Cardiologist Paves the Way for Virtual, On-Demand Healthcare

Published June 10, 2019

By Ed Rutkowski and Kay Bechtold

Is wearable technology the future of healthcare? According to Dr. Leslie Saxon, a cardiologist who addressed attendees at the Closing General Session of AIHce EXP 2019 in Minneapolis, the answer is an emphatic yes—and perhaps more than any other individual, she is working to bring about a digital transformation in the way healthcare is delivered. Saxon, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California and the executive director of USC’s Center for Body Computing, views health-tracking devices such as the Apple Watch as game-changing developments ushering in a new model of healthcare that empowers patients.

Saxon’s word for this model is “lifecare,” an approach that would use continuous health monitoring and wireless connectivity to maximize health interventions from the literal cradle to the literal grave. In Saxon’s vision, everyone’s health data would reside on secure servers and be accessible at the appropriate times to the appropriate health professionals.

At the heart of lifecare is the rapidly evolving capability of wearable technology to share continuous, individualized streams of health data. According to Saxon, the personalized records people will collect using their smartphones, smart watches, and other devices will dwarf their electronic health records. “Devices are becoming amazingly sophisticated,” Saxon said. The Apple Watch, for example, can track a person’s activity, administer an electrocardiogram, detect falls, and identify a wearer’s geolocation. Similarly, an app developed by the Center for Body Computing uses voice technology to answer health-related questions. Eventually, the app could deliver prescriptions, Saxon said.

“All the information that lives in my head needs to live on servers,” she said. “Imagine if you could call up a world expert and ask all of your questions, and they would remember [the interaction]. It’d become more personalized until the next phase when you interact with a doctor in person.”

Saxon acknowledged that considerable obstacles remain to achieving lifecare. Security is foremost among them. In March, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration issued an advisory about the vulnerability of certain implanted cardiac devices to hacking. Other concerns include the potential for bad actors to hijack someone’s data, make it unavailable, or alter it.

“It’s one thing for somebody to know your blood type and another for them to change it in your record,” Saxon said.

For the lifecare model to succeed, Saxon said, people will need to know how to determine whether their information has been hacked and whether updates delivered to their devices are safe. Education is paramount: a person will need to know what to do if her technology generates a health-related alert—from the detection of an arrhythmia, for example—when she isn’t feeling any symptoms.

But Saxon’s experiences with the Center for Body Computing have convinced her that the world is ready for 24/7 health monitoring. “Our mission is to modernize healthcare through technology to make it more accessible and affordable for all,” she said. “There’s a lot to consider, but there’s no question that the machine-human interface is changing. People deserve this integration with their healthcare. We need to figure out how it’s going to work.”

Ed Rutkowski is editor in chief of The Synergist.

Kay Bechtold is senior editor of The Synergist.

View more Synergist coverage of the conference on the AIHce Daily page.