apple’s HealthKit Connects With Mayo and Epic, But Don’t Call It Revolutionary.

While Apple has a long history of entering markets that are ripe for disruption (think what the iPod did to the portable music market) they normally have a few things going for them:

  • A superior product
  • Rock-solid positioning within the market based upon product/market fit

As a proud owner of  multiple Apple products (MacBook Pro and iPad) and a healthcare professional, I’ve got to say: I was genuinely let down when Apple showed off features from HealthKit and the “Health” app.

They did not produce a superior product in this case — far from it!

Apple missed the mark by presenting a product that has computing/device limitations, does not support interoperability for healthcare consumers and features an empty ecosystem of devices and applications that HealthKit fails to integrate with out-of-the-box. In fact, when compared to Microsoft HealthVault (which has been around since 2007), Apple fails very short (check out a look at HealthKit versus HealthVault on the Zweena Health blog).

While they did tease at some of their future partnerships, as it stands today HealthKit is not a product that should be paired with words like ‘revolutionary’ or ‘game changing.’

Let me tell you why.

HealthKit App Limitations and Interoperability Challenges

I heard Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering, say the following during his HealthKit keynote at WWDC:

“That information [health information] lives in silos. You can’t get a single comprehensive picture of your health situation.”

What is interesting is that HealthKit and the ‘Health’ app are only available on iOS devices, accounting for only ~10% of smartphone operating systems according to January 2014 research from ABI Research.
apple healthkit app

By definition of the lack of iOS market share, Federighi is building a silo’d experience for the majority of Americans who own smartphones.

Even with their existing Mayo Clinic and Epic EHR integration, Apple will still face interoperability issues for patients that a) do not own an iPhone, and b) do not visit a healthcare provider that has deployed an Epic EHR implementation in their organization.

Apple’s Device and Application Ecosystem is … Barren

Validic has hundreds of applications within their app ecosystem.

Our software at Zweena Health integrates with more than 130 apps and 224+ devices.

Apple HealthKit attaches to … nobody really knows how many applications or devices.

Additionally, without a wearable piece of technology bearing the Apple logo, how will Apple go about integrating sensor technology to continuously push data back to patient records at Mayo Clinic or via Epic EHR’s?

Whoops! Somebody has diabetes …

Aaron Rowe of Integrated Plasmonics applauded Apple for taking a step into the digital health arena in his guest article published on Rock Health’s blog, a notable biotech incubator in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood.

But he did find a few issues with their presentation/application:

1. Error in glucose measurement displayed

The slide neatly displays four key metrics for diabetes management: glucose, carbs, walking, and diabetes medication adherence. The numbers and units that Apple used as examples to illustrate their vision don’t make sense. When you measure your glucose with a personal blood sugar meter, it is measured in mg/dL — but the example shown by Apple displayed these numbers in mL/dL.

2. HealthKit applauded a patient for … having diabetes?

Apple HealthKit Screenshot


The app screen features an SMS-style message from a particularly photogenic doctor who says, “You’re making great progress with your diet and exercise. Keep it up.” even though the graph shows an unhealthy reading of 122 “mL/dL”.

“People with a fasting glucose level of 100 to 125 mg/dL have impaired fasting glucose (IFG), or prediabetes,” according to a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. “A level of 126 mg/dL or above, confirmed by repeating the test on another day, means a person has diabetes.

What kind of progress is that?

In Conclusion: HealthKit Has a Lot of Room to Grow

This article has been nothing but complaints; have no fear, I recognize my negativity as well. The reason I hold Apple to such a high level is that they have never ceased to ‘wow!’ me with their products and services.

So when the HealthKit team stands tall and claims they have ‘the next big thing’ in healthcare, when their first shot at it is clearly anything but, I push back on them in hopes that this brutally honest feedback will encourage them to do better.

Time to step your game up, Apple.


There’s so much more to health tech than wristbands

The technology and health arena has seen massive growth over the last couple of years. Wristbands are everywhere you look. Mobile phones are getting pedometers. Apps that can monitor activity abound. We’re becoming a society which is focused on the concept of wellness. Heck, even Apple, the great god of all things stylish, might be getting in on the act.

But the relationship between technology and health goes a lot further than a wrist or pocket-friendly gadget that can count your steps.

Fitbit’s got a lot to answer for

The Fitbit might not have been the first pedometer to appear, but it was arguably the first one that really captured people’s imaginations, and made the pace-counting, goal setting, badge achieving approach to wellness cool.

Wristbands followed on, with companies joining in from different sides of the technology world: Nike, Garmin, Sony, Jawbone, Archos and plenty more. Intelligent home scales have arrived on the back of the wristband/pedometer craze; these can measure your weight, obviously, and take a stab at your BMI. There are also a few home-use blood pressure monitors out there.

Much of this kit can share the data it gathers with an app. Combine the info from the scales and a pedometer with sleep pattern data that some fitness gadgets can also record, then add information about your food intake, and there’s quite a lot of data to be graphed, compared and perused. Set goals and you can adjust your activities to meet them.

Storing up the goodness

fitbit-one_contentfullwidthOf course, this has to be a good thing. People who take care of their health are people working on prevention — which we all know to be better than cure. And that goes on several levels. Personally, wouldn’t you rather be healthy than not? Wouldn’t you rather be leaner, fitter, more able to run for the bus than not? Longer term, wouldn’t you rather be less likely to get illnesses that can be caused by a sedentary lifestyle? I’m guessing the answers to all of the above questions is yes.

We’re constantly told by politicians and health service types that there’s less money around than there was. Treatments cost more than they used to, we live longer and need more care over our lifetimes. So the health service is keen on us having healthier lifestyles too. By using tech to keep trim we’re helping ourselves now and later in life, and saving the country money too. It’s a win-win situation.

The next level

All this is only the tip of the iceberg, though. The whole wellness thing isn’t going away. In fact it’s going to get a lot more sophisticated, and we might see some convergence of the consumer sector with more demanding medical data recording.

Samsung is one tech company that can see a potential convergence between its more consumer-style approach to health and sophisticated medical applications. The firm’s recently announced Simband is a wrist worn gadget that can display information collected from different devices — and these could be very sophisticated devices indeed. At the same time as it announced Simband, Samsung announced the SAMI (Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions) software platform through which Simband functions.

The Simband and SAMI are both open projects — and that’s open software, hardware and mechanical data, so third parties can build on them. You can’t buy a Simband — it’s a ‘reference platform’. But Samsung is hoping it will take off, and maybe next year we should see some developments.

Swallowing a sensor

It is one thing to use sensors on the body to collect information, but what about sensors inside the body? Well sure, why not? There are plenty of examples of technology being used in this way. How about Proteus Digital Health, for example. It has developed a sensor you can swallow.

As it passes through the body the sensor collects information. It can monitor periods of activity and rest, but also, because it goes where your food goes, it can monitor other things, for example checking you’ve taken medication and noting when you took it. The sensor even uses your stomach fluids as a power source.

There’s a patch you wear on the skin that collects information from the sensor and relays it to other devices — tablet, smartphone, whatever. Using a system like this, if you needed to keep an eye on grandpa to make sure he’s taking his pills, you could.

There are other companies making pills you swallow with different roles. The aptly named pillcam has a mini-camera built into it and takes photos as it passes through your body. Images are saved on a device you wear and the camera itself is just flushed away.

And even more advanced options are in the offing, including sensors which can sit in your bloodstream and keep an eye on a whole range of conditions.

A revolution in healthcare

All this technology sits on a broad spectrum that runs from general wellness, through to monitoring chronic conditions and notifying us of changes in key measurables that might be the precursors to heart attacks, strokes or other potentially life-changing events.

While the levels of sophistication might be far greater than in your average wrist-worn pedometer, the underlying ethos is the same. We’re right back to prevention being better than cure.

So, next time someone tells you that the app you keep checking to see if you’ve reached your daily goals is a bit nerdy, tell them about prevention, cure and how tech is quietly changing the whole health landscape — for the better.


Patients dial up info while waiting for doctor: study



New research suggests the waiting room isn’t just for magazines anymore.

In a CDMiConnect report on emerging digital trends, dubbed “The Patients First Reports: In-Office Mobile Device Use,” the Omnicom agency surveyed over 3,000 patients aged 18 and over with more than 200 health conditions,  to “understand the impact of healthcare at our fingertips and uncover how it has influenced the roles we play in each other’s lives,” stated Deb Deaver, agency president.

Managing partner Dina Peck told MM&M that “some of the content we uncovered was so surprising that we decided to go ahead and publish our findings.”

The waiting room, and to a lesser extent the exam room—according to the results—offers a significant mobile-friendly touch point, which healthcare marketers can leverage to help foster a productive dialogue between patients and their GP or specialist, the agency says. And the way to capitalize on this screen time is to provide these patients with relevant and accessible content which caters to their needs.

According to the findings, patients spend an average of 20 minutes in the waiting room, and one in five Americans turns those “20 minutes of tedium into a productive prelude to an active doctor discussion,” researchers wrote.

“The majority [of patients] were looking for information specifically around their appointment,” Eliot Tyler, managing partner of CDMiConnect told MM&M. “They want to know ‘what do these symptoms mean’ and are searching for that confidence so they can engage their doctor about it.”

That search for confidence is at the center of not only healthcare marketing, but nearly all advertising—it’s the question “is what I’m experiencing normal?” That search for supportive context is motivated by a desire to not only help patients feel reassured in who they are, as well as in what they’re doing, so they can then carry that confidence into their appointment.

“The common theme was patients feeling prepared and confident to have that discussion with their doctor,” Tyler affirmed.

To capitalize on the prelude to the visit, Tyler said agencies need to “focus on the content strategy and think about information that patients specifically need,” and whether or not that information is accessible.

“One example is someone using their phone in an exam room, and during their previous appointment, the doctor said he wanted to put them on product X,” Tyler recalled. “And so the patient takes out her phone and looks up the side effects, which sound awful to her, and then during the appointment asks what else she could try.

“Five years ago, you could have made the argument that side effects should be less visible than some of the long-form disease-education material—this information is really changing content strategy and information hierarchy.”

Another significant finding was the prevalence of “power users,” whom researchers defined as “a subset of waiting room mobile users who leave no corner of the digital universe unexplored when it comes to learning about their health.”

“These are the people who are doing their digital homework,” Peck said. “They’re going to be spending a lot more time trying to find the product that is right for them.”

Cancer pill fights disease and gives lifelong protection

CanccerBritish scientists have discovered a drug which fights all cancers by boosting the body’s defences and prevents the disease returning by increasing natural immunity

A pill which boosts the body’s natural defences could help fight off all cancers and stop them ever returning, scientists believe.

‘Delta-inhibitors’ were already known to help leukaemia patients, but researchers were amazed to find they also work on a whole range of other cancers.

The drugs, which are taken orally as a pill, were so successful in leukaemia trials that the control group, who were taking placebos, were immediately switched to the medication on ethical grounds.

Now, scientists at UCL and the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, have discovered that the same ‘delta inhibitors’ are also effective against lung, pancreatic, skin and breast cancers, and probably many more.

Cancer suppresses the immune system by producing an enzyme called ‘p100delta’ which tells it to power down, making it difficult for the body to fight the disease. The drugs ‘inhibit’ that enzyme, allowing the immune system to attack tumour cells.

The added benefit is that once the body has learned to fight off the cancer, it has in-built immunity, so that the disease can never return, unlike if it had been killed by chemotherapy.

Although the study was conducted in mice, researchers are confident it would work in humans and are hopeful that human trials will begin soon.

“This helps your own immune system fight off the cancer better. The good guys win. And it seems to work on all cancers,” said study co-leader Professor Bart Vanhaesebroeck of the UCL Cancer Institute, who first discovered the p110 delta enzyme in 1997.

“It will work to a certain extent on its own, if the tumour is not too big, but it would be very effective after surgery, to prevent spreading.

“So it is very exciting. We have shown that blocking ‘p110delta’ also has the remarkable effect of boosting the body’s immune response against leukaemias as well as other cancers.”

The team showed that inhibiting the enzyme in mice significantly increased cancer survival rates across a broad range of tumour types, both solid and blood cancers.

Mice given the drug survived breast cancer for almost twice as long.

Their cancers also spread significantly less, with far fewer and smaller tumours developing. Survival after surgical removal of primary breast cancer tumours was also vastly improved, which has important clinical implications for stopping breast cancer from returning following surgery.

And they discovered that the immune system ‘remembers’ the cancer and can fight it off completely again. Mice who were given cancer a second time all survived.

“Our work shows that delta inhibitors can shift the balance from the cancer becoming immune to our body’s defences towards the body becoming immune to the cancer,” said study co-leader Dr Klaus Okkenhaug of the Babraham Institute at Cambridge University.

“This provides a rationale for using these drugs against both solid and blood cancers, possibly alongside cancer vaccines, cell therapies and other treatments that further promote tumour-specific immune responses.”

The drugs are already being used in clinical trials and have been granted Breakthrough Therapy status by the Federal Drugs Agency in the US, which means their development has been speeded up.

They could be available within just a few years if approved by European regulators and the National Institute of Clinical Excellence.

Professor Nic Jones, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist and director of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, said: “Treatments that train the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells are showing huge promise in several types of cancer.

“This new finding, although only at an early stage, offers the potential to develop more treatments that can do this in many more cancers, including ones that have real need for more effective treatments such as pancreatic cancer.”

The study was published in the journal Nature and funded by Cancer Research UK, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Wellcome Trust


Calls for better diabetes care and numbers with the condition predicted to spiral in coming years

Diabetes UK Cymru said the NHS in Wales needed to improve the way it treated diabetes and its associated complications


The NHS in Wales needs to get better at dealing with diabetes, according to leading organisation as it warned of spiralling rates of the condition in coming years.

Diabetes UK Cymru said the number of people with the condition in Wales is projected to rise from 173,000 to 288,000 by 2025 and said the health service must improve on learning from evidence-based demonstrations of good diabetes care.

The organisation said the NHS in Wales spends £500m a year on diabetes care but this money is too often being used ineffectively, with the vast majority spent on treating complications that could often have been prevented if the person had received good healthcare in the first place.

It pointed to the £30m being spent on footcare after patients developed serious complications that can result in amputation.

In its report, Diabetes UK Cymru outlined interventions which have been shown to make savings quickly abut said health boards neededto be more flexible and accept the need for more pooling of budgets across primary, community and secondary care.

Dai Williams, director of Diabetes UK Cymru, said: “The NHS is spending an eye-watering amount on diabetes but the money isn’t being used effectively, which is running up a huge bill for the future.

“This report shows how dealing with problems early, such as by improved provision of education and better foot care, costs could be greatly reduced and more people would live longer and healthier lives. With such strong evidence, it is bewildering that health boards have clear plans to deliver these services and then fail to actually make them happen in practice.

“With the NHS operating in a period of flat budgets and with the number of people with diabetes rapidly increasing, it is really important that health boards see the bigger picture. One of the benefits of a national system for health ought to be fast and universal adoption of good practice.

“Put simply, if a service is shown to improve the care provided to people with diabetes and save money why on earth should it not be delivered universally and as quickly as possible.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “The Together for Health – Diabetes Delivery Plan, which was launched in September 2013, puts patient awareness and support at the heart of the Welsh Government’s diabetes strategy.

“A key element is the introduction of a diabetes patient management system, which will allow clinicians to deliver better healthcare for people with diabetes. The plan also focuses on the need for education about diabetes so patients are fully involved in their care and able to contribute to the development of their personalised care plans.

“Health boards and NHS trusts have also developed their own plans to prevent diabetes and reduce the risk of long-term diabetic complications for their populations.”

Why Brands Can’t Afford to Ignore Twitter

3d4060fBy now you’ve probably heard about Twitter’s slowing user growth, a statistic that many social media naysayers were keen to jump on (though not as loudly as they’ve done in the past with stats that may or may not indicate the demise of social media). Twitter announced the slow down in their most recent company report, noting they’re implementing strategies to get user growth back on track. The interesting thing is, when you actually look at the numbers, that user growth slowdown may not be as bad as many have perceived, based on the headlines and stock decline.

A recent Forbes piece detailed Twitter’s growth problem, showing that user growth had dropped almost 20% from 2012 to 2013. The figures indicate that Twitter had 140.3 million users in 2012, which increased to 182.9 million the following year. While the growth rate itself has slowed, those growth numbers are still pretty solid. In more broken down terms, it means Twitter added almost 117,000 new users, every day, in 2013. That’s nothing to sneeze at – even if you were to take the worst case approach and assume that 50% of new accounts created were actually fake accounts being created by click farms, that’s still almost 60,000 new, real users, signing up every single day.

While the declining growth rate has spooked some investors, a more important aspect to consider is the rising use of Twitter as a business tool. Everyday, more businesses are accepting the fact that they need to utilise social media – the next generation of consumers are already there, and they expect brands to be listening. To not be active on social will eventually be akin to not existing at all for many in the marketplace. That may seem far-fetched, unfeasible that social media will become such an integral part of business life, but when you consider the reliance people place on social media for their day-to-day interactions, the trend of consumers moving towards online processes for all their media consumption and purchasing behaviours. When you think of the state of social media now, and what it will be in ten years time – it’s hard to imagine any brand is going to get much attention without having an active social media presence. If that’s where your customers are at, that’s where you need to be. Next time you’re out in a public space, look at how many people are staring down at their smartphone screens. Think about how much our interactions have changed in the last decade. The adaptation of technology is happening at an increasingly rapid rate, to ignore it is simply not an option.

Twitter’s user growth may ease, but that doesn’t mean it’s not being utilised. The company’s revenue is increasing, and they’ve detailed plans to focus on user growth in areas outside of the US – one the company’s growth issues is that most people in the US have already given it a shot, which, inevitably, means growth will slow. If Twitter can expand in India and the Asia Pacific region – or China, where it’s still blocked – that user growth figure will change dramatically. More importantly, Twitter remains thesecond most popular social network for people aged 35 and below. As younger generations grow up with Twitter, more of them are conducting more of their daily interactions on the platform. Those conversations, that data they’re sharing, is of massive value for brands – if you’re not tuning in by now, you should be, at the least, to be aware of what’s being said.

There are huge opportunities for brands on Twitter. With Facebook changing the game via algorithm shifts and Google+ failing to catch on, it remains one of the most important and powerful information sources for business. Twitter’s data is also out in the open – no other platform has opened it’s API as much, making it a great source for tracking sentiment and connecting with potential customers. Some people still don’t get ‘the tweets’, ‘what can you say in 140 characters?’ But those that spend time with it will find it an invaluable resource, one that no brand can afford to ignore.

If you’re not active on Twitter yet, it’s time you gave it a chance. If you’re a brand, set up keyword monitoring and see what’s being said. If you’re an individual, start checking in on it in the morning and see what’s coming through. Because really, if you’re ignoring Twitter now, the question is no longer ‘if’ you’ll change your mind. Realistically, it’s only a matter of ‘when’.

Students’ sexual and mental health services hit by cuts

Doctors warn the Health Secretary that closure of university GP practices puts a generation at risk

Students and doctors have warned the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that he risks “failing an entire generation”, as university GP practices attempt to cope with funding cuts which they say threaten to shut down surgeries and wipe out vital sexual and mental health services for students.


Several specialist student practices have been disproportionately hit by changes to GP funding, which doctors say has “pulled away the safety net” for surgeries.

The Government began withdrawing the so-called minimum practice income guarantee (MPIG) in April. This is a serious blow for student GP practices, which are already penalised because the bulk of GP funding is now channelled towards elderly patients.

In a letter to the Health Secretary, the Student Health Association, which represents specialists in student healthcare, told Mr Hunt that there is “a real risk of practices going under and no longer being able to provide their expert care to their young adult patients”.

Their concerns centre on recent changes to the complex system of national funding for GPs. Student practices have historically suffered because funding allocations are largely linked to meeting targets for the treatment of specific conditions which are most prevalent in the elderly. More recently, specific funding for some conditions common among students, such as eating disorders, was cut.

However, until this year, much of this discrepancy was compensated for by the MPIG – a parachute fund introduced when many of the present funding arrangements were introduced in 2004. The MPIG was designed to enable practices that lost out under the new arrangements to maintain historic levels of funding.

Now the MPIG is being withdrawn, gradually over the next seven years. The Government argues that the money should be more evenly distributed across the GP sector, but around 100 practices have declared that they face closure without it.

The practices in trouble are, in almost all cases, those with atypical patient populations, which lose out under the “one-size-fits-all” funding formula: university practices, but also those serving inner-city populations or remote rural practices with small numbers of patients.

Dr Michele Wall, a senior partner at the Rowhedge Medical Practice near Colchester, which operates both a village surgery and a specialist student practice serving 8,500 patients at the University of Essex, said that the surgery would lose 30 per cent of its funding over the next seven years.

The cuts will result in specialist services including sexual health clinics and immunisations for students falling by the wayside, with the practice facing the potential loss of two of its five doctors.

“The Government is rationing care,” she told The Independent on Sunday. “If they’re not funding it properly, then there is no other word for it – they’re rationing it. University practices across the board are going to suffer. Students have significant needs, particularly in sexual and mental health.”

She said that while an average GP surgery received roughly £80 per patient, the complexities of the GP funding structure meant that a practice which served an exclusively student population would get only around £47 per patient – and would therefore be highly dependent on MPIG money.

Dr Dominique Thompson, the director of services at the University of Bristol Students’ Health Service and a GP in Bristol, said that funding for the treatment of mental health conditions common in student populations – including anxiety and panic disorder, social phobia and borderline personality disorder – was inadequate.

“One in four, at least, of student GP health consultations is for mental health,” she said. “I’m very worried that there’s an entire generation here coming through with all these, and the practices that have been looking after them are just not going to be funded to do it … they’re taking away the safety net, with the phrase, ‘we will have to adjust gradually’… really, that’s a euphemism for, ‘you’ll have to close’.”

Colum McGuire, vice-president for welfare at the National Union of Students, said that the NUS was “extremely worried” about the situation.

“On campus, medical surgeries are vital for student wellbeing, especially for mental health support during what can be a challenging time for many young people,” he said. “It is unacceptable for the Government to overlook the health needs of students and we need immediate action to make sure that they aren’t failed because of funding cuts.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said the Government was committed to student access to “high-quality GP services” and said the NHS will be “supporting the most affected practices” to “adjust” as MPIG payments are phased out over seven years.

NHS England has said it will “support” practices affected by the MPIG withdrawal, but GP leaders including Dr Thompson have said that little concrete financial backing is being offered.

NHS future could see you Facebook your doctor

ParkinsonNet is a website which links sufferers of the disease in the Netherlands with specialist doctors and nurses and is being hailed as a trailblazer for the era of telehealth

Imagine if your doctor was as easy to contact as your Facebook friends – and you could Skype them whenever you liked to talk about your health concerns.

web-checks-rexFor anyone waiting to see their GP in today’s cash-strapped NHS, and with doctors already working at full tilt to provide the universal healthcare we all depend upon, it seems like the realm of science fiction.

But telehealth, bringing care into the patient’s home, is now one of the buzzwords of the modern NHS. In a population where more and more people, often the elderly, have long-term health problems such as heart disease, obesity, breathing problems or diabetes, the greater part of a doctor’s work can be done in the home, advocates of telehealth say.

In the internet age, the best way to do that, is to have a doctor on a computer, signed in to a network of patients in the same way we are connected to our Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

In the British Medical Journal today, researchers from the Netherlands have reported on the success of a scheme which is being hailed as a trailblazer for the era of telehealth.

ParkinsonNet is a dedicated website which links Dutch Parkinson’s disease sufferers with doctors and nurses who specialise in their disease. It acts, in effect, like Facebook for Parkinson’s patients. The professionals communicate and collaborate on the website, where patients can also find information about treatment, about the professionals themselves and what they do and can also, if they want, request an at-home consultation via video link in their homes.

Since it was introduced in 2004, ParkinsonNet has expanded into 66 regional networks and links nearly 3,000 professionals from 15 different disciplines to Parkinson’s patients all over the Netherlands.

Evidence presented by the researchers, from the Radboud University Medical Centre, suggests that the website “empowers patients, improves the quality of care, shifts care away from institutions and into the community and lowers healthcare costs.”

Patients also appreciated being linked to genuine experts on their condition, rather than having to visit generalists and endure referrals and lengthy waits to see a specialist. The researchers concluded that the model could be used just as successfully by patients with other long-term conditions like diabetes and breathing problems.

But it’s the cost benefits which may be of most interest to NHS bosses. The health service in England is under intense financial pressure and facing a £30bn funding gap by 2030 and its managers. The NHS in Scotland and Wales are also eager to save money.

A patient with a long-term problem coming to a hospital for something routine is a waste of time for them and a waste of money for the hospital – so the more that can be done in the home, the better, experts say.

The Dutch researchers estimated that ParkinsonNet has saved up to 20m euros: a small amount in the context of the NHS’ budget, which exceeds £100bn. However, Parkinson’s is just one of the less common long-term conditions. If the millions of patients who suffered from diabetes, had a heart condition, or breathing problem could be cared for in the same way the savings could be, in theory, enormous.

Dr Martin McShane, NHS England director for long-term conditions told The Independent that the NHS in England was developing similar models of care for more conditions and called ParkinsonNet “a very clear signal of the potential” of telehealth. England already has an online psychological therapy service operating in some parts of the country.

“I think this is a really exciting time,” he said. “The problem is we’re almost being out-paced by mobile technology. There are also questions about how we ensure the right governance of these schemes – clear quality standards need to be maintained… But do we want to move to a National Health Service rather than a national hospital service? The answer is yes.”

In Scotland, a dedicated Centre for Telehealth and Telecare has been set up, with “patient-centred, at home care” a key part of the country’s plans to “transform” the NHS by 2020. The country is beginning to move beyond “pilots” to “large scale” uses of remote consultations with doctors and therapists, he said.

“It’s not about replacing face to face care with technology,” said Professor George Crooks, medical director of NHS 24, who has overall responsibility for the project.  “Technology can make face-to-face care more accessible: such as accessing specialist opinion remotely from remote rural or island communities.

”We will use it but only where it is safe, effective and, most importantly, appropriate to do so…but people use technology to run their day-to-day life – and they now expect to be able to use their tablet, smartphone or computer as a way to access their health and care services.“


GlaxoSmithKline and Adaptimmune agree cancer immunotherapy alliance

GlaxoSmithKline has agreed a strategic collaboration and licensing agreement with Adaptimmune, a biotechnology company developing TCR-engineered T-cells to treat cancer
The partnership will see the companies working to develop and commercialise novel cell-based therapies in the field of cancer immunotherapy. They will take advantage of Adaptimmune’s work in creating TCRs that can be deployed to target the cancer testis antigen, NY-ESO-1, and other targets.

Previous trials in the NY-ESO-1 programme in multiple myeloma, melanoma, sarcoma and ovarian cancer in the US have generated encouraging results, with European studies set to begin soon.

Adaptimmune will co-develop its clinical programme and associated manufacturing optimisation work together with GlaxoSmithKline, which will have an option to assume full responsibility for the project through to the clinical proof of concept stage, anticipated during 2016.

Axel Hoos, vice-president of oncology research and development and head of immuno-oncology at GlaxoSmithKline, said: “We believe that Adaptimmune’s T-cell receptor engineering technology will be synergistic with the growing immuno-oncology portfolio of GlaxoSmithKline and leverage our existing expertise in autologous cell gene therapy.”

This comes after the firm agreed a strategic collaboration with Metabolon on new research in the field of metabolomics last month.ADNFCR-8000103-ID-801725653-ADNFCR


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