Health tech and the future of predictive medicine

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WASHINGTON — Can wearable devices predict if you’re at high risk for health issues like a stroke? Possibly, said Emmanuel Fombu, an author and healthcare expert, on Tuesday at the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions’ Annual Forum.

Longitudinal data from 140 patients using wearable step and heart-rate trackers were pivotal in predicting whether a patient was going to have a stroke, Fombu said.

“I had this idea of can we objectively capture quality of life in patients using wearables,” he said. “I don’t need to ask if you’re active or not — I just look at your FitBit activity.”

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Healthcare technology may be a gamechanger for both doctors and employers, Fombu said. Health tech tools could help to increase patient compliance and help doctors study employee health data over time. Instead of taking a snapshot of an employee’s health when they come to the doctor’s office, tech can help regularly track worker health and give a more accurate picture of their well-being.

Fombu gave the example of an Uber driver using an app to track the blood sugar levels of her college-age diabetic grandson. If she discovered that her grandson had not taken his insulin, based on his blood sugar levels, she could remind him. Some tech companies are automating these reminder messages, he said.

“If he doesn’t take his insulin she can track it, and she can make a phone call,” Fombu said. “This is [reducing] healthcare costs.”

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With healthcare costs topping off at $15,000 per employee, companies may want to think about ways they can use technology to improve costs. One way companies can do this is through predictive medicine, which can help employees tell if they’re at a higher risk for a certain disease, Fombu added. It’s no longer about just retroactively treating disease with medications.

“It’s time for us to be more engaged in healthcare in general,” he said. “If we understand our risk of disease we’ll live longer and healthier lives.”

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