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Tiny innovations have potential to make big impact on patient care

Researchers have created a microneedle drug monitoring system that could replace invasive blood draws, improve patient comfort, and reduce costs. The microneedle is a small, thin patch that looks like a hollow cone that is pressed against a patient’s arm during medical treatment. It measures drugs in the bloodstream without requiring a blood draw or piercing the skin. It punctures the outer layer of skin, rather than the next layers of skin that house the nerves, blood vessels, and immune cells.

While other groups are researching microneedle technology for vaccines and drug delivery, researching them as a noninvasive way to monitor patient response to medications is a newer idea. The research is being conducted at the University of British Columbia and the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) in Switzerland. The team developed this microneedle to monitor an antibiotic that is used to treat serious infections and is administered through an intravenous line. Patients taking the antibiotic require three to four blood draws every day and need to be closely monitored because of the serious and toxic side effects the antibiotic can cause.

The researchers discovered that fluid just below the outer layer of skin, instead of blood, could be used to monitor levels of antibiotic in the bloodstream. The microneedle collects a very small amount of this fluid, causing a reaction to occur on the inside of the microneedle that researchers can detect using an optical sensor. This technique allows researchers to quickly and easily determine the concentration of the antibiotic, enabling the collection and analysis to be performed in one (tiny) device. The microneedle and its abilities are described in a recent paper in Scientific Reports.

Analysis: Deloitte’s recent report, Top 10 innovations in health care, discusses 10 innovations that could be most likely to help stakeholders achieve the goals of the Triple Aim and transform health care over the next 10 years. Deloitte researchers surveyed leaders across the health care system to identify these innovations. We defined innovation as activities or technologies that can result in getting more for less. More value, better outcomes, greater convenience, access, and simplicity all for less cost, complexity, and time required by the patient and the provider.

This microneedle fits in one category of innovation described in the paper: biosensors included in rapidly shrinking wearables and medical devices. These technologies allow consumers and clinicians to monitor and track more aspects of patients’ health, enabling earlier intervention – and even prevention – in a way that is much less intrusive to patients’ lives. Increased biosensing could improve patient engagement, medication adherence, disease monitoring and, ultimately, health outcomes.

Clinicians could use the data to intervene earlier and more often, and it can be used by researchers to better understand treatment effectiveness. However, wider adoption of biosensors and trackers would likely require:

  • Improvements in the technologies’ accuracy; although, some clinicians have noted that trend data is usually helpful, even if specific data points are not completely accurate
  • Biosensor and tracker interoperability with electronic health records
  • Patient and provider willingness to incorporate these devices and data into daily routines
  • Transition to value-based payment models, which would create opportunities for clinicians to indirectly receive reimbursement for the time and costs of accessing and evaluating this new data set

(Source: Sahan A. Ranamukhaarachchi, Celestino Padeste, Matthias Dübner, Urs O. Häfeli, Boris Stoeber, and Victor J. Cadarso, “Integrated hollow microneedle-optofluidic biosensor for therapeutic drug monitoring in sub-nanoliter volumes,” Scientific Reports, July 6, 2016)

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Author bio

Doug leads Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Life Sciences and Health Care practice. With 24 years of experience, he works closely with multiple top health care organizations on major clinical and enterprise transformation efforts and on large-scale technology implementation projects. Doug has extensive experience in comprehensive quality and patient safety transformations, turnaround and performance improvement in academic medical centers as well as organization/workflow redesign and technology enablement. He has served as the lead on a number of enterprise transformation initiatives with some of Deloitte’s most largest and most complex clients.