In the coming week I am off to San Francisco to take part in NeuroGaming 2014. I'll be there as a co-founder and executive of four growing digital health concerns: Cogniciti, Thriver, NeuroVox, and Dreamstone Technologies. Each of these tech start-ups bring solutions, informed by the latest neuroscience, to the health care consumer table. As with allKonona HealthTech companies, these four address consumers' concerns, in the grey area between wellness and living with any number of medical conditions.

 

Are we in charge of our brains or merely the means for their incessant drive to exploration? How can we dialog with our own brains? Our current understanding of complex neurological processes is grounded in our study of diseases.  We have such a long way to go, both in basic science, and in the making of products that add value to people's lives.

 

Neurotech is still in its infancy, but Moore's law of exponential growth will no doubt apply admirably to this industry. I am making bets now!

 

Neuroscientists have two basic strategies for understanding brain function: studying patients with certain damage (stroke, injury etc.); and deploying state of the art imaging techniques (fMRI, EEG, MEG). Combining these approaches makes it possible to model neural regional actions and interactions as they relate to perception, attention, and memory. The understanding gained guides researchers developing assessment and rehabilitation strategies.

 

This approach led to development of Cogniciti's Brain Health Assessment http://www.cogniciti.com/. It answers the question "Is my memory normal or should I see my doctor?"  With the help of researchers and clinicians from Baycrest, a leading authority on memory and aging, the Cogniciti website is a science-based space. It is filled with salient information and provides effective game-like tools crafted to assess memory, attention and other brain health issues. All with the look and feel of well-designed consumer software.

 

Thriver is another excellent example of brain games tuned to resolve consumer’s need to start addressing a health concern. The impetus for creating Thriver (www.thriver.ca) was a parent's frustration with a child's “borderline ADD” diagnosis. Thankfully, Thriver founder, Rob Whent just happened to be an experienced tech entrepreneur as well. Children’s minds can seem an enigma at the best of times. ADD adds wrinkles to that enigma. Thriver’s technology provides a worried parent with concrete guidelines. It does this by utilizing insights from neuropsychological assessment and rehabilitation techniques. Thriver is unique, a parent-powered, cognitive profile-builder and recommendation platform.

 

Dreamstone helps people sleep better. The underlying technology grew from 20+ years of research into optimizing railroad workers’ efficiency on the job. Dreamstone’s co-founders identified accurate physiological indicators for tracking sleep patterns unobtrusively and improving sleep architecture. Once again, the driving force for creating the company was an acute, if poorly articulated, need among consumers.

 

With NeuroVox, Dr. John Connolly is leveraging EEG, MEG and MRI technologies to investigate the neural mechanisms of cognition. To understand brain function he interprets simultaneously the spatial, temporal, and spectral signatures of brain activity.  This data-driven “decoding” underlies his team’s development of an 8channel EEG Brain Computer Interface system. Dr. Connolly is now heading up a new international team using advanced machine learning tools and EEG to cognitive assessment and brain-device interfaces. NeuroVox is promising great things for both gaming and health-related products.

 

I am excited to bring these important health tech initiatives to NeuroGaming 2014. San Francisco is always a great stop on the road to our tech future.

Posted
AuthorVeronika Litinski

The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions has created an interesting video describing the seven mega-trends that will influence the healthcare industry in 2013. All seven reinforce an undeniable reality: that business as usual won’t do and neither will simply talking about the mega-trends. It is “change or die” for many players in the $10 trillion global healthcare industry.

The mega-trends point to mega-tasks. Forbes columnist Dave Chase compares the current shift from fee-for-service to fee-for-value healthcare to the wave of changes unleashed when we shifted from landlines to mobile phones.

Mega-tasks such as healthcare, regional competitiveness and sustainable economic development appear so daunting because of the complex links among people, organizations and issues that need to be addressed. We humans have done it before: Powerful partnerships get formed when the efforts of a single individual are not enough for the task.

How can we support entrepreneurs who are reinventing healthcare?

Announcements of digital health accelerators in New YorkBostonDublin and San Francisco highlight who wants to be at the table to enable this change. Large healthcare providers, investors, community foundations and pharmaceutical companies are all working together to support entrepreneurs reinventing and reimagining healthcare.

Investors are paying attention, as evidenced by the 128 venture capital funds placing digital health bets in 2012. South of the border the spike is fuelled by healthcare IT executives recognizing that they have a flood of new requirements and zero expectation that the legacy suppliers will meet those needs in the next two to three years.

Lydia Lee, chief information officer of the Toronto-based University Health Networkshares a similar sentiment, but she also highlights what makes building and deploying digital health solutions across the system so complicated.

What is missing in the formula for building and deploying digital health solutions?

The success of Hacking Health points to just how much imagination and drive there is in the Canadian healthcare community. What I think is missing, though, is an efficient path to validating the business models and efficacy of these new digital tools. Once we have these, then investment money will follow.

Digital health technologies are hot because they aim to solve acute operational, economic and clinical problems, and the only way to demonstrate problem solving is with studies. This is why anchoring a digital health accelerator in the engaged healthcare community is so important.

In tech investing, investors put their money behind people. In healthcare, data carries most of the weight in an investment decision. The beauty of data is that not only does it give instant credibility, but it also creates a formidable market advantage and a path to calculating return on investment.

David Lee Scher, chair of Happtique’s App Certification Programmakes a compelling case for efficacy studies of digital health technologies, and points out the need for an “open-sourced” approach. Crowdsourced and smaller studies can work; they just need to be designed properly and hopefully be comparative, not like traditional pharmaceutical and device trials. In addition, the data must be open and not proprietary.

Yes, trials cost money—I’ve learned this in spades through the development work at Cogniciti—but integrating clinical perspectives into the development process makes for a truly useful “health app.” Even better, trials can substantiate the efficacy, cost effectiveness and superiority to currently accepted practice.MaRS EXCITE paves the way to such studies thanks to its access to the full spectrum of academic hospitals.

And more can be done in engaging the broader healthcare system in order to become a rapid learninghealth system where clinical decisions are supported by accurate and up-to-date clinical information, reflect best available evidence and are informed by personal preferences. (The Institute of Medicine defines a learning health system as “one in which progress in science, informatics, and care culture align to generate new knowledge as an ongoing, natural byproduct of the care experience, and seamlessly refine and deliver best practices for continuous improvement in health and health care.”)

As a longtime MaRSian I know that ideas come easy—it is their execution that is hard. Digital health accelerators offer a model for executing ideas with the support of enthusiastic users, peers and partners, which is bound to be just a bit easier!

 

Posted
AuthorVeronika Litiniski