SXSW 2016: The Takeaway….and the Tacos

By Rachael Schwartz, Vice President

Howdy! Heading back from the whirlwind of SXSW 2016, or as veteran attendees simply call it, “South By.” As a SXSW newbie, the energy and excitement can be a bit overwhelming, but I did my best to focus on the missions at hand:

  • Uncover the latest in digital health
  • Pinpoint the critical role(s) of communications in the advancement of healthcare

Of course there was a lot to sidetrack my intentions. The event was chock-full of great talks from once-in-a-lifetime keynotes (including President Obama and Brene Brown), fascinating installations and exhibits (IBM Cognitive Lab, 3M exhibit, Save the Inventor), and not to mention, all the yummy food.

Yet, with all that said, I spent most of my time within the Health & MedTech track. Although it’s still relatively new to the Interactive side of SXSW, the Track managed to attract thousands of attendees, including executives all across the healthcare continuum—from digital health and health tech companies to forward-thinking HCPs and leading patient advocates who embrace social/digital—as well as a few pharma companies looking for their voice in this arena. There were talks showcasing the latest in:

  • Medical apps
  • Digital health devices and medicines
  • Regulation and guidelines
  • Bioelectronics
  • Robotics
  • Chronic disease management
  • And so much more…

As you can imagine, the passion and excitement around new digital health advances was truly palpable. In fact, presentations like “The Future of Medicine: Where Can Tech Take Us?” given by Stanford and Harvard trained physician-scientist, Daniel Kraft, MD, showcased a litany of various digital health tools (from wearables to ring’ables and even hear’ables). While Dr. Kraft ran through the tools that we have come to know and accept into our vernacular (e.g., fitness trackers, e-watches, e-stethescopes and e-otoscopes), he also presented a robust rundown of the lesser known, Jetson-ish products that were either deep into development or just introduced in the marketplace. Of course, there were “Oo’s” and “ah’s,” even laughter at times around the preposterous products, but by the end of his rundown, it became clear that digital health tools are absolutely making waves by gaining major attention among consumers, and more importantly, there is definitely no turning back now.

Upon reflection on Dr. Kraft’s talk and many others through the course of the three-day conference, there seemed to be a common thread and similar spirit—super-duper excitement mixed with pain-staking void. Let me break that down. There is no doubt that healthcare technology innovation has exploded in remarkable ways, but there also seems to be a climax for most of these products when they are hit with a major buzzkill. This reality-check moment points to a clear gap between innovative hardware and the way our current evidence-based healthcare organizations are built to understand its value.

The message was loud and clear during “Imagining the Future of Personalized Medicine,” which featured top execs from Proteus Digital Health and Chrono Therapeutics that we need to go way beyond medical apps, and truly converge hardware, software, analytics, and therapies/medicine in order to deliver real impact with personalized healthcare. These speakers also pointed to the mass confusion that has been created among today’s consumers through the availability of health apps. Proteus’ Chief Product Officer, David O’Reilly, even said, “We are doing a really good job at confusing our patients. No wonder we aren’t getting the outcomes we want.” He continued, “It is time for the industry to focus on creating actionable insights.”

SXSW 2016 showed me that there has been tremendous work done to build a solid foundation for digital health, and now it is time to take it to the next level. But in order to complete the circuit (pardon the tech pun) and realize the real power of digital in our healthcare world, there is a great deal of work that needs to be done across and among all healthcare delivery stakeholders. This means not only will payers, providers, and even drugmakers need to adapt current mindsets (and ultimately structures) to accommodate new ways of looking at evidence, but technology innovators will need to demonstrate clear value and greater opportunity for integration among existing (approved) systems, products, etc.

This is truly an awesome time in healthcare and communications is at the heart of ensuring a steady heartbeat internally and externally across the industry. In order to get to this next level, we need to effectively communicate with one another to better understand the needs of each stakeholder and then ultimately build bridges to ensure alignment towards our mutual goals and objectives. Let me be clear, there is no time to pause here otherwise the moment will be realized by others. Keep moving in the right direction, build on the excitement and energy in this space, and in the end, we will achieve what we are all after in this industry—healthier and fuller lives of our customers.

Thanks for the memories and the insights SXSW!

 

Scratching the Surface: Technology’s Impact on Healthcare Communications

By Rachael Schwartz, Vice President

Healthcare meet tech, tech meet healthcare. It’s been brewing for some time, but the digital health industry has reached a major inflection point. From wearable sensors and point-of-care diagnostics, to Artificial Intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, 3D printing and more, the convergence of accelerating technologies is seriously changing medicine and the way patients interact with their healthcare.

The proof is not only in the innovation, but also in the investments. Last year alone, digital health investments topped $4 billion, plus tech giants are rolling out their very own health and life science specialty divisions (e.g., Verily, Qualcomm Life, IBM Watson Health), and of course (why we are here), pharma is trickling in with strategic partnerships (e.g., Qualcomm/Novartis, 23andMe/Pfizer). This all begs the question – is this a fad or a glimpse of more to come?

As healthcare PR professionals, it has always been our job to stay on the pulse of technology and maximize the tools that make the most sense for our clients. Yet today, our tool kit is bursting at the seams and has ushered in an entire new category, which has vast implications across the healthcare industry. So, how do we stay on top of this booming health technology, and most importantly, what do our pharma clients need to know about digital health?

It seems like every day we are seeing more media reports on the newest sensor, health app, device, etc. and often they overlap with a therapeutic area that we work within. But, does every technology that overlaps in our interest areas need to be flagged and pursued by our clients? Not necessarily. Knowing the intricacies of the brands and credos of the companies that we work with is critical to how we vet and pursue (or not pursue) new technologies. It’s also helpful to remember that digital health is not yet top of mind for all our pharma colleagues, and therefore, informing them of an interesting technology may be falling on deaf ears or at least ears that have yet to be exposed to a digital health ear device (not my best digital health humor, but a solid attempt). Bottom line, we need to know how our clients are viewing and prioritizing digital health (sometimes broadly coined “innovation” internally) in order to appropriately guide our strategic counsel. By getting this overall digital health temperature check, we can proactively audit and flag technologies and opportunities that have the potential to bring additional value to the patients our clients serve.

Naturally, our innovative positioning know-how coupled with our specialized ability to influence key stakeholders creates a solid foundation for whatever new technologies come our way. Just as we in PR evolved our business to leverage and maximize social platforms, we now look to the plethora of digital health innovations to take us to yet another level of what we are all in this for: patient care. So, bring it on, digital health!

Stay tuned for an even deeper dive into the world of digital health later this month following my trip to SxSW Interactive. The Med Health track is filled with leaders across the industry and will surely inform our overall approach to digital health at Tonic Life Communications.

When “Earned” Holds a Different Meaning

By Jessica Ross, Senior Media Specialist

As PR pros, we are aware the print news industry is struggling. Large layoffs, consolidation of smaller community papers, and dissolving of “softer” news beats increased in frequency throughout 2015. The Financial Times and The Las Vegas Review-Journal were sold to larger companies in an effort to salvage their papers, and recently instead of a corporate buy-out, we witnessed our very own Philadelphia Media Network donating The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com to a new nonprofit journalism institute owned by the Philadelphia Foundation. To the general public, a nonprofit holding ownership of a news entity may help ease the unrest regarding editorial ethics and bias that can come from a corporate buy-out, but we in the PR field can more clearly see how this may not be the case.

In a recent statement, former owner H. F. Lenfest detailed the new institute’s structure was to “provide philanthropic avenues to fund the company’s journalism,” meaning other foundations, corporations, and benefactors can give money to the institute to be used for specific reporting efforts and journalism projects, such as endowing an investigative-reporting team, supporting coverage of the city’s school system, etc.  Even though Lenfest claims that the institute has no power to influence editorial decisions, the question immediately arises of how true in practice this may be. Even in the most indirect way, cash flow can dictate the amount of staff available to each beat and therefore give an industry with more benefactor support an editorial advantage over other newspaper sections that don’t have the manpower to generate organic content.

With paid integration already on the rise in the PR industry, where a company pays to control editorial content it’s clear that the lines between earned and paid media channels are becoming increasingly blurred – a trend PR people should follow closely. By funding endowments to specific newspaper sections or projects, companies’ communications teams may be able to secure more media coverage than they would through a paid integration. It will be interesting to see how this influences Philadelphia news coverage, if other papers across the country take this approach as a financing solution, and if companies begin to use this in a strategic approach to media relations in the future.

What do you think? Should we as PR professionals capitalize on the ability to fund specific newspaper projects, or is this crossing an ethical line when it comes to earned editorial coverage?

Today’s top health stories: 23 February

The first rapid test for Ebola

Image source: NPR

Today the World Health Organization (WHO) approved a test for Ebola that can give results within 15 minutes, unlike the standard laboratory turnaround time of 12-24 hours.

Named ReEBOV and developed by U.S. firm Corgenix Medical Corp, the new Ebola test is easier to perform than pre-existing options and does not require any electricity. Although ReEBOV is not as reliable as current screening kits, it is able to accurately identify about 92 percent of infected patients and 85 percent not infected.

ReEBOV requires a drop of blood on a small paper strip and after 15 minutes a reaction in the test tube reveals the results. Critics are warning that the test can result in a dangerous false negative or positive and a follow-up standard laboratory test is recommended.

Source: Reuters

 

Eating disorders cost the UK more than £15bn a year

Image source: The Telegraph

Anorexia, bulimia and other such eating disorders are costing the country more than £15bn a year, according to a report by accountancy and professional services firm PwC.

PwC say that their calculations, which were made by adding together the financial burden on sufferers, their carers and the lost income to the economy, highlight the inadequate treatment options available to eating disorder patients in the UK and its economc impact.

If diagnosed early enough, eating disorders can be fully treated. However, according to the report almost half of eating disorder patients have to wait at least six months to receive treatment.

More funding is expected to be invested in treating eating disorders, with the government vowing to fund £150m into young people with eating disorders and stating a commitment to lower waiting times next year.

Sources: The Independent, The Telegraph

WHO call for smart injections to be used by 2020

Image source: M Health Watch

A new smart syringe, which breaks after a single use to prevent the spread of diseases, should be used for injections by 2020 according to The World Health Organization (WHO).

The smart syringes prevent the user from pulling the plunger back after an injection, meaning that it cannot be used again. Diseases like HIV and hepatitis are spread to more than two million people each year as a result of reusing syringes, meaning that the smart syringe is an easy way to combat the spread of disease. It is also impossible for healthcare professionals to accidentally prick themselves with a smart syringe.

The World Health Organization have said that smart syringes are more cost effective than traditional syringes, despite being more expensive, due to smart syringes stopping the need to treat diseases caught as a result of reused needles.

Source: BBC

Today’s top health stories: 18 February

Children of teenage fathers are more likely to inherit birth defects

Image source: TE.com

Teenage fathers have 30 percent higher rates of DNA mutation, according to a study by the University of Cambridge.

The study, which examined 2,400 parents and their children, discovered that teenage fathers carry a similar amount of DNA mutations as middle-aged fathers. Although scientists are uncertain why teenage fathers are at such high risk, the results explain why the children of young fathers are at an increased risk for disorders with a genetic link, such as autism, schizophrenia and spina bifida.

The study rejects previous assumptions that DNA mutations in germ cells increases with age, with scientists saying the new discoveries could force textbooks to be rewritten.

Source: The Telegraph

 

Drug Companies withdrawing funding from dementia research due to repeated failures

Image source: University of Bath

The World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) has reported that drug companies are investing significantly less amounts of money into dementia compared to other major diseases following a series of “repeated and costly failures”.

Despite the huge burden that dementia imposes on international economies, the WISH report is lamenting a “funding fatigue”. Experts say that as resources shrink, dementia research is becoming more conservative, with limited unconventional strategies and parallel drug discovery opportunities.

The WISH report lists solutions that different countries are carrying out to combat the small amount of drug company investment into dementia, with one solution coming from 2013 when the UK named a World Dementia Envoy and established the World Dementia Council. One of the World Dementia Council’s three stated priorities is to increase financial resources for dementia research and drug development.

Source: The Independent

 

GPs encouraged to highlight colleagues who prescribe unwarranted number of antibiotics

Image source: Telegraph

The NHS are to encourage GPs to question and inform colleagues who they believe are giving out too many antibiotics.

Calls for GPs to self-regulate antibiotic prescriptions amongst their own field come following a report suggesting that 97% of patients who ask for antibiotics receive them. The draft guidance, written by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), has been created to counter increasing concern over the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The overuse of antibiotics in the Western world has been cited as a reason for the growing resistance of antibiotics.

NICE’s draft guidance points to the fact that it is often the patient themselves who demand antibiotics rather than being a suggestion from GPs.

Source: Telegraph

Back to the future: what we learned at Tech Connected Health

Tonic recently attended a Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co Connected Health networking event, Tech Connected Health.

The event included talks from prominent figures at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, the largest and most established commercial team in the UK, on how leading NHS hospitals are embracing new technology and innovation. Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust is at the forefront of NHS tech and the event provided us with a unique opportunity to learn about new and exciting technology developments for the NHS. For those of you not fortunate enough to attend this event don’t fret, as we have gathered our insights on the most innovative tech showcased at the event.

Lego robot

Tamsin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always looking for a friend that will encourage you to be more active? For children requiring rehabilitation this may soon become a reality. Currently under development is a Lego robot designed to help children who need to undertake more physical activity in a fun way – when you move, so does the robot. Genius right!?

Cydar[1]

Ever wondered how surgeons are able to guide their way through our vessels when performing keyhole surgery? The truth is that it isn’t easy! Until now surgeons have had to rely on live X-ray images, which make the accurate positioning of devices inside the body difficult and time-consuming. Challenges in device positioning are not ideal, as device misplacement can have catastrophic consequences for the patient. Luckily for us, Cydar have detected this problem and found a novel way to fix it.

Cydar uses an image fusion system that automatically overlays pre-op 3D CT scans onto live 2D X-ray images. This ‘Satnav for surgeons’, as it has aptly been named, provides an intuitive perception of real anatomy and promises to help improve precision, avoid prolonged procedures and reduce errors in endovascular surgery. It will also reduce radiation exposure for patients and staff.

Set up in 2012 by co-founders Tom Carrell, Consultant Vascular Surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and Graeme Penney, Department of Biomedical Engineering at King’s College London, Cydar is a response to the need for better visualization of the anatomy during endovascular surgery. The company is a joint spin-off from King’s College London, Guys’ and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity

Each 3D image that Cydar creates uses technology more advanced than the biggest supercomputer from 2007. Cydar allows for massive savings on endovascular surgeries, the cost for a healthcare centre to acquire Cydar equals that of a single X-ray. To put this into perspective, the machines that surgeons currently use cost £4-5 million.

Cydar is currently being tested by vascular surgeons in five hospitals across Europe. The multi-centre clinical study is expected to be concluded by April 2015, meaning that we could soon see the launch of this amazing technology.

State of the art respiratory centre[2]

The Respiratory Unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust has developed a 20-bed weaning unit at East Surrey Hospital in partnership with REMEO Healthcare. The purpose-built centre operates as a satellite to the Lane Fox Respiratory Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London and allows NHS patients to access leading clinical expertise remotely.

The technology used in the novel public-private partnership behind the new weaning unit allows specialist care to be delivered through innovative use of technology. Why BHow will this benefit patients? Nurses will have virtual access to specialist consultants to support them in the management of patients with complex respiratory illness, moving patients out of intensive care wards and into a multi-disciplinary specialist centre will free up hospital intensive care beds for acutely ill people. As well as this, it means that patients will be able to move closer to their home – let’s face it, there is no better place to recuperate than at home surrounded by your family.

 

[1] http://www.gsttcharity.org.uk/what-we-do/our-impact/stories/satnav-surgeons

[2] http://www.surreyandsussex.nhs.uk/martha-lane-fox-opens-uks-first-lane-fox-remeo-respiratory-centre-east-surrey-hospital/

Today’s top health stories: 13 January

Fear that NHS cuts could be contributing to lower life expectancy

Image source: Huffington Post

Social care cuts and increased pressure on the NHS could be a factor in the “statistically significant” lowering of life expectancy of elderly people in the North west of England.

Blackburn with Darwen Council emailed Public Health England late last year warning that people aged over 85 in the area “are no longer living longer”. Following the alert, Public Health England have announced that they are “conducting further analysis of these trends”.

Official life expectancy figures have dropped slightly in recent years, with some areas of the North west seeing life expectancy lower in both sexes.

Source: The Independent

 

World Health Organization wants more power to tackle health emergencies

Image source: Talk Radio News

Following criticism of its slow response to the Ebola outbreak, the WHO have claimed that it could have operated more efficiently if it were given greater capabilities to react to situations quickly.

The WHO have accused countries of lacking basic surveillance, risk communication and thorough outbreak preparations. The Ebola outbreak has claimed the lives of 8371 people and infected over 20 thousand across Western Africa.

According to the WHO, a restructuring of the organisation would allow them to set up a team of rapid deployment experts, as well as better communications and logistics systems.

Sources: Reuters, Centers for Disease Control

 

Regular naps helps infants boost memory and learning

Image source: Tesco

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have found that infants who sleep during the day have a greater memory and ability to learn than those who do not.

The study, which was the first of its kind, found that infants who took a short nap within four hours of being shown an action could remember the task whilst those who did not nap were unable to do so.

The research paper was published in PNAS and shone light on an area which we previously knew “very little about”, according to the authors of the study.

Sources: PNAS, BBC News, University of Sheffield

 

Today’s top health stories: 12 January

NHS patients to be offered self-referral cancer tests

Image source: The Guardian

As part of the NHS’s target to diagnose 10% more people with cancer at its early stages than in 2014, patients are to be given the option of booking referral appointments directly with hospitals and testing units instead of first visiting a GP.

The NHS believe that a 10% increase in early stage cancer diagnosis would mean that the number of patients alive five years after diagnosis would increase by 8,000.

As well as introducing self-referral bookings to patients, other NHS initiatives under the same scheme are:

  • Tests for different types of cancers at the same time and day of original appointments
  • Fast-tracking of patients through community pharmacists when cancer symptoms are suspected and ongoing
  • GPs to send patients for cancer tests without having to first refer to a cancer specialist

Source: BBC News, The Independent

National Obesity Forum warn that treating obesity could ‘break the NHS’

Image source: Locally Healthy

In a bid to slow the increasing cost of obesity on the NHS, the National Obesity Forum has stated their desire for annual weight monitoring of every adult.

Obesity costs the NHS £45 billion per year, with the National Obesity Forum warning that the costs could ‘break the NHS’. In the last two decades obesity levels have doubled, with 67% of men now overweight or obese. This week is also National Obesity Awareness Week.

Highlighting the obesity epidemic in Europe and the Western hemisphere, last week the American Medical Association voted to classify obesity as a disease.

Sources: The Daily Mail, Prevention

WHO: e-learning for doctors and nurses as effective as traditional training

Image source: Thrivase

The World Health Organization has advised that electronic education for some healthcare professionals can be just as successful as face-to-face education. It is hoped that the WHO’s approval will go towards encouraging more people to train in healthcare, helping to plug the 7.2 million shortfall of healthcare professionals worldwide.

The study, conducted at Imperial College London, found that distance learning and electronic education enables greater access to teaching. However, barriers still exist at places where electronic media and the Internet are not regularly available.

Source: Reuters

 

Today’s top health stories: 09 January

Waiting times in England A&Es lengthening

Image source: The Telegraph

The latest waiting time figures for A&E are the worst since records began in 2010, with all of the past four weeks being the worst ever for waiting times.

Although the NHS target 95% of all patients entering A&E to be seen within four hours, last week’s figure reached only 86.7%. The recent slump has meant that more than 16,000 patients had to wait between four and 12 hours for treatment.

Healthcare workers have noted that a strain of flu not affected by the seasonal vaccine is causing an influx of extra A&E admissions. Last week at least 17 hospitals felt pressure so great that they needed to take extra measures, such as cancelling operations or turning people away.

Sources: BBC News, The Telegraph 

First ever privately-run NHS hospital “no longer viable”

Image source: The Guardian

Circle Holdings, the first company to privately run an NHS hospital, has announced that its control of Hinchingbrooke Hospital is “no longer viable under current terms”.

According to their website, Circle Holdings boasts the largest partnerships of doctors and nurses in Europe. The company has suggested that an unprecedented rise in A&E patients is part of the reason that they can no longer run the hospital. However, Circle Holding’s announcement has surprised some, as current NHS pressures have been building for some time.

The Care Quality Commission recently visited Hinchingbrooke Hospital and is expected to publish their report of the hospital in the near future.

Source: BBC News

 

UK cases of Flu at a three-year high

Image source: Virology History

Building upon current NHS pressures, UK flu levels are at a three-year high. Senior healthcare professionals are currently calling on those groups vulnerable to flu to get the seasonal flu jab. Despite the already high figures, health officials are warning that the number of flu cases is still set to rise.

Last week there were 12.1 flu consultantations out of every 100,000 GP visits. Figures also show that over 70% of over 65s have received the flu jab this year.

Source: The Telegraph

Today’s top health stories: 08 January

Pharma companies threaten legal action over NHS England’s decision to halt access to expensive drugs

Image source: The Guardian

Pharma companies have expressed their discontent at NHS England’s expected plans to remove access to a range of medicines due to their high prices.

NHS England’s Cancer Drugs Fund, which was set up to allow patients access to drugs regardless of their cost and has been used by 55,000 people, is set to be £100m over budget by the end of the financial year.

Medicines which will be no longer paid by the fund include breast cancer drugs Eisai’s Halaven (eribulin, breast cancer), Sanofi’s Zaltrap (Aflibercept, bowel cancer) and Roche’s Kadcyla (Trastuzumab emtansine, bowel cancer).

Chief executive of Myeloma UK, Eric Lowe, believes that the Cancer Drugs Fund is unsustainable and a “policy anomaly”.

Sources: Financial Times, BBC News

 

Scientists discover 25 new antibiotics in clinical study

Image source: Institute for Creation Research


Following a three-year gap since the last clinical discovery of antibiotics, a novel approach to cultivating bacteria has led to a yield of 25 new antibiotics.

These new antibiotics, described by the researchers as the “tip of the iceberg” in their published journal in Nature, could potentially revive antibiotic discovery.

Recent decades have seen microbes become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, leading to so-called ‘super bugs’ which have caused media stirs.

Source: BBC News

 

Signs that Ebola is slowing in Sierra Leone

Image source: MarketWatch

Although 248 new confirmed cases of Ebola have been reported in Sierra Leone during the past week, the spread of Ebola in the country appears to be slowing according to the World Health Organisation.

Ebola cases in Sierra Leone far outstrip those of any other country, with almost 10,000 cases and 3000 deaths. Ebola cases are still underreported throughout western Africa.

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, head of the United Nations Ebola response team, is warning against complacency in Sierra Leone against the continual threat of Ebola:  “It is only at this moment of optimism and relative success that sometimes we are worried of a sense of complacency”.

Sources: Reuters, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention