David Rhew, MD, was on a flight last year when a fellow passenger suddenly collapsed. Someone called out, “Is there a doctor on the plane?”
Rhew, chief medical officer and head of Healthcare and Fitness at Samsung Electronics America, had a flash of self-doubt; it had been several years since he worked as a practicing physician. But instinct and training soon took over, and he crouched down next to the passenger to detect the man’s pulse with his fingertips. Rhew felt a pulse, but realized he wasn’t sure if it was the passenger’s or his own, which was racing from the adrenaline rush.
Rhew had an idea: The smart watch he was wearing had a heart-rate monitor. He slipped the device off his own wrist and put it on the passenger’s. To Rhew’s relief, the device’s digital display lit up with a reading: 70 beats per minute. The patient soon regained consciousness, and no emergency landing was required.
It was like a scene out of a movie – or, perhaps, an advertisement – and it was also one that illustrated the potential benefits of using consumer devices to improve patient outcomes, said Rhew, who shared the anecdote during a talk hosted by the Brigham Innovation Hub, “Disruptive Digital Health Innovations,” on Jan. 19. The event, held in the Building for Transformative Medicine, was part of iHub’s monthly Speaker Series highlighting influential leaders in the health care industry.
Guest speakers’ talks are not always directly related to work happening at the Brigham – and that’s a good thing, explained Brian Mullen, PhD, Innovation Strategy manager in iHub.
“Core to innovation is exposure to new ideas, different ways of thinking and an understanding of trends, technologies and markets,” Mullen said. “Being exposed to other industries and hearing from leaders will help us stay on the cutting edge, inspire new ideas and better prepare us to improve health care.”
Being exposed to other industries and hearing from leaders will help us stay on the cutting edge, inspire new ideas and better prepare us to improve health care.”
-Brian Mullen, PhD
How Can Technology Complement Medicine?
Looking at the intersection of digital health, consumer devices and alternative care models, Rhew also highlighted a pilot program Samsung launched to improve the quality of life for older adults – particularly those who are homebound and not tech-savvy – by giving them an easy-to-use tablet with apps that encourage physical activity and social engagement. The company also partnered with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to study the use of virtual reality technologies for patients diagnosed with depression or anxiety.
By providing patients with new ways to lead a healthy lifestyle, technology may help reduce unnecessary hospital admissions or readmissions, Rhew said.
“It’s a different concept because we think of medicine as the most important thing, but it’s adherence to the overall treatment plan that has a greater impact on outcomes,” he said. “Technology is one way to do that.”
During a question-and-answer session, a large audience of BWHers and other attendees asked Rhew about implementing digital health technologies in the real world. One audience member pointed out that the raw data generated by vital-sign trackers on devices like smart watches often isn’t useful to physicians.
“Too much data is no good,” Rhew agreed. “But no data is also no good. We need to find a happy medium.”
For Mullen, who helped organize the event, the biggest takeaway from Rhew’s talk was the focus on supporting patients at home with platforms tailored for specific health needs.
“There are a lot of great tools being developed, but there is a need to figure out how to best deliver that care beyond the walls of the hospital setting,” Mullen said. “BWH can lead in the development of new models and use these tools to improve our care and reach more patients, regardless of geography.”
View a recording of the event.