Transforming healthcare: connected devices and digital twinning
Published: June 2023
Some people would say we are too connected, constantly being updated on what people are doing, and where they are; we have so much information at our fingertips. However, regarding the healthcare sector, more information is generally regarded as a positive thing. More data leads to efficient well-informed decision-making, smarter devices and high-quality patient care.
It is therefore no surprise that the future of healthcare is set to have connectivity at the forefront through medical devices, systems and technologies. Many of us are already living with connected health care by using products that allow us to track and monitor the specifics of our health. However, the big question is what will the future look like with enhanced medical devices as we continue wanting more information to make our lives easier?
Connected devices of today and the future
Today, when we think about a connected device, the first thing that comes to mind is a smartwatch. The popularity of smartwatches is rapidly increasing and by 2026, it is predicted there will be a staggering 231 million smartwatch users worldwide.
Due to this trend, there is a high level of investment in the future of smart connected medical wearables. It is estimated that remote monitoring for healthcare could be worth $1.1 trillion by 2025.
Smartwatches have given us a glimpse into what is possible with connected devices for healthcare. A notable success story comes from the Apple watch, which features a heart rate sensor. That along with historical user data was able to save a man’s life by alerting him when his heart rate dropped below 40bpm and recommending that he visit the nearest hospital.
Transforming healthcare with connected devices
Users of devices that monitor their health are split into two distinct groups. Those with a pre-existing medical condition who require monitoring and those who are extremely health and fitness-focused. These users will either use devices that are prescribed by a medical professional or are willing to invest in monitoring solutions that help them achieve specific goals.
There is a large gap in the market for the in-between known as information seekers. This group seeks some control to prevent a serious health risk or a condition that is difficult to manage. For example, glucose monitoring or those that want to break a destructive habit (overeating or smoking).
Connected diabetes management
For the use case of diabetes management, monitoring has historically been difficult and inconvenient. Measurements are only taken periodically and thus tracking is only available when manual measurements have been taken.
This is where we see companies, like our client, PharmaSens disrupting the diabetes management market. The team at PharmsSens is passionate about technology bringing more people with diabetes towards better treatment and a life with increased freedom. They are developing three types of insulin patch pump systems. One is connectable to an external continuous glucose sensor. Another is with a combined insulin patch pump and continuous glucose monitor system in one device.
Working closely with the PharmaSens team on niia essential, we supported with the UX/UI design and implementation for the insulin pump’s configuration app. You can find out more about the full project here.
A connected glucose device, such as PharmaSens’s niia signature patch pump system, which can continuously monitor and be able to alert the user when their levels are problematic is a huge advantage. Real-time measurements are communicated with the user’s doctor, where they can see trends over time and how the user is managing their care, potentially resulting in fewer GP or virtual GP visits.
Being able to have a connected network of medical devices and systems results in more user freedom and more well-informed decision-making for healthcare professionals.
Autoinjectors are no exception. YpsoMate On was the world’s first prefilled autoinjector with built-in connectivity. With its integrated therapy management app, YpsoMate On automatically records each injection, providing users with a convenient log of their treatments. The autoinjector incorporates an advanced Bluetooth proximity measurement protocol, ensuring seamless connectivity between the device and the user’s smartphone, simplifying the entire injection process.
Having worked on the industrial design for preceding YpsoMate devices, our team tackled the challenge of maintaining compatibility with existing manufacturing and assembly processes. Through rigorous testing, a range of design solutions were carefully assessed and strategically narrowed down. The final design optimised usability and also integrated electronics to enhance therapy management.
Improving the connectivity of medical devices was one of the top factors in a survey carried out by IBM of 1300 users using a device to monitor or measure a particular condition: 63% wanted data that can be shared with multiple health professionals while more than three-quarters rate feedback from healthcare professionals as important or very important.
- Increasing connectivity and the capabilities of medical devices would improve access. Care could be delivered in the home while eliminating barriers for people where healthcare isn’t readily accessible.
- By offering devices that are capable of continuously monitoring, patient health data becomes more accessible and allows for a holistic overview. Many patients are misdiagnosed with high blood pressure because of their anxiety when visiting the doctor, so gathering data in real-time at home could be more accurate when looking at diagnosis.
With more user-centric health data issues can be flagged early, and medication can be tailored to that patient more easily. Considering connected devices on a larger scale, there are no limitations to how linked systems could be.
Understanding digital twinning
A digital twin is a virtual model designed to accurately reflect a physical object. It uses advanced technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and big data analytics. Digital twinning is being used to simulate real-world scenarios, predict outcomes, and improve decision-making in various industries, including healthcare.
Digital twin technology dates back to the 1960s when NASA created a digital twin of their space shuttle in the Apollo 13 mission. This proved extremely beneficial when the oxygen tanks on the space shuttle malfunctioned, NASA was able to test potential solutions at their headquarters using the digital twin.
Transforming healthcare with digital twinning
In healthcare, digital twins are being explored to enhance personalised medical devices. Devices would be based on the patient/user’s genetic makeup and behaviour. With the advancements in connectivity in the future, devices would be able to track the user constantly, allowing for more accurate diagnosis and treatments. This would dramatically shift how patients are diagnosed and treated to help redefine how we improve health.
Another opportunity for digital twinning is disease modelling. Vast amounts of biological data are collected and analysed to create a base patient model, this initial model is generic and is used solely to set up the computational model. This model is then personalised through the collected data from the individual patient to create a virtual copy.
Having this ‘digital copy’ of the patient has many advantages. For example, it could predict disease before physical symptoms and could then be used to investigate the outcome of potential treatments. This could involve examining key aspects of the immune system – making decisions for healthcare professionals much easier.
Building a personalised digital twin, https://tectales.com/bio-tech-it/digital-twins-for-more-personalized-medicine.html
Digital twins would be a huge step forward in the health sector. Being able to gain invaluable insights in real time would not only improve the quality of care but also be more effective thus reducing cost and improve drug quality.
Digital twins and product development
Digital twins also have an impact in product development. Large amounts of performance data and constant feedback loops improve the efficiency of product design by reducing prototyping time and enabling companies to make changes before going to production. The key difference between 3D CAD modelling and digital twins is that designers will immediately be able to see how the product interacts with its environment and predict customer usage. This technology will not only aid in the creation of user-friendly devices but will also enable us to run simulations to observe how the design will perform in specific situations.
Today, designers will typically run through cycles of device testing and customer feedback. By using digital twins to simulate customer experiences, designers can replicate user actions and explore various scenarios in which the product may be used. Combining this with real-use data, designers and engineers will have an interface they can use to design more efficiently.
Challenges to overcome
With all the positives why aren’t we implementing this now? Well, with connected systems there is the issue of data security. In fact, one of the top requirements in the IBM survey, mentioned earlier, was privacy and security with 77% of users listing this as a top priority. With the huge potential of digital twins and connected devices, it is no wonder that 80% of security executives are already applying some form of digital twin technology in their security programs.
Although digital twins are being used already in other sectors data security is still a main concern, for the healthcare sector this would be an even greater risk. Patient information, human body simulations and hospital drug stock are a few examples of areas that could be targeted for data, for example, if a patient’s information/results were altered it could mean grave consequences for treatment options.
The future of healthcare looks to be a connected one, where we no longer need to rely on GP appointments for regular check-ups that our smart device can do for example. Hospitals set to be quieter, and GPs no longer have backlogs of appointments taking the strain off the NHS. The opportunity for health in the future looks to be vast however work needs to be done to ensure that security protocols and processes are in place to ensure patient information is not compromised.
At Shore, we’re passionate about staying up to date with the latest technology advancements to optimise and improve patient’s lives. If you’re looking to integrate connected technology into your products, we’d love to discuss this with you.