Technology can be used to bridge the gap between doctor’s visits
© Aditi Harish

Oncologists can only capture a pixelated snapshot of their patients’ health because, on average, they see patients undergoing chemotherapy for only eight minutes every third week. Can we make use of the missing 30,000 minutes in between doctor’s visits?

We at the University of Southern California believe physicians should be able to examine patients in “4K clarity on a big screen” through integrated data from devices such as smartphones, wearable technology and Kinect for Xbox. The point is to use today’s “Internet of Things” to continually monitor well-being. After all, individuals know their health best. We just need to enable them to quantify it. With the right tools, they can make the best use of their health and disease data, helping themselves and the community.

ADVERTISEMENT
On Monday my team will show that this vision can become a reality. We will demonstrate a pilot project at South by South Lawn: A White House Festival of Ideas, Art and Action (SXSL). At the interactive Cancer Moonshot booth, people will be able to learn and test technology that is being used in an ongoing clinical trial called ATOM-HP (Analytical Technologies to Objectively Measure Human Performance), a joint effort between the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Technology is the house call for the modern era, enabling physicians to utilize results from data collected continuously and analyzed in real time. Let’s be clear. My team is not there yet; we’re just starting clinical trials. But we have the vision and we have a large pool of talented researchers from the No. 15 college in the nation.

We are pooling brain power from the new USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, which enables us to unite the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences; the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center; the USC Viterbi School of Engineering; and the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy. The ultimate goal is to fast-track detection and treatments for currently intractable diseases such as cancer.

While cancer death rates over the past two decades have dropped 23 percent because of a decline in smoking and improvements in early detection and medical care, our ability to help all patients is still quite dismal.

Cancer is still the second most common cause of death in the U.S. It is slowly outpacing heart disease, which has long held the top position. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in August that cancer is the leading cause of death in California, Kansas, West Virginia and 18 other states. Cancer today is a wicked problem for which only suboptimal solutions exist. Although we have made great strides in developing drugs and at screening cancer, we still need to empower patients to make more informed decisions about their disease treatment.

One solution is to reach across disciplines – for patients, doctors, biologists, engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists, social scientists, designers and developers to work together to harness research, technology and the Internet of Things.

Today when I Uber, I open my Waze app. The Uber driver asks me if I would prefer a different route from the one planned. Similarly, we can use the Internet of Things to advance the patient experience from a somewhat blind reliance on the doctor to a true teamwork experience where patients really understand their choices. I don’t want to drive myself, but I want to be part of the decision on which route we are taking. I can’t change the traffic in L.A., but if I at least know with accuracy what is ahead of me, I can be better prepared.

A critical component of an Internet of Things framework as implemented in ATOM-HP is the ability to deploy it across the socioeconomic spectrum. Done smartly, it can be packaged to be self-contained; programmed appropriately, it can operate across languages and cultural backgrounds. This can be accomplished if we work early on with the patient community to actually understand their questions, requirements and boundaries.

Our study has participants wear a Microsoft band to track heart rate, steps, calorie burn and sleep quality. A digital scale records how their weight changes over time. Patients answer survey questions daily. Every night, an app integrates all the collected information across devices and runs our algorithm to generate a comprehensible report about “performance status,” a measure of health. The goal is to produce virtual on-demand house calls.

We also use Kinect to measure posture, gait, speed and acceleration in a doctor’s office. The analytics will quantify the patient's’ performance status by analyzing movements, posture, fatigue and pain over time to provide doctors with a detailed picture of the subject’s fitness.

In short, ATOM-HP is a first step to better monitoring patients, to understanding how they fare over time and to forecasting if their current treatment regime is working or if an alternative route needs to be taken to reach the best patient outcome. Information is power. The question is how do we harness that information? Find us at Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's 12:30 Report Cornell unveils Biden ice cream Biden fuels 2020 speculation MORE’s Cancer Moonshot exhibit. We’ll explain.

Peter Kuhn is dean’s professor of biological sciences and a professor of medicine, biomedical engineering, and aerospace and mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California. He is a founding faculty of the new USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, which is dedicated to fast-tracking detection and cures for diseases through quantitative sciences.


 

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.