Digital Health

At the intersection of health, technology and health care are the devices and instruments that capture physiological data. Digital health is an approach focused on using such technology to monitor and provide relevant health-related data about individuals. These technologies include a rapidly expanding array of consumer products and wearables, as well as complex clinical care platforms in academic medical centers. These new devices need to be tested and validated, which also falls into the digital health rubric.

Digital health is an aspect of precision medicine in which patients and healthy people can participate, in partnership with clinicians and researchers. For patients, this might mean collecting data with an FDA-approved mobile device or app, such as a continuous glucose monitor or a mobile heart monitor app. Such data provide a practitioner immediate information about a patient, and when collected from large numbers of people, can reveal patterns and trends that are clinically useful. Data collection by patients gives them “ownership” of the process; they become more motivated to track and adjust their behavior to prevent disease, to recognize changes and to follow care plans developed in consultation with their providers.

The collection of accurate digitized information that can be integrated with other data is an essential aspect of precision medicine. For example, UCSF behavioral researcher Aric Prather studies the impact of sleep on health. While there is an abundance of mobile apps that provide data about sleep, most have not been validated and don’t provide sufficient accuracy and reliability.

UCSF’s Center for Digital Health Innovation seeks to help researchers like Prather, as well as patients and clinicians, by assisting the development of new technologies that meet rigorous clinical standards and, through collaborations with partners such as Samsung, validating technologies that are in development. Such devices will be invaluable to behavioral and clinical discovery, allowing patients and healthy study participants to record and contribute data that can be incorporated into population studies, clinical trials and other research.

In that effort, CDHI connects entrepreneurial faculty with startups and industry that can help bring their ideas to other hospitals, universities or consumers. In this way, CDHI magnifies the impact of a single researcher’s or clinician’s idea, and expands the knowledge network. Patients get care targeted to their individual characteristics, and healthy people gain insight into how to maintain health.

In the tech-rich Bay Area, there’s no shortage of innovative companies with expertise in capturing data and interest in contributing to health care. The majority of these businesses lack the clinical expertise to know which data to focus on and how to analyze and visualize them in the most useful way. CDHI also partners with many of these startups and pairs them with faculty who can lend their knowledge to make these new technologies as useful as possible.

Such collaborations are the cornerstone of CDHI’s work. Their partnerships with commercial entities and not-for-profit accelerators create an ecosystem of organizations that can quickly develop, validate and evaluate promising new technologies.

To ensure that these collaborations are successful, the CDHI has formal integration with UCSF’s Office of Innovation, Technology & Alliances (ITA). The ITA team helps create agreements that clarify intellectual property interests and create mutually beneficial business agreements with industry and academic partners

Driving Projects

In partnership with Samsung, the innovation lab employs rigorous clinical testing to validate novel digital health technologies against medical gold standards.

Led by a comprehensive team of experts, this study uses mobile and other technologies to collect real-time data on heart patients, transforming the knowledge gained through the famed Framingham Study to provide a daily portrait of heart health. The data are used to help patients and their providers better understand each individual’s progression, and will create a pool of data that helps researchers get a better picture of heart disease overall.

UCSF and Cisco collaborated to develop a platform to enable health systems, providers and app vendors to share and integrate health data from multiple sources, making pertinent patient information securely accessible when and where it’s needed. In the digital age, health interoperability – defined as the ability of different devices, IT systems and software to communicate, exchange and use shared data plays an increasingly important role in providing timely, accurate care based on access to real-time patient health data and records.

Tidepool is a non-profit organization that has developed a set of care-management apps for people with Type 1 diabetes in collaboration with UCSF diabetes specialists. The medical expertise was vital to making Tidepool accurate, reliable and clinically meaningful.