San Francisco, CA – Wearables have been all the rage over the past few years. It seems like every dieter has a Fitbit. Companies like Athena are giving Apple watches out for free to their employees and subsidizing them for plan members. We’ve had smart hatssmart rings and smart shirts.

Most of these products help track sleep and fitness activity. They’ve been touted as ‘healthcare disruptors’. Yes, these devices can track metrics related to overall well-being… but can doctors actually use the data most wearables report out?

Startup Siren Care is taking a different approach. They have designed a temperature monitoring smart sock with one mission: help diabetic patients save their feet. In the video below, Dr. Alexander M. Reyzelman explains the risks associated with diabetic foot ulcers:

Foot ulcers caused by diabetic neuropathy are a big problem. Due to foot swelling, lack of vigorous blood supply and glycosylation of cells diabetic patients have a greatly reduced ability to fight infections. Many diabetic patients lose sensation in their feet, making it a challenge to ensure feet are clean and any signs of infection are quickly addressed.

Over 1.5 million Americans living with diabetes develop foot ulcers every year. 25% of ulcers don’t heal. There are 100,000 amputations per year due to these ulcers, many of which could have been prevented if the wounds were treated earlier.

The Siren Care socks use temperature monitoring technology to detect signs of inflammation, an important indicator of infection. The socks pair with a smartphone app that helps patients monitor their foot health and take proactive steps to prevent foot ulcers. The socks come in packs of seven and can be used for a period of up to 6 months. They don’t require charging, are machine washable and have an integrated battery for use during the whole 6-month lifecycle. Siren will offer a subscription service so users can get a new supply every 6 months.

Why This Matters:

Siren Care isn’t the only wearable going beyond basic health metrics to help with early prediction/diagnosis of health problems:

  • Smart Bra Detects Cancer: iTBRA is a smart bra that can detect early signs of breast cancer using heart monitoring and neural network technology. So far it’s been tested on 500 patients and proved to be 87% accurate (slightly higher than mammograms at 83%).
  • Smart Sole Prevents Ulcers: Orpyx uses smart soles instead of socks to help diabetic patients track foot health and prevent ulcers.

The proliferation of wearables and medical apps has doctors puzzled at which are actually effective. Founder of iMedicalApps, an independent online medical publication edited by physicians interested in medical technology, Dr. Iltifat Husain has some advice for startups like Siren Care:

“My recommendation to Siren Care would be to partner with academic medical centers and see if they can enroll patients in a clinical trial to see if their socks can help improve diabetic management care — if they are able to get objective data to show their product works, there is no reason why it couldn’t become a standard of care.” – Dr. Husain

Dr. Husain has leveraged his enthusiasm for reviewing medical technology into building iPrescibeApps, a tool for doctors to prescribe health apps and devices to patients. This helps fill a need for doctors to have information about the most useful health apps at their fingertips to prescribe to patients.

Fear of Technology and Change

The medical industry is notoriously slow at adopting new technology. For example, although most medical students think apps help enhance their clinical knowledge, a recent study found that more than half of medical students thought they look less competent when using apps in front of patients and colleagues.

The study claimed that less experienced or less specialized medical professionals are less confident about using apps and mobile phones in front of their patients and more concerned about being questioned on their knowledge and credibility. Fear of credibility loss isn’t the only barrier; stringent regulatory processes, pricing pressures and patient healthcare literacy are all factors that create barriers to technology adoption.

There is a pipeline of amazing technology coming of age that has the opportunity to significantly improve healthcare. From blood-drawing robots, medical AI assistants, exoskeletons and device delivering drones, there are many scary technologies that we as a society have to get used to.

Take for example recent AI advances in the oncology space where IBM Watson got a 90% accuracy for oncology recommendations with an average of 40 second per case (compared to 12 minutes for a board to reach similar conclusions). How will physicians respond to this? Will AI replace tumor boards? Or will it be a technology integrated into their workflow?

There is a new customer operating system emerging in healthcare. New devices, information flows and integrated systems are proving to cut costs and deliver benefits that meet changing expectations of patients and HCPs everywhere.

Giants in consumer technology are shaping these expectations for digital experiences. Huge investments in venture capital, limited regulation and mostly free-for-the-consumer based business models have democratized access to the latest technologies and put them in the hands of almost everyone.

This begs many to ask question: Why doesn’t healthcare work like that?

That’s a great starting point for innovation.

About the Author:

Zach Friedman