Columbia UMC physician: Apple, Google can save millions of lives

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The Apple Watch, Fitbit and Google's new Fit app are among leading tech companies that have the potential to create significant clinical benefits, writes Jeffrey Wessler, MD, cardiology fellow at New York City-based Columbia University Medical Center and founder of the preventive cardiology company Heartbeat Health, in an op-ed for CNBC.

To do so, though, these companies must start small, he argues.

Dr. Wessler equates the companies' current position to the first randomized trial of aspirin as a heart attack preventive. In the early 1970s in the U.K., about 1,239 men took the pill after have a heart attack for the first trial. Today, more than 40 million Americans take aspirin each day, and the number of heart attacks have been slashed by nearly 20 percent.

"Imagine if Apple and Google followed a similar pathway: choose a high-risk population to test their devices, run a randomized controlled clinical trial, and provide a clear pathway to link the neediest patients to the right care. The outcomes could be spectacular — and if they aren't, we will know very quickly to move to the next idea," Dr. Wessler writes.

Here are three ways Dr. Wessler suggests consumer health devicemakers could make their mark on healthcare:  

1. Give the devices to people who will benefit most. He recommends these companies start by targeting a patient population at high risk for a specific condition, such as heart disease. "While these are commercial companies who obviously want to turn a profit, they could work with insurance companies to offer subsidies for targeted patients as long as there's a clear clinical benefit," Dr. Wessler writes.  

2. Compare outcomes of people using the device to those not using it. Through a clinical trial, the companies could gather data that they could use to demonstrate improved outcomes.

3. Link the device to the physician. To make an impact on patient health, devices that identify when care is needed, such as abnormal changes in heart rate or low oxygen levels, should connect to physicians, who could use the information to diagnose problems earlier or suggest appropriate treatments.

To read Dr. Wessler's complete op-ed, click here.

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