B.C. wearable tech startups target hospitals

Activity trackers could be a paradigm shift for the health-care system

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      A hospital stay begins with patients putting on an identification wristband. If two technology companies based in British Columbia have their way, patients at many health-care facilities will soon be slipping on wearable devices, too.

      Vancouver’s Kineteks Corporation is one of them. President and chief operating officer Paul Shore told the Georgia Straight his firm has developed a wireless activity-tracking sensor that patients wear in a fabric ankle band.

      “It has no buttons,” Shore, who lives in Whistler, said by phone from Lund on the Sunshine Coast. “So once you put the battery in, it just goes about its business. It wakes and sleeps all by itself. So you don’t have to interact with it, which is really key in a lot of the health-care applications we’re involved in, because the patients aren’t going to interact with the device at all. It’s rather their clinicians—their health-care professionals—who want to see the data.”

      Kineteks’s Tractivity sensor is designed to be worn by inpatients and outpatients during waking hours. Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, U.S.–based health-care provider Kaiser Permanente, and other organizations have used the product in trials. Shore said he expects it to see “full-blown clinical deployment” in the next year or two.

      Tractivity records the number of steps taken by patients and uses this data to calculate the distance walked, calories burned, and active minutes. Doctors, nurses, and therapists log into a web portal to view the data, which inform the advice they dispense, and in some cases patients have access to the information via a mobile app.

      According to Shore, private health-care providers in the U.S. are interested in Tractivity because they know that increased inpatient ambulation reduces the incidence of bedsores and deep-vein thrombosis, and results in cost savings due to shorter hospital stays and fewer readmissions. He noted clinicians can also use the product to monitor whether patients with chronic illnesses—such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease—are following their “activity prescription” between visits.

      “It’s always the same theme,” Shore said. “Walking is like this magic pill, this magic medicine. If people who are recovering from being on chemo walk more, they tend to do better. And then there’s other studies that have shown they actually have fewer recurrences of cancer.”

      Shore would like to see B.C. health authorities try out Tractivity in their hospitals. He asserted that activity monitoring could save the health-care system an “incredible” amount of money. However, Shore noted Kineteks is finding it more difficult to drum up business in Canada than in the U.S.

      “As a Canadian, it’s almost a little frustrating that it’s harder to make progress in Canada, where there’s less of an obvious financial incentive to watch costs—although theoretically the same should be true,” Shore said. “We’re just all the payers of the system, who should care about the costs.”

      XCo Tech is another company looking to implement its wearable technology in hospitals. Founded in 2014, the Penticton-based startup is prototyping Gauge, a movement-and-location-tracking device that’s the size of a business card and can be slipped into a shirt pocket.

      Scott McMillan, CEO of XCo, told the Straight that wearables represent a “paradigm shift” for the health-care system. In addition to hospital patients, Gauge is being developed for athletes and seniors living at home. McMillan said he expects XCo to release its first product in 2016.

      “Our road to the market is first to do a sport system,” McMillan said by phone from Penticton. “That’s for performance, but also to prevent injury. It’s also giving us information about concussions and rehab. So that starts our connection in the health-care space. Then we’re planning the following year to start health pilots and working on these in-home remote systems, and then go from there into hospital systems.”

      According to McMillan, XCo’s eXact Positioning System can determine a person’s position with greater precision and at a lower cost than location tracking based on Bluetooth, GPS, RFID, or Wi-Fi. The technology allows the measurement of speed, distance, and acceleration, as well as the sending of alerts to family members in the case of a fall. Users will access the data via a mobile app.

      McMillan asserted hospital equipment will increasingly be wireless. He noted Gauge is being designed to capture data from heart-rate monitors and head-impact sensors.

      “That data is all integrated with our movement tracking—how fast they’re moving, their efficiency of moving, how much they’re moving—and now you’ve got a very complete picture of the health of that person,” McMillan said.

      According to a 2014 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers’s Health Research Institute, data from wearables “can be used by consumers to manage their health and by healthcare organizations to improve care and potentially reduce costs”. However, it notes many consumers are concerned about the privacy implications of this technology.

      “Companies should ensure privacy policies are crystal clear,” the report recommends. “Physicians already have the trust of consumers, and healthcare organizations have expertise in protecting personal health information. Those standards should be applied to health wearables data, especially as they become integrated into electronic medical records.”