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Covid-19, or the acceleration of connected and ambient health!

14
apr
2020
Guillaume RIO
Responsable Technologies & Partenariats
5 minutes
The Covid-19 pandemic prompted researchers to explore the usefulness of connected objects in infectious disease surveillance. During a pandemic, health care resources can be easily overwhelmed, reducing the efficiency and quality of care. Google’s acquisition of Fitbit (connected watch) and its investment in the Finnish start-up Oura (connected ring) and related research to combat Covid-19 have rekindled discussions on the potential of connected objects in the healthcare sector.

The fact

Withings, a French company that designs connected objects (scales, blood pressure monitors, sleep sensors, watches…) has just launched in early 2020 the ‘ScanWatch‘, a connected watch capable of detecting :

  • Atrial fibrillation;
  • the rate of oxygen saturation in the blood;
  • irregular heartbeat;
  • the detection of sleep apnea.

Patients simply install the Health Mate application, which instantly analyzes their heart rhythm and indicates if it appears normal or if they show signs of atrial fibrillation (AF). If signs of AF are detected, the application recommends that a doctor be contacted.

Currently being validated by the medical authorities, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the EMA (European Medicines Evaluation Agency), this watch could be an ally in the fight against Covid-19. According to Eric Carreel, Founder of Withings, “We receive many requests for support from hospital departments, as the measurement of oxygen saturation rates via our ScanWatch watches can help monitor the state of health and respiratory stress of Covid-19 patients who are kept at home”.

This French advance is not the only one in the world, many initiatives concerning connected objects are recognized by the medical profession day after day.

Will the IoT (Intelligence of things) strengthen its action in the field of connected medicine known as “4P” (predictive, preventive, personalized, participatory) and introduce new players?

The decoding

With more than 26 billion objects connected throughout the world in 2019, the Internet of Things, soon to be boosted to 5G, has not finished its conquest. It will be a major contributor to the growth of the AI healthcare market, which is expected to reach $6.6 billion by 2021, an annual growth rate of 40% according to Forester.

The other major accelerating factor is legislation, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the EMA (European Medicines Evaluation Agency) have issued a standard on the classification of health objects. This standard frees a large number of connected objects from certain legal constraints. It thus makes them more actionable in the health field.

Connected objects: providence and monitoring

The Covid-19 will certainly accelerate the generalization of wearables, connected portable objects, and in particular those advocated by the digital giants. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has prompted researchers to explore the usefulness of connected objects in the surveillance of infectious diseases.

In January 2020, the Scripps Research Translational Institute (San Diego Medical Research Institute) announced that it had built a model to track flu by continuously monitoring data such as heart rate, sleep duration and activity tracked by more than 200,000 Fitbit-connected watches (acquired by Google in 2019) across the US.

Satisfied with these results, Script has launched a program called ‘Detect (Digital Engagement & Tracking for Early Control & Treatment), a national health study to detect viral infections and in particular Covid-19 as soon as possible. This study invites the participation of the general public wearing watches or connected objects measuring heart rate (such as the Apple Watch, Fitbit, Garmin or Oura, partly owned by Google) can join it.

These measuring temperature, the occurrence of fatigue-related behaviours, heart rate, breathing rate and physical activity could detect the first symptoms of Covid-19! Early detection of the virus is, according to doctors, the key to containing its spread.

In order to improve its performance like Whiting’s ‘Scanwatch’, Apple has just added, in March 2020, a new Sleeping BPM function from Cardiogram in the Apple Watch. According to Johnson Hsieh, co-founder of Cardiogram, it helps users better understand their body’s response to symptoms of flu or other diseases, including COVID-19. All of these data is immediately shared with medical partners and her own clinic (AC Wellness) via her ‘ResearchKit‘ platform.

Connected objects: tracking and monitoring

In Hong Kong, researchers have partnered with the Biofourmis company to use its connected cuff in a remote disease monitoring program involving 500 Covid-19 patients.

Biofourmis reports that its connected cuff, Everion, is capable of measuring more than 20 physiological signals, including blood oxygen. This data, processed by the company’s AI analytical platform, is presented to clinicians and patients to help them monitor disease progression and alert them to sudden changes.

The programme has three main objectives:

  1. To facilitate non-contact remote monitoring of patients infected (or suspected of being infected) with Covid-19.
  2. To provide more effective interventions through customized predictive analyses.
  3. To help researchers better understand the disease itself.

Voice assistant and telemedicine

In the USA, Amazon Echo owners can ask, “Alexa, what should I do if I think I have contracted coronavirus?”. Based on this first question, Alexa’s AI will ask her about her various symptoms in order to provide her with advice based on official information from the leading US federal public health protection agency. However this is only the emerging part of the potential of this voice assistant in terms of health diagnosis.

In 2019, Amazon filed a patent on Alexa (his voice assistant). It allows to determine if the user is sick by analyzing his voice and soon via facial recognition. It also integrates the automatic launch of a remote medical consultation, Amazon Care, still reserved for its employees in Seattle via the voice assistant.

Behind this voice assistant and thanks to the creation of its Comprehend Medical cloud, Amazon is able to process millions of unstructured data for healthcare professionals (prescriptions, pathology reports, precise transcriptions of medical consultations between patients and doctors, and placing orders with the pharmacy) and to define a personalized diagnosis for patients. In the meantime, its Comprehend Medical cloud has been approved by HIPPA, the US equivalent of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for medical data, making Amazon a true player in healthcare in the US, especially since there are more than 45 million Alexa voice assistants in the US.

Connected objects and genetic

While Amazon Care (Amazon’s healthcare arm) is currently working with the Gates Foundation to distribute Covid-19 home evaluation kits, the real revolution to come will be the interference of genetic testing and connected devices.

The democratisation of low-cost DNA tests and DNA sequencers (between 100 and 150 euros) is accelerating as the market leader 23andMe (owned by Google) encourages citizens to manage their well-being and health as closely as possible.

Since the end of 2019, Apple has been offering its employees DNA screening and analysis (together with its partner Color Genomics) in its various ‘AC Welness‘ clinics. The future ambition is to provide personalized advice and treatment to the general public based on their DNA and other data collected and cross-referenced in real time thanks to connected devices (Apple Watch, Apple EarPods…). The user will be able to see all these data in a simplified and understandable interface.

 

This initiative has already been set up in the UK as part of the wellness framework by the British startup DNA Nudge. The latter offers a solution in the form of a connected bracelet. The DnaBand, a connected bracelet, combines the health data it captures with DNA testing. A test kit is provided to allow the user to transmit his genome to the manufacturer. Once the test is completed, users can start using the smartphone application, DnaNudge, or wear the DnaBand on their wrist to scan more than 500,000 food and beverage barcodes. Its purpose is to assess the suitability of products based on their personal genetic profile.

The objective for the digital giants will be to develop a whole series of increasingly precise sensors through their smart watches (Fitbit, Apple Watch), to monitor the presence of certain molecules in the blood, and thus ensure, for example, that a user is following the medical treatment prescribed.

In summary, while the world continues to rely on conventional public health measures to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020 there is now a wide range of connected technologies to join this fight. We will enter the world of ambient intelligence, where communicating objects coordinate to serve us, to make our lives easier.

Faced with this new planetary crisis that we are going through, where a state of emergency is required and where technology is omnipotent, questions of ethics and privacy will arise! 

It will be essential to measure the impact of new governance with hindsight and objectivity. For, these will want to impose their models and laws under the open banner of the common good.

Guillaume RIO
Responsable Technologies & Partenariats
Specialist of BATX & GAFA ecosystems and passionate about China, Guillaume analyzes the impact of new technologies on our lives.
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