Gaglani’s Gadgets: Dr. Leslie Saxon and the Center for Body Computing—A New Era in Cardio Technology and Monitoring?
by Shiv Gaglani, MD
Cardiology maintains a storied relationship with medical technology. Many of our most valuable health indicators—such as pulse, auscultation, blood pressure, and electrocardiogram—were first developed by physiologists who were fascinated by the heart. In the second century A.D., Galen wrote the original treatise on the pulse; in 1816, Laennec invented the stethoscope and used it to diagnose various chest conditions; in 1847, Ludwig made the first recording of human blood pressure after building a kymograph; and in 1903, Einthoven invented the first practical ECG. These technologies have enabled us to better understand the heart, yet until now their scope and utility to personalized medicine and public health has been limited, both by access to and frequency of measurement.
Leslie Saxon, MD, has made it her mission to change this. An interventional cardiologist and chief of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Southern California, Dr. Saxon also serves as Executive Director of USC’s Center for Body Computing (CBC)—a wireless health and wellness innovation center that aims to “improve health for the world using everyday digital tools.” I first met Dr. Saxon after her talk at TEDMED 2012, and have since had the opportunity to interview her about her background and interests, and what she sees as the future for CV technology.
How did you develop your interests in medicine, technology, and the intersection of the two?
By trying to be there for my patients as I became increasingly busy (and physically unavailable) doing interventional cases, I looked for ways to connect with my patients and extend my expertise virtually, a very organic approach because I love being a doctor and helping to take care of people.
Can you provide details about how the USC Center for Body Computing, and the products being incubated within the CBC, may change the field of cardiology?
We are committed to solutions that bring patients their own data. We believe patients should be able to interact with their own information and to do so continuously. We want patients to “learn themselves” and partner with health care providers in their care. This is a radical paradigm shift in patient care and the doctor-patient relationship. Digital communication, mobility, and advances in sensor technologies are enabling this vision. The USC Center for Body Computing—working with a number of USC schools—has various cardiology products in development. We are particularly interested in mobile apps; we have one, due to be released this year, called I HEART Jellyfish that uses heart rate to play a game.
You have been actively involved with AliveCor’s iPhone ECG project. Can you discuss how this and related devices may positively change the field?
Early diagnosis means better outcomes, and has a huge impact on cost. We think tools like the AliveCor ECG allow patients to interact and understand data from their own body; this is information patients have historically not been allowed to access. We want to encourage a proactive approach to health. Perhaps more importantly, the ability to get ECG diagnostic capability in the hands of everyone provides unprecedented access to healthcare that can scale globally.
What was the motivation behind the Every Heart Beat initiative? How can this be achieved, and why should it be?
We have discovered that if you open up continuous health data to the network, people live longer. So we decided to start building the most meaningful social network in the world: the health care network. There are some big challenges in achieving our goal, and we are in stealth mode right now as we work through the various issues. But there is a lot of enthusiasm for the Every Heart Beat initiative because there is so much value in our goal. Everyheartbeat.org is the first step in allowing the global population to tell its health story, to create a global healthcare community.
What cardiology- and tech-related projects are most interesting to you?
Broadly speaking, we are living in a time in which technology has the potential to help billions of people. I am thinking a lot about how big data can play a role in scaling to help people worldwide. The issues around big data will be a major theme of our Body Computing Conference on October 5, 2012. (For more information, visit www.uscbodycomputing.org).
I spend a fair amount of my time thinking about and choosing new technology projects. The USC Center for Body Computing has been around since 2007 so we have a lot of expertise and we see a lot of technology. We concentrate on the projects that make the biggest impact for the most number of people. In terms of more specific tech project short list: I love the wearable sensor technologies I’m seeing—and that we are testing and developing at the CBC—that are focused on sports, wellness, and chronic disease. There are more and more products that help people manage different parts of the health story, but the integration of these products, to create a person’s holistic health narrative, has become one of the biggest challenges in wireless health.
Shiv Gaglani is an MD/MBA candidate at the Johns Hopkins
School of Medicine and Harvard Business School. He
writes about trends in medicine and technology and has
had his work published in Medgadget, The Atlantic, and
Emergency Physicians Monthly.
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