Nearly half of the US population suffers from at least one chronic disease, according to the AHA. While this number is increasing in all age categories, the rate of increase for those 50 and older is expected to have the greatest burden on our healthcare system. Between now and 2050, the number of older adults suffering from chronic illness is estimated to increase by 99.5%, according to NIH.
Given these predictions, it’s obvious that finding better ways to treat and support those living with these conditions will not be enough. In order to reduce the burden of chronic disease on our healthcare system and economy, we must find ways to reverse these conditions wherever possible.
Just as medical technology and connected devices have helped us improve outcomes for those living with chronic disease, they also hold the key to giving these patients a life free from disease.
How Connected Devices Help People Living with Chronic Conditions
We’ve talked at length about the benefits of using connected devices to manage chronic conditions. This type of advanced medical technology has helped improve outcomes for those living with diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, hypertension, and more.
By providing continuous monitoring, real-time data, and remote solutions, connected devices create a more comprehensive picture of patients’ lifestyles and disease progression so that care teams can provide personalized medicine to achieve better results.
Connected devices also do more to empower patients to take control of their own health. The enhanced communication options, reminders, educational resources, and visualized data available on these devices help patients see results and feel empowered to take their healthcare into their own hands.
However, utilizing connected devices only to manage chronic disease is a waste of these powerful tools. All of the benefits these devices provide to improve treatment also give them the potential to reverse disease.
Connected Devices and Reversing Chronic Disease
Too often in the American healthcare system, the goal is to manage disease in order to prevent it from getting worse. Even in the case of type 2 diabetes, which has a high potential for reversal with the right approach, the standard of care outlines slowed progression as the only goal. And many of the connected devices developed to treat conditions like type 2 are done so with these mediocre goals in mind.
If we change the goal of chronic condition treatment from management to reversal, we open the doors for innovative connected device development.
What Does It Mean to Reverse a Chronic Disease?
Reversing a chronic disease means achieving a significant and sustained improvement in the symptoms and health outcomes associated with that disease to the point where it no longer presents a significant threat to a person’s well-being or quality of life. While the exact measurements of reversal vary by disease, the same key elements are typically involved. These include:
- Improvements in symptoms
- Medication reduction or elimination
- Normalization of biomarkers
- Improved quality of life
- Reduced risk of complications
In type 2 diabetes, for instance, reversal is generally said to be achieved when a patient’s A1c drops below 6.5% for a significant period without the use of medications.
The degree to which a chronic disease can be reversed varies depending on the type and stage of the disease and an individual’s overall health. Importantly, not all chronic diseases can be completely reversed.
Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and obesity, can be fully reversed in most cases. Some chronic conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can achieve full symptom remission but still require daily medication. Many aspects of heart disease can be reversed but full remission may not be possible, depending on the extent of the disease.
Other conditions, including chronic kidney disease and autoimmune diseases, can generally only be improved but not reversed to the point that symptoms disappear. At least, this is the case as of now.
How Connected Devices Are Helping to Reverse Chronic Conditions
While the goal of most chronic disease treatment is not reversal at this point, there are some connected devices in trials or already on the market that have helped patients achieve remission. Here, we look at some of the best examples of this and discuss future opportunities for MedTech companies looking to develop innovative connected devices and medical software.
Type 2 Diabetes
One incredibly advanced example of medical software reversing disease was used to treat people with type 2 diabetes.
Twin Health’s Whole Body Digital Twin platform was recently used in a study to reverse diabetes in patients who had suffered from the disease for more than 4 years. The innovative platform uses data collected by multiple wearable sensors, along with blood tests and questionnaires, to create a digital twin of each patient.
The platform’s AI algorithm then analyzes the data to spot problem areas in the patient’s metabolism and suggests changes and improvements in their treatment approach in order to achieve remission.
In the trial, 95% of patients achieved an A1c of less than 6.5% within 90 days of starting the program. Within three months, all patients were off insulin and the only medication still in use was metformin.
This platform and those like it, have the potential to help those suffering from a range of chronic diseases find remission or, at the very least, slow progression and improve their quality of life. It’s the use of AI algorithms and machine learning that make this approach to healthcare possible. And it is a feature all connected device developers should consider when creating future products for the healthcare field.
At-home blood pressure cuffs and their companion apps are proving to be a valuable tool in reversing hypertension. One study into Hello Heart’s mobile app found a remission rate of nearly 85%.
This platform utilizes an at-home blood pressure cuff and connected app with AI-enabled digital coaching, medication tracking, and physical activity tracking. After just 12 weeks of using the platform, 70% of participants with stage 1 hypertension saw a decrease in blood pressure, while 85% of stage 2 sufferers saw a decrease. These results remained consistent for the full three years of the trial.
Hypertension is one of the most common chronic conditions in America. It is also one of the most readily reversed conditions, assuming the right tools and treatment are provided. Helping to increase remission rates in this field will require building more user-friendly, noninvasive devices that allow patients to see how different activities and lifestyle choices affect not just their blood pressure, but related biomarkers, such as heart rate, weight, cholesterol, and cardiovascular health.
Obesity is another chronic condition widely regarded as highly reversible. Yet millions of Americans struggle to lose enough weight to reach this milestone. And even fewer are able to shed the weight and keep it off for an extended period.
Many studies have examined connected devices and smartphone apps as a potential tool to help more people achieve obesity remission. One such study found that participants who used passive technology to track progress, such as e-scales and wearable fitness trackers, had higher engagement in their weight loss journey and achieved better results.
But even when this technology was used and reversal was achieved, the results were short-lived. Many regained the weight within a year.
The researchers concluded that the long-term failure of these methods was due to a decrease in engagement as time went on. This was very obvious when manual recording methods were utilized, but apparent after a certain period even when auto recording methods, such as wearables with associated apps, were used.
MedTech companies looking to improve on current connected devices for weight loss need to find ways to keep engagement high for extended periods. This could be done by further automating data collection, including calorie and meal data input, and creating AI coaching software designed to become long-term healthcare companions for those trying to lose weight as well as those who have already achieved their goals and need help sustaining weight loss.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is one chronic disease that has always required ongoing therapy to control. But with the right combination of lifestyle changes and medications, the symptoms can often be resolved completely. One connected device is working to take this partial remission one step further by removing the need for medications.
Researchers in the Netherlands have been working on an implantable electrical stimulation device that can eliminate GERD symptoms with daily use. The implanted electrodes stimulate the lower esophageal sphincter 8 to 12 times per day to increase pressure and prevent painful reflux.
The electrodes are controlled with an external programmer used to modify parameters and track therapy statistics.
By utilizing a physical device to control symptoms, these researchers were able to get their patients off medication while completely relieving their symptoms. Electrical stimulation devices have been used to treat other chronic conditions, including epilepsy and MS. This instance demonstrates how this approach to treatment can be taken a step further to use connected devices to achieve remission.
Looking to the Future
The potential for connected devices to not only help manage but also reverse chronic diseases is a tantalizing frontier in healthcare. These devices offer real-time monitoring, personalized interventions, and a wealth of data-driven insights that empower individuals and healthcare providers alike. With continued advancements in technology, data analytics, and artificial intelligence, innovative MedTech companies are well-positioned to develop groundbreaking solutions that push the boundaries of what is possible in chronic disease management.
By harnessing the power of connected devices, we have the opportunity to transform the lives of millions of individuals living with chronic conditions. These devices not only offer hope for a healthier future but also underscore the critical importance of proactive healthcare approaches to reducing healthcare costs in America and around the world.