The health care system is about to undergo a major revolution, from one that is test-and-treat based to one that is more preventative and constantly monitoring conditions in real time.
This transition is being enabled by a variety of technologies that have become more applicable and affordable in recent years, including wearable technologies, big data, cloud computing and connected devices.
One of the pioneers in this industry is Waterloo, Ont.-based Pervasive Dynamics Inc., which is currently prototyping and testing a wearable health monitoring system that can be used to test how different parts of the body interact, how injuries originate and other health metrics that are currently available outside of a hospital or rehabilitation setting.
“It’s a set of devices that we’re testing, but when it goes to market it will be configured; this is a set of devices for stroke rehabilitation, this is for injury rehabilitation, another will be post-concussion, and so on,” explains Muhammad Khan, the founder and CEO of Pervasive Dynamics. “You can put them on various parts of the body to monitor different body systems, comprehensive monitoring of cardiovascular, muscular, skeletal and other systems, and then analyze the data.”
In the current healthcare system, explains Khan, patients are tested within a healthcare setting, but a majority of injuries and complications take place outside of such environments.
“The lab environment is very precise, but it’s not usable in everyday life,” he said. “The wearable, which is available today, is used in daily life settings, but they are not precise. We need an intersection of the two.”
As wearable devices like those currently being developed by Pervasive Dynamics collect more data, they are able to track the source of bigger problems, which are currently only identified following an incident, such as a stroke or an injury.
“We know how a normal person behaves and how a person in rehabilitation varies from the normal behaviour, but if there’s a risk of something happening in the future, for example, we can use it on those people,” said Kahn. “Once we have data on healthy people, and on those who have suffered a stroke, we can figure out how someone who is going to suffer one is deviating from the healthy people.”
The ultimate goal of the project, however, is even more ambitious than understanding and preventing strokes.
“The bigger goal of the project is not specific to strokes; it’s to understand the aging process,” said Khan. “What happens with aging is that almost every body system slows down, and it’s not just about understanding one system, but the complex interplay between systems. Once we calibrate these devices they can definitely be used to prevent a disease from happening in the first place.”
Pervasive Technologies is currently working with the University of Waterloo’s healthcare centre and intends to expand its partnerships to several more hospitals in the near future.
“The future is certainly the connected patient and remote patient monitoring,” said Khan. “We are definitely working in that regard so that what is available in the lab for 10 to 30 minutes is available for 24 hours if the patient needs it in their homes.”