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Topics: Education & Training, Innovation & Science, Technology

Opportunities for Innovation: Using Technology to Enable Healthy Aging

Harvard Catalyst course sheds light on medical trends and innovations in technology to support the aging population.

Photo: "Enabling Healthy Aging with Advanced Technologies" panelists: Ripley Martin, Laura Frain, and Len Fishman

One quarter of all Americans will be over 65 within the next three decades, and many will be living full active lives. “We have to completely rethink what aging is,” said Joseph Kvedar, MD, vice president of Connected Health at Partners HealthCare. Kvedar opened a one-day Harvard Catalyst course on enabling healthy aging with advanced technologies on June 6 in Countway Library of Medicine.

The concept of aging is shifting from a time of increasing loneliness and decline to a more active phase of life, where people explore new things, continue to build relationships, volunteer and contribute to society. Technology can play an important role in helping people stay healthier longer, said Kvedar, who is also a Harvard Medical School professor of dermatology and author of “The New Mobile Age: How Technology Will Extend the Healthspan and Optimize the Lifespan.”

Technology can enhance what he believes are the three biggest predictors of longevity: having a sense of purpose, maintaining social connections, and physical activity. But those over 65 tend to need more healthcare, Kvedar also pointed out. Even doubling the number of medical and nursing school graduates, there will not be enough healthcare providers.

“We are getting older faster than we can provide care,” said Kvedar, who leads Connected Health’s efforts to use digital health technologies to shift care away from hospital and doctor offices into patient’s homes and lives. “We have to change the way we deliver services and get beyond one-to-one visits. We don’t have a choice.”

Examples of digital health technologies he cited include telehealth virtual video visits, wireless remote monitoring to gather health data like blood pressure and heart rate, and e-consults with specialists. His team has been working on several mobile device apps that help patients with chronic diseases like diabetes and or hypertension stay in healthy ranges.

One panel addressed what patients need, but also what businesses need for a product to be successful.

Brett Cook, MBA, a senior associate at the global venture capital firm, F-Prime, said, “The areas we see excitement are in prevention and value-based care, as well as investments allowing people to age in place at home.” Know the problem you are trying to solve, he advised, and make sure the solution has a friendly user experience.

“We have to completely rethink what aging is.”

“Listen to the voices of patients and what matters most to them,” emphasized gerontologist Laura Frain, MD, MPH of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). Many don’t want technology spying on them, for example, even knowing it could help if they fell, she said.

With Alzheimer’s disease and dementia more feared than cancer, “Brain health is most important to people,” she said.

On a panel of four in the innovation trenches, Codi Ghargouzloo, MD, PhD, founder and CEO of Imaginostics, described his invention of a way to possibly diagnose dementia many years before symptoms appear. He uses iron oxide nanoparticles as contrast particles in MRI to create “exquisite vascular images that are like a brain map,” he said. Using his method, they are looking for patterns of vascular abnormalities as biomarkers of early disease.

Seeing his aunt become socially isolated because her hearing aid didn’t work for her, Jake Reisch came up with an idea for wireless headphones when he was a college senior. His company Eversound developed the hardware and software for headphones worn in group environments in assisted living, independent living, and memory care homes.

Phil Kongtcheu was inspired by his experience being paralyzed twice in his life to found his company, eMotionRx. They create assistive devices that help people with disabilities keep moving and “living life to the fullest,” he said.

Brian Mullen, PhD innovation strategy manager of BWH’s Digital Innovation Hub, uses his entrepreneurial and design engineering experience to help start-ups with their digital health ideas.

Funding doesn’t have to mean venture capital investors, who look for outsize returns, he pointed out. Look for strategic investors, perhaps companies with some expertise in your domain, he recommended. Grant funding might be possible, and many hospitals and universities now have their own venture capital funds, he added.

“The care most patients need and want is in their homes,” said David Levine, MD, MPH, a primary care physician and researcher at BWH who investigates ways to treat patients outside of patient care environments.

Levine and colleagues piloted the “home hospital” project at BWH, in which half of patients in the Emergency Department who needed hospitalization were admitted to the hospital and half were sent home to have the same treatment in their own “home hospital,” with daily medical team visits and constant monitoring.

They demonstrated a 20% cost reduction as well as improved patient care and quality of life, he reported. At home, people sleep better and walk around more, he said. Caregivers don’t have to make the daily treks to the hospital.

“Reimagining the best place to care for acutely ill adults hold enormous potential,” Levine said. “It’s an opportunity to build a hospital without bricks and mortar.”

“Enabling Healthy Aging with Advanced Technologies” is a module of the Harvard Catalyst three-day Medical Device Development course, next offered September 9-11. The course interactively walks through the process of what needs to happen for a successful product to come out, said Erin McKenna, MBA, course director.





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