History of Connected Health
Nearly sixty years ago, the concept of Connected Health was brought to the mainstream through a space-age animated sitcom, The Jetsons, which took place in 2062 and in an era where George Jetson and his family met with the family physician through their television set, all in the comfort of their living room.[i] It took a mere seven years for the first Connected Health devices to be realized when NASA launched the first usage of Connected Health systems as a means of monitoring the health of astronauts in space.[ii] However, it would take the use of earlier technology (i.e., secure WiFi and Bluetooth), developed in 1941 by Hedy Lamarr, to bring the space-age technology of Connected Health into the homes of everyday people.[iii]
Now, the Baby Boomer generation, raised in the infancy of Connected Health concepts, is seeing the technology enter their everyday lives. This is particularly important as this generation is now entering its retirement years, and is beginning to experience age-related, chronic health conditions, many of which can be managed remotely. At the same time, rising healthcare costs demand new means of delivering Healthcare to ensure financial sustainability of healthcare for all players in the healthcare space.[iv] This rise in an aging population coincides with shortages in medical personnel in the US and EU, necessitating the need for increasingly efficient and cost-effective means of delivering healthcare. These trends are expected to be exacerbated in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and with the end of the United States’ 20-year military operation in Afghanistan.[v],[vi]
In all this, Connected Health is poised to be a fundamental solution to the emerging and future challenges of our healthcare systems. The need for a robust Connected Health system, capable of delivering quality healthcare in an efficient and cost-effective manner, has never been more important.
Ideal Connected Health systems will have the depth of expertise and systems flexibility to achieve delivery of healthcare across the most critical gaps in our existing infrastructure: telehealth for congestive heart failure, home healthcare for veterans, access to specialty physicians and continuity of care with primary care providers, remote intensive care, medication adherence. [vii]
Infrastructure Needs for Adoption
Ensuring equitable access to Connected Health is a critical means to widespread adoption, addressing gaps in our existing healthcare system, and maximizing the impact of a Connected Health strategy. Key to this is ensuring widespread access to broadband technology. Efforts to improve broadband access have been ongoing since 2016, and the advent of 5G technology will greatly improve accessibility to, and efficiency of, Connected Health devices.[viii],[ix]
Patient acceptance of connected devices has been steadily increasing, as adults are increasingly turning to smart, or connected, devices to help manage their daily routines. It is estimated that half of all homes will be connected by 2022.[x] These devices are often controlled through smartphone apps, connected devices manage everything from grocery lists, to light bulbs, to summer reading, to thermostats. When users forget to change a furnace filter, their thermostat sends a reminder. Fitbits and other smart watches monitor user physical activity, heart rate, and sleep quality. Connected pharmaceutical and medical devices are a natural progression in the continuum of everyday connected devices.
As the pharmaceutical and medical device industry moves toward adoption of Connected Health platforms, collaborating with companies with expertise in manufacturing antennae and other 5G-compatible device components will be a critical step in ensuring patient acceptance and ease of use of these connected devices.[xi]
Device Needs for Adoption
Just as there are specific infrastructure needs to ensure a successful Connected Health strategy, the devices leveraged in a Connected Health strategy have unique requirements to ensure patient acceptance, physician usability, and payer satisfaction.
For example, devices must be outfitted with antennae compatible with the existing broadband infrastructure, and must be able to be updated as infrastructure needs evolve. Because of gaps in broadband access, or in areas where it is inaccessible, connected devices need the ability to acquire and store data when offline, and then later upload it when connectivity is restored. Data security is of paramount concern to not only the patient, but also physicians and Healthcare payers. And finally, the ability to leverage a Connected Health strategy to both generic and bespoke device platforms, offering a suite of devices to provide continuity of care, is critical to the success of a Connected Health strategy. A continuum of devices, from smart watches, to autoinjectors, to on-body injectors, ensures that patient healthcare needs are met in a Connected format, regardless of their changing Healthcare needs.
Continuity of Device Strategy
A single device will not provide meaningful connected healthcare for patients, providers, or payers. Different medications require different pharmaceutical delivery formats, and patients may move back and forth from one medication to another as they manage chronic conditions and certain acute diseases. As a result, a series of devices to provide healthcare continuity will help the industry meet the needs of a future aging population in a cost effective and efficient manner. A comprehensive, innovative, strategy that delivers a seamless series of connected devices will help people around the world lead happier, more productive, lives.
Connected Health holds significant promise for pharmaceutical companies looking to maximize their impact on patient lives with these strategies. However, choosing the right manufacturing source is a critical step to ensuring long-term success. The ideal source will have a proven track record of solving complex problems in a fast-paced environment to deliver solutions that are fast, smart, and exceed quality expectations. The ideal source will have not only expertise in manufacturing but can collaborate with trusted expertise in design and development, ensuring Connected Health platforms are brought to market quickly, with the highest possible reliability and quality. The Jetsons’ foretold the future in a show we all watched in our past. And now, it is coming to fruition, bringing hope for a healthier tomorrow.
[x] P. Austin. “What Will Smart Homes Look Like 10 Years From Now?”, Time. July 2019.