Many physicians up to this point have been spectators to the development of digital health products. They haven’t seen evidence of reliability, feel that these devices and platforms cut them out of relationships with their patients, and don’t understand the reimbursement pathway even for the most valuable products and services. Beyond this, many vendors simply don’t have the street cred with clinicians to gain traction within crucial healthcare settings.

With this premise, it was of considerable interest to see Philips start efforts to engage and sponsor grassroots innovation in health IT, remote patient monitoring, and wearable biosensors. Here in my backyard, this took the form of the Philips Wearables and Chronic Care Challenge at the Harvard Medical campus on October 25th, 2016. Starting in July, 25 entries from the U.S. went through an exhaustive vetting process to bring the competition down to 5 finalists, all of whom pitched very unique and disruptive approaches to chronic care.

 

Philips’ Connected Sensing Venture

After the event, I had the chance to sit down with Ravi Kuppuraj, Business Leader for the Connected Sensing Venture at Philips. In his new role within this emerging division of Philips, he has already identified that wearables usually only solve a small part of a complex clinical problem and show inconsistency in tracking patient progress during transitions of care. This is one reason he believes that Philips has the right chemistry to bring wearable technology into more mainstream use.

“This (venture) is hopefully a model and beacon for future efforts in innovation. Philips has taken a very progressive approach in setting it up like a startup, running it like a startup, incentivizing it like a startup.”

Philips believes that this model may not only prove to be more nimble in terms of product development, but also foster a more collaborative approach within the healthcare ecosystem. They’ve made a commitment to academia and a startup-rich environment in moving their U.S. R&D headquarters to Cambridge, MA, and pledged a $25 million research partnership with MIT. As a business group within Philips, the Connected Sensing Venture group feels that they have a competitive advantage developing and implementing clinical grade wearable technology.

Without divulging any of Philips’ ongoing pilot projects in this sector, Kuppuraj shared his operational approach,

“We are taking a co-creation type approach with some of our key customers, and are using that kind of co-creation model to bring joint propositions to market. This is a very different way than just saying, ‘We know what you need, we have been in this space forever’. I don’t think that will work; this is really a partnership and a relationship which will drive even the creation definition and conceptualization of these products.”

Philips has undertaken these chronic disease management projects with an attitude that the patient is at the core of healthcare innovation. In fact, the term “patient” is avoided in their jargon, with the belief that this will change the outlook towards more holistic product development. However, in also expressing the paramount importance of family caregivers, Kuppuraj made clear that physicians were still key partners at the forefront of this process.

 

What Philips brings to the digital health table

Dr. Jennifer Joe, CEO of Medstro (a co-sponsor and promoter of the event) was particularly encouraged by Philips’ involvement in the entrepreneurial community in Boston.

“I am particularly excited by the investment that Philips is making in both digital health and the community for the following reasons. First, I believe this means that we’ll have medical-grade biosensors very soon, which will lay to rest much of the concern over the reliability of new data generation.

Second, Philips is very adept at the rigor of clinical trials to prove the utility of new data and devices.

Third, the fact that Philips is actively engaging in dialogue with clinicians and patients means that they’re attuned to the need for new devices to be patient-centered and work into the clinician workflow.

Finally, the fact that Philips hosted their Philips Wearables and Chronic Care Challenge that was open to the public means that they recognize that innovation is interconnected and doesn’t happen alone. This is all very exciting for the Boston innovation and clinical community.”

The investment in this event was well-received by an audience which already had a discerning eye for innovation competitions and hackathons in the healthcare space here in Boston. While the top three finalists received cash prizes up to $10,000, there was no promise of an entry point into Philips’ suite of emerging healthcare products. However, in my continued discussion with Ravi Kuppuraj, it was evident that this event was meant to be an affirmation of Philips continued commitment to digital health and remote patient monitoring.

“We started this as a lark of an idea. No one knew that Philips was even working on wearables, or interested in wearables. How can we tap into the rich ecosystem where we live—we were pleasantly overwhelmed that we got so many entries. Pruning them down to the finalists was a tough task. It was a great first step.”

 

What’s in it for physicians?

Physicians have a lot to look forward to in the development of technologies geared towards management of chronic disease. The big players in healthcare have caught on to the clinical potential of biosensors, IoT, and data analytics. Philips, with a long history of producing hardcore medical equipment as well as personal electronic devices, is one of these. While Apple and Google have an eye towards digitizing healthcare, Philips may have the inside track with their existing relationships with physicians and the general consumer market. Their experience with algorithms and data analytics within healthcare is also another interesting competitive angle. If they continue their collaborative outlook towards all parties in the healthcare ecosystem, their grassroots efforts to co-develop healthcare management solutions may pay off sooner than we think.

Alisa Niksch, MD
Alisa Niksch, MD is a pediatric cardiologist and Director of Pediatric Electrophysiology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, MA. She serves as an advisor to startup companies Sproutling and Genetesis, and has conducted research with Zephyr Technologies (now subsidiary of Covidien).

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