In the latest AIMed webinar “Putting connected health technologies into practice: A frontline discussion on the case of cardiac care” held on 7 May. Three leading cardiologists shared their insights on how digital tools can be successfully integrated into the healthcare system. Examples from the UK, Africa, and the US were cited. Speakers each told of the present challenges, the importance of collaborations, and the need to involve patients in making things work. In general, a bottom-up approach is essential to ensure holistic digital health is in place. 

Specifically, Sean Matheiken, a consultant vascular surgeon turned information technology entrepreneur, said the holy grail is to have a fully integrated digital mechanism where pieces of information about the patients can all come together and made available to healthcare professionals intuitively. However, what usually takes place in the system, is a basic visual platform that is extremely trunky to use and interoperability is low. 

Matheiken suggested improving the present clinical ergonomy. The priority should be on the frontline healthcare professionals and integrating new digital tools into existing resources. At the same time, the solutions have to be affordable, pragmatic and set out to develop a rapport among users. In the long run, the goals should be tangible and gain traction at a population health level. 

Do not be afraid of inadequate infrastructures 

Dr. Jacques Kpodonu, a cardiovascular surgeon and faculty member of Harvard Medical School who was initially trained in Ghana pointed out the lack of adequate infrastructures had in fact, given some African countries, the precious opportunities to adopt technologies. For example, the prominence of cell phones in the continent had enabled some communities to bridge the infrastructural gap. Individuals can now take an electrocardiogram (ECG) by placing their fingers of the two electrodes of a credit card size device. The readings will then be automatically shared with physicians, health workers or family members. 

Simultaneously, the readings can also be generated from the electrodes onto an application which is connected to one’s mobile phone. Apart from that, Kpodonu also added virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are also used in patient education and training of physicians remotely. Earlier, the Rwandan government had started employing drones to deliver medical supplies to the local hospitals. Two weeks ago, Ghana had become the first regional drone hub and now drone technologies are incorporated into the national health plan. 

In summary, Kpodonu urged attendees not to be afraid of an infrastructural inadequacy as technologies have the capabilities to overcome the gaps. 

Patients are driving connected health technologies 

Dr. Seth S. Martin, Director, Advanced Lipid Disorders Program of the Ciccarone Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at John Hopkins Medicine believes in empowering the patients to take an active role in their cardiovascular care. Primarily, there is a need to turn paper instructions into digital instructions that are interactive and guide patients through their recoveries, especially after a heart attack. 

Martin said there should also be a medication tracking tool and a platform to deliver educational content in this digital care kit. It should be a one-stop shop to prevent patients from downloading different applications to do all the things that they need to and to develop trust. Ultimately, the emphasis ought to be a deep understanding of the problem before a tech-solution is being built. That’s why Martin values the feedbacks given by patients and their caretakers. 

“We don’t have the adequate knowledge to actually be the patients to know what is it that they need and I believe that the bottom-up approach is really working as partner with the patients, the medic, the clinicians, the engineers, working are really critical”, Martin said. 

The webinar is available for re-visit here. Please find our other subspecialty focused events, previous Breakfast Briefing and webinars on the AIMed events page

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Hazel Tang

A science writer with data background and an interest in current affair, culture and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.