This year I was lucky enough to attend, albeit digitally, the 15th Annual USC Body Computing Conference. Traditionally held in California where the institute is located, the conference entered its second year as a purely virtual experience due to the impact of COVID-19.

This isn’t the first time this forward-thinking conference has been attended by a HRW employee, as last year my colleague Katy Irving attended the 14th Annual Conference and wrote a fantastic summary blog which you can find here.

Before I dive into the detail, the USC Centre for Body Computing is a digital health research and innovation centre that focuses on creating technology-driven healthcare solutions for a modern age. It tests and develops technology with the ultimate goal of making technology more personal, affordable and accessible.

So, armed with some brief background reading into the conference and centre, a cup of coffee and an open word document for notes, I joined over 900 attendees from nearly 120 cities and 6 continents in listening to the opening talk by internationally recognised visionary, and USC Centre for Body Computing founder, Leslie Saxon.

As the conference continued, I was treated to talks from a variety of esteemed guest speakers on topics ranging from brain health to digital health and cybersecurity. With an overall theme of “Reimaging the Human Potential”, just like my colleague Katy, I identified three key themes that stood out as most relevant to our industry:


  • Digital health and the growth of real time health updates: Framed in the context of NFL football players and US soldiers, a real emphasis of this years conference was focussed real time health monitoring via wearable tech and how it can help identify and prevent more serious injuries down the line. Two key examples stood out to me, the first by Dr. Allen Sills, chief medical officer of the NFL. Concussion is a hot topic in many sports these days, and American football is no exception. Dr. Allen Sills first spoke about the use of mouth card sensors worn by NFL players during the game which can help identify the number of hits taken, when they were taken and by being linked to a camera, where exactly they were taken. He spoke of the movement from just looking at the big hits, to looking at all the hits and how understanding the impact of these smaller events can help understand and prevent the bigger events. Dr. Allen Sills topic was further supported by Dr. Wesley Ghasem who spoke on the increased use of bio-sensors in American footballers to help quantify workload and predict potential injuries before they occur. The second that stood out was a talk by Col. Clarke Lethin focussing on how wearable tech for a solider can monitor not just what’s going on, on the surface, but also things that aren’t surface level. In the military world its hard to admit vulnerability. Having something that can help identify issues without relying on human testimony, can not only help identify potential issues and help maintain a solders health but also have a lasting impact on the culture. Col. Lethin spoke about wearable tech and real time monitoring making it more acceptable to admit something is wrong, as they will have quantifiable data. An impact many hope wearable tech can influence in the wider healthcare sector.


  • If you’d like to see how HRW has explored wearable tech, we ran a webinar exploring wearable tech for our 1st Annual Innovation day in 2020. Ran by HRW Director Esme Barrow-Williams you can find it here


  • The collision of consumer healthcare with regulated digital healthcare: Heavily linked with wearable tech, another key theme of the conference was the increasing role of consumer health data applications, and marrying it with the regulated healthcare world. Consumer healthcare is growing, from apple watches to the app MyFitnessPal, tracking and monitoring health via these consumer digital applications is trending towards the new norm. What’s important however, is being able to use and leverage this data in life sciences. But as Dr. John Whang, VP of Medical Affairs at BMS spoke about in his talk, was this trouble of merging the unregulated consumer world with the heavily regulated life sciences world. A great example that showed how these two sides can work together was in a case study shown by Nightware company CEO Grady Hannah. Nightware was initially a consumer health app, running on an apple watch, that treats nightmare disorders associated with PTSD. Not only did this provide immediate treatment at the point needed but also provided constant monitoring and real time health updates. It was bought to the FDA and received accelerated approval by the body. This not only allowed HCPs access this patient data and involve it in treatment, but also made more aware of this application and the role it can play in treatment. This acknowledgment by the FDA of the usefulness of a consumer health application paints a positive future for the integration of digital consumer healthcare with more traditional healthcare treatments.


  • Continuing and increasing role of Big Data: The increased role of digital health and the growing involvement of digital consumer healthcare only means one thing, more data! However, as pointed out by Isaiah Kacyvenski, co-founder of Will Ventures, we shouldn’t just be collecting data for datas sake. The collecting of health data needs to serve a purpose. Currently we face a problem where the data being collected is not collated or being used by the correct bodies e.g., HCPs. My previous theme spoke about how medical approval bodies are trying to get up to speed with consumer health but this isn’t the only thing that’s changing in this progressively digitalised world. In a talk by Prof. Todd Richmond, Director at the Pardee RAND Tecn + Narrative Lab, the days of just scooping up data and figuring out what to do with it later is over. We are in a world where we now have to think about data usage early and often, building these thoughts into how we make and use products. This includes thoughts about “how will this data get be used by medical professionals?” And “how will this data get into the hands of medical professional?”. In a world of growing digitalisation and consumer healthcare, the collection and use of big data is only going to continue however the challenge now faced, as broached by Prof. Todd Richmond, is what do we do with it now?


  • If you’d like to learn more about how big data can be used in a healthcare market research context, we recently ran a self-funded study focussed on passive media tracking. You can hear all about it in a webinar held at our 2nd annual innovation day which you can find here. We also had a further webinar by my colleague Abi Graham on the use of data collected via social media tracking and google trends, which you can find here.


(if you wish to watch he webinars included in the links below, please email info@hrwhealthcare.com as each session is password protected).

All in all, I had a thoroughly enjoyable time listening to some fantastic talks by a slew of fascinating people. It provided a number of interesting and diverse topics that laid out the future path of digital healthcare.


By Greg Hyatt

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