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Transformative gathering illuminates the future of health


Photo by: Biodesign Institute

October 13, 2015

Improving health and renovating America’s troubled system of care are urgent issues at the top of the national agenda.

Arizona State University — an institution recently named most innovative school in the country — and Mayo Clinic, a hospital system frequently ranked No. 1 by U.S. News and World Report, are using their comprehensive strategic partnership to examine the health-care landscape in new ways.

From Sept. 30-Oct. 2, a diverse collective of physicians, researchers, health-policy gurus, artists, students, CEOs, thought leaders and academics converged on Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minnesota, for TRANSFORM 2015, a unique summit hosted by Mayo’s Center for Innovation (CFI).

More than 800 participants from 15 countries attended the gathering, built around the idea that “People power health” (through human-centered design, innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration and bold ideas). The conference represents an ambitious effort to begin reimagining and reformulating our approach to health and health care.

Among the attendees were members of ASU’s Center for Sustainable Health (CSH) representing the Mayo-ASU partnership in the sponsor forum. Project HoneyBee is a digital health initiative led by Dr. Lee Hartwell, CSH’s chief scientist and Nobel laureate. Launched in 2014, the program administers observational clinical trials that test the utility of commercially available wearable devices within clinical and remote-monitoring settings. The Mayo Clinic is a key clinical partner with more than nine observational trials in the program.

“For us,” Hartwell said, “Validation [of wearable biosensor devices] is really about showing that the information you obtain is useful from a clinical perspective — not just ensuring its accuracy.”

Michael Birt, the Center for Sustainable Health's director, explained in his conference podcast that like honeybees, Project HoneyBee’s work is “most adept at separating signal from noise.”  

The initiative is part of a quiet revolution in health care. Technologies for monitoring human health are migrating from traditional hospital settings to the consumer arena in the form of a broad array of continuously monitoring devices.

Conventional hospital exams such as blood tests, while providing a wealth of essential health information, are episodic, pinpointing disease states only when they have reached a symptomatic stage. Wearable technologies — soon to be ubiquitous — offer the promise of continuous health monitoring, identifying pre-symptomatic biomarkers and enabling early detection, rapid treatment and better prognoses at significantly lower cost.

The power of new wearable health technologies to transform health monitoring and outcomes was further underlined by E. J. Milas, RN, BSN, who is a Doctor of Nursing Practice student in the Family Nurse Practitioner track at Arizona State University and a HoneyBee participant at TRANSFORM 2015.

A practicing nurse for 18 years, Milas is a graduate research fellow in one of Project HoneyBee’s observational clinical trials with the Mayo Clinic.

“One of the biggest challenges is deploying the devices without disrupting hospital operations and workflow,” Milas said. “There are a lot of things to consider here, but we’re approaching each obstacle as another challenge to solve. Because we are validating the use-value of certain devices for activity in diabetes patients, the team at Mayo Clinic will also be using the research done in a secondary trial in a medically sponsored weight-loss program.”

These and other undertakings — highlighted during three exciting days at TRANSFORM 2015 — represent a sea of change in the way health will be tracked, evaluated and modified in our society in the decades to come. Lively chatter throughout the conference on social media and the CFI blog informed the wider world of the content of platform presentations as well as diverse informal discussions.

The bold new ideas and abundant enthusiasm on display at the conference underlined the fact that the transformation of health has begun, with paradigm-shifting advances in diagnosis and treatment of disease fast approaching.

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