Radboud University Medical Center to Test Phillips Medical-Grade Wearable Device

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

The pilot program will test telehealth applications for treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Phillips is also opening its HealthSuite Development Platform to application developers.

From Fitbit to Jawbone, wearable sensors used to track exercise have been a boon for the fitness industry. But the health-care sector has taken a more cautious approach to adopting Internet of Things technologies—and there are good reasons for doing so, explains Manu Varma, VP of marketing and strategy for Phillips' Hospital to Home division.

"If the data from your fitness tracker is off by 10 percent, it doesn't really matter," Varma explains, "but if decisions are being made about a drug dosage, or whether a patient should come to the hospital based on his vital signs, the liability is extraordinary." For the devices and systems that collect and share medical data as part of telehealth applications, he says, accuracy is essential.

Manu Varma, VP of marketing and strategy for Phillips' Hospital to Home division

The pilot, announced at Dreamforce annual conference—and which Varma says will begin soon—will involve patients diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) whose physicians practice at Radboudumc, Radboud University's medical center in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. COPD is a progressive disease, generally caused by smoking, which damages bronchioles in the lungs and makes breathing difficult. The pilot's purpose will be to evaluate eCareCoordinator and eCareCompanion, two applications built on HealthSuite Digital Platform, a cloud-based system that Phillips developed in collaboration with Salesforce.com. This platform will process, analyze and securely store data collected from sensors worn by participating patients.

Earlier this month, Phillips announced that the U.S. Federal Drug Administration had granted the company clearance to market eCareCoordinator and eCareCompanion. The eCareCoordinator application provides physicians with daily diagnostic updates based on data collected from wearable sensors issued to at-home patients, as well as responses collected from patients via health questionnaires. The eCareCompanion app, installed on a tablet or other in-home Internet-linked device, serves as the patient's portal, providing a means by which he or she can answer questionnaires, access medical records and connect with care providers.

Patients will wear HealthPatch MD, a wireless sensor module (embedded in an adhesive patch attached to the skin on the chest) that records the heart's electrical activity, through a single-lead electrocardiogram (ECG). The device also tracks heart rate and variability, respiratory rate, skin temperature, posture (including fall detection and severity), and the number of steps the patient has walked.

Via a Bluetooth connection, the sensor module will periodically transmit the data it collects to a gateway in the home, such as a tablet or smartphone. From there, the information will be forwarded via the Internet to the HealthSuite Digital Platform and into the two applications, which patients and physicians will use and evaluate. Details regarding when the pilot will take place, how long it will it last and the number of patients involved are not being made available at this time.

Why COPD? "If you look at overall health-care costs, chronic illnesses are huge," Varma says. In the United States, they account for 70 percent of all annual health-care spending, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "COPD, diabetes and heart disease are among the [most widespread] chronic diseases, but over time, COPD is getting worse—more and more people have it, and it's getting more expensive [to treat]," he says. "It is outpacing heart disease."

In addition, Phillips manufactures a number of medical devices aimed at treating or monitoring pulmonary diseases. So the company has a clear interest in developing home health-care applications around these products.

Calling All Developers
Through their partnership, Salesforce.com and Phillips are also developing application programming interfaces (APIs) for the HealthSuite Digital Platform, which they are making available to developers seeking to create new sensor-based applications for hospitals and health systems. According to Varma, the companies hope these applications will address a wide range of health and wellness issues and help enhance health-care providers' clinical decision-making, while also helping patients to take a more active role in their health management.

In developing the HealthSuite platform, Varma says, Phillips and Salesforce.com have already completed much of the heavy lifting, in terms of following and keeping up to date with privacy and security regulations regarding health data.

For example, Varma says, "You could see a developer [using the HealthSuite Digital Platform to create] an application designed to help a woman through pregnancy." Or a health-care provider's CIO could use the HealthSuite Digital Platform to make an application without having to build out his or her own platform.