Pulse of the industry
Medtech innovation for the aging world
Steven Collens is CEO of MATTER, a two-year-old incubator based in Chicago that works with start-ups, universities, hospitals and life sciences companies to develop technology-driven solutions to improve health and healthcare.
EY: One of MATTER’s major initiatives is developing solutions to promote healthy aging. What opportunity do you see for medtechs in this space?
Steven Collens: Medical advances mean that health systems are now very good at addressing acute illnesses. As a result, we have democratized old age; people expect to live into their 80s, if not beyond. But this increase in longevity means many elderly are living with multiple chronic conditions. At MATTER, we believe there are numerous opportunities for technologies to help people live healthier even as they live longer. In addition, technologies can also help people live more years in lower acuity environments, preferably at home or in an independent senior living facility.
EY: In your opinion, what are the most compelling near-term opportunities for healthier aging?
Collens: Technology has improved both remote patient monitoring and the ability to engage patients outside the doctor’s office — what I call remote engagement. As a result, it’s possible to collect detailed data that are informed directly by people’s behaviors and have a direct link to health status and outcomes. There are a number of companies now in the business of collecting data in non-traditional environments, using algorithms to deliver insights that result in prevention-focused, proactive health care decisions.
EY: Who is the customer for these data-driven technologies? Is it the consumer, the caregiver or the physician?/p>
Collens: That is a critical question. For digital solutions to have impact, providers and payers have to be directly engaged. Direct-to-consumer solutions that don’t integrate easily with professional medical tools — or don’t provide information that supports care delivery — aren’t as helpful as services that do. It’s not that these data need to be integrated directly in a medical record. But the data does have to have utility for the physician: for instance, by providing information about which patients to prioritize for office visits or another proactive intervention that can limit, or prevent, declining health.
EY: Can you give an example of a solution that uses data in the way you just described?
Collens: I am interested in advances in remote monitoring that allow physicians to deliver the right care to the right person at the right time. There’s been a lot of attention on consumer-focused wearables such as Fitbits. I am more interested in tools that allow us to collect physiologically meaningful data in non-intrusive ways. For example, mobile phones can be used to monitor and generate meaningful health information. On average, a person looks at her phone 150 times a day and increasingly uses the phone for many different activities. As a result, it’s possible to develop algorithms that capture behavioral data that are linked to a person’s cognitive state. One of the companies we work with uses phone-based, remote monitoring to identify recovering drug addicts at risk of relapsing. Imagine a similar algorithm being used to flag potential cognitive changes, indicating the worsening of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
EY: What are some of the challenges to developing solutions that promote healthy aging?
Collens: One key problem is that most of the currently available solutions are “point solutions” designed to solve a very particular need in the marketplace. The issue is providers and payers don’t have the capacity — or the desire — to test and then implement 40 different point solutions, especially when they are focused on different patient populations. At the moment, there is no integrating platform for the different solutions that already exist. That would be a key accelerator for the space.
Some digital health executives initially hoped electronic medical records might play this function, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Which companies will provide this integration is still an open question. Technology companies, consumer giants and certain medtech incumbents have all signaled they might play a role. As the space evolves over the next several years, it will be interesting to watch where those companies place their bets.