Discover what this Stanford Medicine surgeon is doing to change the medical research industry and the treatment of peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
Medical Research Is Painful
Getting participants for medical research studies has never been easy. The process for finding participants is both costly and time consuming.
According to Alan Yeung from Stanford Cardiovascular Medicine “to get 10,000 enrolled in a medical study normally, it would take a year and 50 medical centers around the country.” This is using traditional recruiting methods.
Americans, by and large, are open to participating in these studies and want to learn more about their own health.
A Research!America study has shown that 72% of Americans would participate in a clinical trial if their doctor recommended it. The same study also showed that only 22% of Americans have had doctors discuss it with them.
The problem isn’t a lack of interest from researchers or patients. The problem is the process for connecting Americans with researchers is inefficient and out of step with a modern world. It’s not uncommon for the larger studies to be logistically limited to multi-week trials with, at most, only 100-200 patients participating.
Being unable to conduct effective research at large scales means we don’t have the data we need to solve the hard problems in vascular health.
Many people with peripheral arterial disease will require a surgical intervention. According to vascular expert, Dr. Aalami, around 60% of patients who have an intervention will experience that intervention failing within a year. That’s a high failure-rate. With better research, new strategies can be developed to catch these failures before they happen.
The Wearable Tech Revolution
What if there was a frictionless way for researchers to connect directly to the research participants without having to go through doctors and medical centers?
Thanks to the rise of wearable technologies like FitBit and Jawbone on the rise that option now exists. These devices are also platforms for self-knowledge on the subject everyone cares deeply about – their health.
An entire community of hardcore enthusiasts in the tech community has sprung up around this very concept known as the Quantified Self movement (of which Tim Ferris is a leading advocate).
With more than 1.2B smartphones sold worldwide in 2015, the future of medical research is probably sitting in your pocket.
Apple in particular has been focused on empowering app creators in this space. They’ve made available ResearchKit — an open source framework app developers can build on to create solutions in the medical research space.
With this step Apple has unlocked the ability to go from a 10,000 person study that would take months to assemble to being able to track billions of data points on a daily basis.
Dr. Oliver Aalami, a surgeon at Stanford Medicine and founder of VascTrac, more than most app creators has reason to be especially excited as Apple is setting up the platform to focus on 3 research areas in particular.
One of these areas, Cardiovascular Disease, just so happens to be Dr. Oliver Aalami’s area of expertise.
The Doctor Who Innovates
Dr. Aalami specializes in vascular disease — an umbrella term that covers everything from aortic aneurysms (ruptured arteries caused by ballooning) to stroke-inducing artery blockages.
When you look at Aalami’s resume it’s immediately obvious that he’s always been an early adopter on the bleeding edge (if you will) of technology. A vascular and endovascular surgeon at Stanford Medicine, his fascination with health IT drives him to find ways to implement the latest technology into his patient’s care.
As early as his residency program, Aalami would use cloud-based patient lists for patient handoffs during shift changes and keep track of all his patients on his PalmPilot. A practice that was ahead of its time in the medical profession.
Aalami also believes that there are “many opportunities to improve training and the delivery of medicine in healthcare”. That’s why he’s worked with Vital Enterprises as an advocate to bring ‘smart glasses‘ to the operating room.
He’s also been active in yet another technology push that involves developing medical grade mobile photography (think medical Snapchat) to improve documentation and collaboration amongst medical professionals (WinguMD).
In a field known for its slowness to embrace new technologies Dr. Aalami stands out not just as an early adopter but as an innovator and creator. VascTrac is his newest creation and Apple’s new platform has created a new opportunity to solve a long-standing problem.
Few, if any, app creators have Dr. Aalami’s unique background, industry knowledge and vascular surgical expertise. Nobody is better placed to take advantage of this game changing development.
The Future Of Medical Research
In Apple’s ResearchKit, Dr. Aalami instantly recognized the potential to turn iPhones into a medical research tool. Instead of a couple hundred patients in with data coming in over a period of a few weeks it will now be possible to collect millions of data points every second.
In his own words, Aalami believes that “once validated, this could change the way we practice medicine.” It’s this potential that excites Aalami.
At it’s core the VascTrac app is essentially a Research Study that leverages the activity tracking capabilities of the iPhone to capture useful, accurate data on a massive scale. It will monitor a patient’s activity over an extended period of time and identify significant changes in their activity.
For patients the app has the potential to evaluate the effectiveness of their course of treatment. Different treatment methodologies can be correlated with different known factors to determine which ones are the most effective for a given patient.
Opportunities Beyond Research
Another lies in the treatment and monitoring phase. Patients often don’t report when they’re feeling pain or discomfort — information Dr Aalami needs to ensure the patient has the best chance of improving their health. He’s even had patients tell him that they’ve been experiencing pain for months, but were hesitant to come in.
By monitoring their status regularly using VascTrac, Aalami believes that doctors will be able to “potentially detect significant drops” in their activity and deliver better care in shorter time frames without relying on self reporting from the patient.
Patients with peripheral arterial disease have repetitive leg aches that they feel when they move. This is why simple tracking has the potential to identify when a disease is recurring or treatment is failing.
The sooner problems are spotted the easier it is to repair the situation and the hospital stay would also be much shorter for the patient. Faster resolution improves the likelihood of a successful outcome and prevents the need for further expensive interventions.
Dr Aalami knew he needed to find a person or organization that he could work with to turn his vision into a reality. There are a lot of solutions out there for building technology so why did Aalami choose Gigster?
Aalami says that having a Product Manager or as he puts it: someone who “worked with me to figure out exactly what I wanted” was the main reason he’s had such a fantastic experience with Gigster.
The greatest challenge Aalami has as an entrepreneur is having “so many fires to put out every day.” Being able to hand the technology piece to professionals you can trust frees up more time to focus on other important areas of the business.