How to successfully disrupt healthcare with digital biomarkers?

Quick Takes

  • Today, patients are generating an unprecedented amount of continuous health data with medical accuracy that can be harnessed to create digital biomarkers.

  • Benefits of digital biomarkers include earlier detection and prevention of diseases, novel insights into diseases currently not tracked well with diagnostic tests and improved patient engagement, safety and quality of care.

  • Healthcare transformation with digital biomarkers can only succeed if clear standardization processes are put in place and there is collaboration between large healthcare industry players and emerging companies in the digital space.

Dr. Srinivasan Murali

CEO & Co-founder SmartCardia SA

How to successfully disrupt healthcare with digital biomarkers?

20 May 2019

The need for industry-wide standardization and collaboration

Today, we are on the cusp of a digital disruption in healthcare management and delivery – similar to how digital technology has disrupted a wide variety of fields in the last decade from communication to retail. Patients are generating an unprecedented amount of continuous health data across varied sources reflecting their health. New generation wearables, such as the Apple Watch and smart patches, can now collect this data at medical accuracy.  

Improved patient care and decreased healthcare costs

The digital biomarkers that can be designed from patient-collected data are set to disrupt healthcare like never before, allowing for earlier detection and prevention of diseases. One example of this is the use of an electrocardiogram sensor and smartphone app to detect abnormal heart rhythms. Continuous self-monitoring allows patients to reach out to their physician early for further testing when prompted to do so.

Digital biomarkers could also provide longitudinal insights into diseases that progress over time for an individual patient, or a collective population. Novel insights can be gained into diseases that are not tracked well with current diagnostic tests, such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and depression. In addition, more engaged patients that are enabled to track their own health and set goals for lifestyle interventions can lead to better medication adherence and improved involvement in disease handling.  

Finally, the combination of digital and traditional biomarkers could improve the accuracy of diagnosis or even indicate when more accurate laboratory biomarkers should be analyzed. For example, the availability of continuous data from a digital biomarker can allow for better risk monitoring over time as opposed to a single snapshot of time provided by lab biomarkers.  This could be linked to the assessment of digital biomarkers in clinical trials to replace current gold standards (such as a pedometer versus the 6 minute walk distance in heart therapy trials).

For healthcare providers, the use of digital biomarkers can lead to cost benefits and improve patient safety and quality of care. Remote data collection from patients suffering from chronic diseases would allow for the timely diagnosis of disease worsening. Followed by prompt and effective disease management, patient outcomes such as hospital readmission and length of stay could be improved.

Furthermore, the replacement of current technologies to monitor patient health could lead to a reduction of equipment for healthcare providers and improved patient satisfaction. One example of this is in the use of a small wearable patch to measure a patient’s vital signs at home or in hospitals. With an internet connection and a smart device, physicians are able to remotely monitor their patients. Thus, eliminating the need for bulky sensors, display equipment and an array of cables that prevent patients from being able to move comfortably. The built-in artificial intelligence (AI) enables intelligent processing of data to detect abnormalities, providing alerts to clinicians only when problems are detected and thereby reducing the burden to process the data.

Collaboration is the key to success

Despite the many benefits, digital biomarkers also present difficult challenges that require industry-wide collaboration to address. These main challenges are:

  • Integrating data from various digital and non-digital sources to provide clinically meaningful solutions to patients (for example from sensors, phones, user input and medical history)
  • Ensuring reproducibility and uniformity in results (for example from data derived from different devices)
  • Monitoring and evaluating the efficacy of digital therapeutics

Unlike the traditional diagnostics and therapeutics space, where a lot of emphasis has been put on proving efficacy, reproducibility and uniformity of results, the digital space currently has no unified standards for evaluating, monitoring, or reporting the parameters measured. When it comes to integrating and layering the data from various sources to come to clinically meaningful insights, this adds another level of complexity to the challenge.

While several innovative start-ups are designing sensors, analytics and data management systems to exploit digital biomarkers, addressing the challenges above will take industry-wide standardization and collaboration. Healthcare executives of multinational players in the traditional diagnostics space have the resources and wide-spread influence needed to step up their role in the standardization process. As important, cutting edge, emerging digital companies must be willing and proactive to voice their expertise in defining the future of digital biomarkers.  This is the way forward so that data can be unified for earlier and/or more accurate diagnosis leading to better patient care.

Dr. Srinivasan Murali is the CEO and co-founder of SmartCardia SA, a Swiss company commercializing medical wearable patches. He holds a PhD in electronics from Stanford University and has actively worked in the healthcare industry for over 10 years. He has over 50 publications in leading conferences, journals and holds several patents in the field.