Real World Health Care Blog

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Need a Doctor? There’s about a Hundred Apps for That

Remember when the only personal device people had to monitor their health was the trusty old bathroom scale, and maybe a blood pressure cuff they could use at their local pharmacy? What a difference a decade makes.

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

An explosion of personal, wearable, or otherwise easily accessible devices and apps used to track activity and fitness levels, monitor health problems, and even diagnose disease is well underway. In fact, more than 360 health and biotech (and nearly 390 fitness and sports) apps and products were exhibited at January’s International CES® in Las Vegas, including a new wave of trackers, online tools, wristbands and apps that collect your vital signs for medical purposes.

“Consumers now have more of an opportunity than ever to take control of their own health through technology,” says Kinsey Fabrizio, director, Member Engagement, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®. “There is a real convergence of technology in health and wellness, and with design advancements, improving tech and widespread adoption of mobile devices, consumer-centric care is now possible.”

According to Ms. Fabrizio, one of the hottest trends in personal health and fitness technology is devices that link to smartphones. One example of such a device is a fertility sensor from CES exhibitor Prima-Temp: a self-inserted, wireless temperature sensor that continuously and passively tracks a woman’s core body temperature, detecting the subtle changes that occur before ovulation, then sends an alert to her smartphone when she is most fertile. According to the company, understanding reproductive health and natural fertility signs can help couples avoid costly infertility treatments.

Another example comes from another CES exhibitor, Qardio: a wireless blood pressure monitor that offers a full year of battery life for 400 measurements versus the 80 available in typical monitors. The company claims the device—compatible with both iOS and Android—is the only wireless monitor that can track irregular heartbeats over time, providing users with warnings that they should consider contacting a doctor if the irregularity continues.

Wearable technology like fitness trackers, smart watches, and even pain relief technology also took center stage at CES. During a CES presentation, “The Potential of Wearable Technology,” CEA Director of Business Intelligence, Jack Cutts, pointed out that fitness trackers, “have made wearable tech mainstream, and that the newest generation of smart watches are more refined and are becoming the go-to wearable device.” Looking to the future, he said “other wearable technologies, such as smart fabrics and implantable devices, are still being explored.”

Ms. Fabrizio notes that healthcare technology also has become critical to aging in place, as evidenced by several exhibitors highlighting “lifelong tech” solutions that help seniors stay in touch electronically with providers, family members, emergency responders and other caregivers. One example is CES exhibitor MobileHelp, a mobile medical alert system that uses GPS medical alarm location technology to pinpoint the user’s exact location, so the closest available emergency responders are dispatched no matter where the user travels.

Some in the healthcare field—including attendees of CES’s Digital Health Conference—have raised concerns, not only about the privacy of patient data as it streams through the Internet and resides in the cloud, but also that people’s reliance on health and medical devices and apps will push the professional healthcare practitioner out of the equation. Some worry that no self-diagnosis technology can replace the in-person treatment available at a practitioner’s office, while others point to the ability of technology to increase the value and productivity of physicians.

Ms. Fabrizio adds that device and app makers are looking to help shape the future of digital health with products people can access easily. To that end, CEA, which represents 2,000 companies, formed a Health and Fitness Technology Division last year. The goal of the Division is to raise consumer awareness of how consumer electronic devices can help improve health and fitness as well as help manufacturers navigate the marketing, regulatory and myriad other challenges facing this nascent marketing segment.

“These CEA members are making products that are seamless with what people already do,” Ms. Fabrizio concludes. “They are more than fun; they provide valuable data that drives healthier behavior and preventive health benefits.”

Are consumer apps and devices for tracking health and fitness helping you improve your health? Share your opinion in the comments section.

Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month Underscores Efforts to Identify Causes and Develop Treatments

That’s right. Children get arthritis too. In fact, according to the Arthritis National Research Foundation (ANRF), nearly 300,000 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis (JA) – one of the most common childhood diseases in the country.

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow 

When Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) first shows its symptoms in a child’s body, many parents write off swollen joints and fever as the flu, or think a sudden rash might have occurred from an allergic reaction. The symptoms might even recede slightly before showing up again, sometimes delaying diagnosis. 

Because a child’s immune system is not fully formed until about age 18, JRA can be especially virulent, compromising the body’s ability to fight normal diseases and leaving children open to complications that can adversely affect their eyes, bone growth and more.

Both the Arthritis Foundation and the ANRF are on the forefront of combatting this disease by supporting research into causes and treatments.

The ANRF’s Kelly Award is one example of how the organization dedicates part of its research effort toward treatment of JRA. The $75,000 grant is given annually to a researcher focused solely on JRA treatment and cures. For the past two years, the award went to Dr. Altan Ercan at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, whose work has the potential to provide novel targets for new therapies.

Another example is the Arthritis Foundation’s partnership with the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA). Through the partnership, the Foundation is working to create a network of pediatric rheumatologists and a registry of children with the disease, allowing researchers to identify and analyze differences and similarities between patients and their responses to treatment. Ultimately, the registry will help researchers cultivate personalized medicine, the ultimate weapon in battling the disease. The CARRA Registry has been launched at 60 clinical research sites and has enrolled 8,000 patients.

The Arthritis Foundation has also committed to providing more than $1.1 million in funding this year to researchers investigating a wide range of topics, including: 

  • Exploring how environmental and genomic factors might play a role in triggering juvenile arthritis; 
  • Collecting data and evaluating the efficacy of standardized treatment plans; and 
  • Developing and testing a smart phone app to help children cope with pain.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, there is no single test to diagnose JA. A diagnosis is based on a complete medical history and careful medical examination. Evaluation by a specialist and laboratory studies, including blood and urine tests, are often required. Imaging studies including X-rays or MRIs may also be needed to check for signs of joint or organ involvement.

“When joint pain, swelling or stiffness occurs in one or more of your child’s joints for at least six weeks, it’s important not to assume these symptoms are temporary, and to get a proper diagnosis from a pediatric arthritis specialist,” says Arthritis Foundation Vice President of Public Health Policy and Advocacy, Dr. Patience White. “Early medical treatment of juvenile arthritis can prevent serious, permanent damage to your child’s joints and enable her to live an active, full childhood.”  

Management of JA depends on the specific form of the disease but can include:

  • Care by a pediatric rheumatologist.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to control pain and swelling.
  • Corticosteroids such as prednisone to relieve inflammation, taken either orally or injected into inflamed joints.
  • Biologic Response Modifiers (BRMs), such as anti-TNF drugs to inhibit proteins called cytokines, which promote an inflammatory response. These are injected under the skin or given as an infusion into the vein.
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs such as methotrexate, often used in conjunction with NSAIDs to treat joint inflammation and reduce the risk of bone and cartilage damage.

One promising therapy in the fight against juvenile arthritis has been recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration – Actemra (tocilizumab) – from Roche. Used to treat polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (PJIA), the medicine can be used in children ages 2 and older. It is also approved for the treatment of active systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (SJIA).

How can organizations like the Arthritis Foundation and the ANRF increase awareness that arthritis happens to children, and build support to advance development of research and therapies?