Our healthcare system is, in many ways, designed to deal with acute medical issues.
So when a patient facing an exacerbation of a chronic condition – acute volume overload in heart failure or DKA in diabetes – shows up at the hospital, we are well equipped to get that extra fluid off or fix the blood glucose.
We are, however, far less adept at understanding why the exacerbation occurred in the first place and even starting interventions that will keep it from happening again.
So what does this have to do with Ford? Well, one crux off mHealth is making care delivery to patients a continuous rather than episodic endeavor, reaching people in their homes, workplaces, and wherever else they spend time. As Gary Strumolo, Global Manager for Health & Wellness Research, pointed out to us, people spend an incredible amount of time in their cars and Ford is pioneering efforts to bring our cars into the mHealth fold.
Perhaps one of the most interesting insights that Mr. Strumolo shared with us is how Ford got involved in healthcare in the first place. Several years ago, a member of the Ford family, who’s child had diabetes, developed an interest in the continuous blood glucose monitor being developed by Medtronic at the time. At the same time, Ford was at the beginnings of bringing mobile connectivity to its vehicles. From those fortuitously timed developments, the opportunities for Ford in healthcare became apparent.
Ford has thus far partnered with three healthcare groups – Medtronic, Welldoc, and SDI Health. As Mr. Strumolo made clear to us though, Ford is not, nor does it intend to be a healthcare company,
“Ford’s approach to health and wellness in the vehicle is not about trying to take on the role of a healthcare or medical provider, we’re a car company. Our goal is not to interpret the data offered by the experts, but to work with them to develop intelligent ways for Ford vehicles using the power of SYNC. In essence, creating a secondary alert system and alternate outlet for real-time patient coaching services if you will.”
When we asked about his thoughts on pending regulation from the FDA, Mr. Strumolo made it clear that it was not Ford’s intention to have their vehicles become medical devices. Specifically, interpretation of data, alarms, and other similar functions will remain on smartphones and other patient devices. So the alarm for the low blood sugar from the Medtronic continuous blood glucose monitor will still be generated by the device, which will still have an alternative outlet for generating an alarm.
However, the vehicle will now also be able to alert the driver and act as a portal through which the driver can interact with the device. Similar applications for cardiac, pulmonary, neurologic, or really any other sort of monitoring device aren’t difficult to imagine.
According to Mr. Strumolo, Ford intends to keep SYNC device agnostic and thus allow anyone with a useful device to integrate with SYNC. They plan on adopting an Apple-style approach however of carefully screening any proposed device, ensuring that it not only works with SYNC but generates a user experience consistent with their overall vision for the system. As Mr. Strumolo put it, the goal of a driver is to drive from point A to point B, and its important to make sure a SYNC-enabled device doesn’t get in the way.
It does seem that Ford intends to walk a very fine line to avoid making the car a medical device, much like many other manufacturers of consumer products. Functioning as another portal though by which a person can manage their health still has extraordinary value in making chronic disease management a continuous, rather than episodic, endeavor.
Its not hard to imagine someday a heart failure patient’s TV generating a pop-up alert that their weight has been trending up or even a hypertension patient’s refrigerator reminding them how much salt they have had that day. The future looks bright.