Keck Medicine of USC is working with Caltech, the University of Arizona, and Baylor College of Medicine to bring wearable fitness device data into the clinical space.

Health monitoring devices such as Fitbit and Apple Watch have become common in recent years, and many of them gather key health metrics such as heart rate and sleep patterns. The drawback is that these devices have not been tested at a clinical level, which means the data isn’t reliable enough for clinical use.

The new multi-institution collaboration will develop convenient wearable devices that collect information with a clinical level of rigor. Such devices would allow clinicians to monitor patients remotely and give “care in place,” essentially health check-ins and advice without the patient having to travel to a medical office.

They have founded the Center to Stream Healthcare in Place (C2SHIP), which was first selected as a National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center in 2018 and received $15,000 in startup funding. C2SHIP recently received a continuing NSF grant of $3 million.

Keck Medicine’s Department of Surgery has already had success with telemedicine and remote monitoring. A pilot study with the lung transplant program at the USC Transplant Institute determined that having patients do a daily check-in questionnaire on a tablet device at home allowed care teams to spot potential problems early on and take action quickly. Participants in the study also reported high satisfaction levels with their care.

David G. Armstrong, DPM, PhD, a professor of surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and a director of the team’s Keck Medicine site, has already had a career’s worth of experience in helping merge consumer electronics with medical devices. Current projects have ranged from “smart socks” designed to monitor activity, temperature and balance, to next-generation smart textiles in boots designed to speed wound healing and limb preservation in diabetes to tunable “exotendons” that help to improve performance and movement for those with impaired mobility.

“Our big goal with this program is to leverage common sense and technology to maximize hospital-free and activity-rich days for our patients,” Armstrong noted. “The collaboration among industry and academia is nothing short of inspiring.”


Putting their heads together

Fostering a range of connections is one key to further developing technology that is useful to clinicians while being appealing to patients. Each of the core partners has forged relationships with companies ranging from startups to tech giants, hoping to build bridges between academia and industry. They also intend to invite more university partners and recruit students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. As they design technology specifically to serve diverse populations, a wide range of contributing voices will be key to success.

“The proposal brings together quite a lot of potential research and industry firepower to focus on an area that couldn’t be more primed for innovation,” Armstrong said. “We really have the potential to develop some of the basic foundations about how we merge consumer electronics and medical devices moving forward.”