Big news hit earlier this summer when Medtronic announced teaming up with consumer electronics giant Samsung, to create some future data-sharing possibilities for people with diabetes.
For starters, imagine the current generation Samsung Gear S smartwatch with a bigger, easy-to-see screen showing diabetes data from your Medtronic insulin pump or continuous glucose monitor. Samsung envisions one day integrating with smart TVs, tablets, or other household electronics that could both display our diabetes data and even offer encouragement, tips, or lifestyle coaching.
Whoa... Talking microwaves or refrigerators showing blood sugar data and offering feedback, anyone?!
OK, maybe that's a bit much. But it is exciting to think about what's ahead and imagine the possibilities.
Samsung executives attended the American Diabetes Association's Scientific Sessions in Boston in early June this year, when the Medtronic partnership made headlines. Now that the dust has settled, we were able to connect with two of those execs -- Dr. David Rhew, Samsung's fairly new Chief Medical Officer, and Kevin Jones, Senior Director of Strategy & Business Development.
Here is our Q&A with both Rhew and Jones -- it's looong, but we think they offer some great insight into Samsung's move into diabetes and healthcare, and what we can expect to see in the coming years, including how they're embracing the concept of interoperability and open-source data sharing (!)
DM) First for you, Dr. Rhew: It’s interesting that a leading consumer electronics company would even have a Chief Medical Officer… is that going to become the norm?
Rhew) In order to make (their mHealth offerings) meaningful for healthcare providers, payers, and other key stakeholders, Samsung realized they would need perspective that marries consumer electronics with the enterprise healthcare sector. That’s an area I was fortunate to be a part of, and so now that’s my responsibility – to bridge the gap between consumer electronics and technology that can be extremely engaging, but at same time tie that into clinical use for better patient engagement and outcomes.
Having greater exposure to this industry, I’d say this is becoming an emerging opportunity for healthcare professionals to get better patient engagement. I’ve spoken to a number of physicians who are branching out to lead or become part of teams that relate to the digital health experience. SalesForce.com has a Chief Medical Officer, Target now does… although they do a lot in pharmacy, so maybe that isn’t too surprising. But there is definitely a very strong interest from companies to not only apply great technologies for consumer world, but to understand how that can be applied to how we impact health professionals, payors and medical device makers. I think we’re starting to see this as an increasing and important trend, because it allows us to bridge that gap.
Let's back up for a minute: How did you actually get started in the health technology industry?
Rhew) I am a physician and did my training at UCLA and Cedars-Sinai here on the West Coast, and I spent a lot of my time thinking about how to improve quality of care and medical outcomes.
My early focus was on what is known as clinical decision support – applying the right information at the right time, through an automated mechanism, to affect clinician behavior to improve outcomes. But one of the things I came to appreciate was the fact that so much of what happens after a patient leaves a doctor’s office or hospital is out of the physician’s control. It’s really up to the patient or consumer to be able to take control of their disease and do the things that need to be done to manage their lifestyle.
Ultimately, having the right tools to help greatly enhances their ability to do that and also improve outcomes. At the same time, many of the technologies developed to date aren’t good enough; they simply give the clinicians mechanisms to document and gather information, but nothing geared toward the consumer. Over the past several years, I’ve looked at a variety of areas where I could help patient-consumers be better engaged.
That led you to Samsung?
Rhew) Yes, I joined Samsung a little more than two years ago when it was a business unit known as Samsung Data Solutions, or SDS. In April, I transitioned over to Samsung Electronics America.
It's an incredible opportunity working with this company, which has an array of consumer electronics that people touch every single day as part of their lifestyle. So you’re not introducing new technology to these folks; they are already using it and are comfortable with the user interface.
There's an ability to potentially capture data related to one’s health... through a variety of sensors built into phones, wearables, and potentially someday even televisions and household appliances. We can then communicate that data either digitally or through video to healthcare providers and other people who care about those consumers.
Now mHealth and digital health are really starting to explode, so Samsung made a bet -- we’re making a bet -- that healthcare is going to be a big part of what we intend to do in the future.
What does your daily job routine look like?
Rhew) What I love about my job is that it’s never just the same thing day after day. It really is trying to take existing opportunities and develop them to a point where we’ve got some solutions that are proven and commercializable, to get wider use for people benefiting from them. That’s a large part of what I do, working with hospitals, healthcare facilities, payors, medical device companies – to take the Samsung technologies and marry them with existing solutions or apps, and deploy them into real-world settings.
There’s the R&D group where I work closely with the sensor team on developing new applications. And the side where I spend my time thinking about... how we can build out the next device or wearable, how that next generation could have relevance to what we’re doing on the enterprise side in healthcare. That’s where I work closely with our headquarters in Korea, to better understand what they’re thinking about and to provide input on how this could be relevant for our R&D or enterprise side.
Can you tell us about Samsung's focus on diabetes specifically?
Rhew) Diabetes is a very important initiative for us at Samsung. It’s a condition that is very lifestyle-driven. When you think about the things we could do to improve technologies that people engage with on a daily basis, that’s an area we think we can provide some direct influence.
We've been talking to and working with people who spend a lot of time thinking about diabetes – everyone from practitioners to companies, app developers, software providers, and hardware manufacturers. We now have a very tight alignment with Medtronic's diabetes division. We are also working with other companies, and you’ll see soon press announcements about more that will give greater insight into what we’re doing with other companies that create software applications, that can offer an ideal app or interface for patients with diabetes.
Similarly, we have pilots that are about to be launched and you’ll be hearing more news about those soon. At a high level, there are many different things in multiple areas.
That's a bit mysterious... Mr. Jones, what exactly has Samsung been doing on the diabetes front so far?
Jones) It’s the blending of consumer electronics and medical technology, for the benefit of the patient. With Medtronic, we’re allowing insulin pump and CGM data to be displayed on consumer electronics. So instead of having to pull out a pump or device while sitting at a restaurant, users can simply glance at their watch or phone to more discreetly monitor blood sugar.
Particularly for adolescents, they want to not look like they have a medical issue especially in front of their friends, so they tend to eat first, and then later might check their monitor or pump. We can help with little things like that. These are small steps, but they make up a huge difference in the quality of life.
Beyond that... the big thrust is to work with industry players like Medtronic to make their devices more consumer-friendly and be able to render that information in an easy and unobtrusive way.
And with your FDA-cleared S Health Fitness Tracking app, there's the possibility of eventually syncing with glucose meters and other diabetes devices, too?
Jones) Yes, we have the S Health app that currently runs on Samsung Android devices and also on wearables such as the Gear S smartwatch, which is based on an open-source version of Linux called Tizen that’s optimized for smaller footprint and memory devices.
You can envision S Health in the context of the hundreds of apps and devices out there from third parties, which can be complex and challenging for patients and providers to manage. What S Health does is allow for a simple aggregation point to take all that data in, and distill into a very easy-to-use, easy-to-understand, actionable format.
We’ve done a lot of exciting things with S Health in the coaching domain, including the Coach By Cigna that is essentially a lifestyle coach that we created in partnership with (health insurer) Cigna to use data from S Health and make recommendations to patients on lifestyle, fitness and wellness. It encourages them to take steps to improve their health.
That must be an interesting new challenge for Samsung, now working with the FDA on medical device regulation...?
Rhew) We certainly have ongoing discussions with the FDA, and our partners who do engage with the FDA regularly. We see this as a spectrum of opportunities for us. On one end, with our consumer applications and S Health today, we definitely want to understand where the lines are for FDA certification and create devices that are consumer-friendly and don’t necessarily require the full level of FDA regulatory oversight.
At the same time, as we start moving toward devices that integrate information from those FDA-regulated devices, we also have to recognize that there might be certain rules and boundaries we need to respect. Displaying health data on a wearable may not require that level of FDA regulation, but something that allows for medical management – maybe talking to an insulin pump – may potentially move into that area of FDA oversight. So, we’re trying to understand how the FDA views this, what requires that certification, and build apps that will be best for business based on those parameters. We know it’s an evolving area so we're in continued discussions with folks at FDA to stay on top of it and also give them insights into what we’re thinking about.
Jones) It’s also important to mention that outside of America, where Samsung is also mostly known for consumer electronics, we have the Samsung Medical Center in Korea that’s one of the largest hospitals in Asia and sees upwards of 8,000 patients per day and has 1,000 physicians!
So that culture and heritage is a part of what we do, and we learn and share a lot of information with them. It’s interesting and shows the full circle of relationships with companies like Medtronic, as we’re one of the biggest customers of Medtronic in Korea for their medical devices and tech used in our hospital there. Now they’re using our electronics and wearables to improve their own medical technology and offerings. It shows that Samsung is deeper into the healthcare space than many in North America may be aware. And it’s also a very different regulatory environment, so it gives good perspective.
How did your partnership with Medtronic Diabetes come together?
Jones) We had a number of different touchpoints, as we're both multi-billion dollar companies and as mentioned, we're a big customer of theirs overseas in Asia. Our conversations came together with meetings with high-level executives in Minneapolis (where Medtronic is located). One discussion led to another, and we started working with different business groups within Medtronic.
Of course, diabetes is the one that has the most synergy and potential benefit for patients, especially those who have pumps and CGMs today. So in conversations with them, we saw an immediate opportunity in the area of rendering data on wearables and consumer devices. Especially as we get into new devices and wearable form factors that can make it easier for the patient, it’s going to be very exciting.
Rhew) They are very successful at creating medical devices and applications, and at Samsung our strength is in the consumer experience and use of technology that people use everyday, starting with the phone and moving into wearables, TVs, and tablets. The folks at Medtronic recognize that in order for their devices to be more widely used and successful in terms of engagement, you’ve got to have that vehicle for the end-user consumer, to want and be able to access this data everyday continuously. That’s where the synergy and vision for how these two companies really came together.
When will we start seeing some of this new data-sharing technology available to users?
Jones) Relative to our announcement with Medtronic, they have Minimed Connect coming out later this year on iOS and followed by the Android implementation that we’re working on together. Other Medtronic releases would likely fall into 2016 (that’s not something we can publicly disclose at this time).
We’re really doing a lot in the intelligence side of it... on the data coming from the devices and how we can make it more simple, easy-to-use and actionable.
Rhew) There are also a variety of other partnerships and pilot studies that you’ll start seeing closer to the end of the year, in the third and fourth quarters.
There are so many relevant devices, from Bluetooth-enabled glucometers to CGM and non-invasive technologies under development... so we work with companies like Glooko, Welldoc, etc., to bring that data together into common platforms. We’re looking at all those, and we’d love to be able to make sure that every innovation out there is are readily accessible for consumers who have diabetes. We are keeping our finger on the pulse, but much of it’s not fully baked and realized yet.
We saw the cool Samsung smartwatch with Medtronic data on it during our D-Data ExChange event at the ADA conference in June…
Jones) That’s our Samsung Gear S watch, our flagship wearable that’s been on the market for about a year and it’s quite different from other wearables and smartwatches because it has WiFi and Bluetooth, 3G/4G connectivity, and AT&T sells it, for example. Athletes and people on the go love it. That’s our normal Gear S wearable, and it just so happens that it’s the one Medtronic had shown at ADA in Boston with a rendering of the CGM display on it.
Will this use Android or iOS platforms, or something different?
Jones) We have used Android in some of our past generation devices. But the current generation of wearables is optimized for battery longevity and that’s what we have moved toward in design.
Wearables are a smaller piece of real estate to work with, and you have smaller size and memory and much lower power-use, and a very high requirement for longer battery life.
So as mentioned, we used the open source version of Linux called Tizen, which is optimized for small footprint devices like wearables. The exciting thing about Tizen is that, although Samsung’s one of the major users of it, it is an open-source project managed by the Linux Foundation and is one of their engineering projects with Intel and others involved and contribute to it. Much like the development of other open-source projects, it’s based on meritocracy and people contribute, download the source code to optimize and modify it. We use it on our smart TVs, and some of our lower handset devices that don’t require all the bells and whistles of what Android provides. It allows us flexibility in what we can pull into devices and bring into platforms. It’s a building block approach, and for wearables you don’t need a robust processor, so you just take the modules of the operating system you want and take pieces of that – like 3D graphics that might be important on a laptop, but not a small device on your wrist.
That’s great! We love how committed you seem to be to interoperability and open-source data sharing...
Rhew) We definitely believe that it’s important for different devices to be interoperable, and the data-sharing is absolutely critical. We are actively looking into these areas. We’ve launched research platforms that are experimenting on this – SAMMY information source, for example.
Our S-Health app is another example, as it's a commercial platform where we’re working with all the different varieties of partners we have mentioned, to bring them into a common platform for sharing. There are multiple layers of complexity, so we’re trying to get our minds around this and create something that can be easy to use, plug and play.
Sounds like you’d have good conversations with the non-profit Tidepool, that's developing an open source platform for diabetes device data…
Rhew) We are very excited about the opportunity, but at the same time while we think diabetes is extraordinarily important for us to focus on, we also look at other disease conditions like cardiovascular, behavioral health, and fitness…
So we want to create something that’s not too disease-specific from the outset, but allows us to expand into multiple different areas. As long as the platform is capable of covering multiple disease states and device types, that’s the type of stuff we’re looking at. And we're excited about leveraging the functionality in our Samsung devices to make sure that (our solutions) can capture all the information seamlessly and bring it into a platform that's useful and actionable for patients.
Thanks, both! We are certainly looking forward to seeing Samsung's visions realized in the area of diabetes device data-sharing and wearable tech.