Biogen idec explores use of wearables to track MS patient activity

As part of an effort by Biogen idec to explore ways to use wearables with MS patients to help physicians quantify patient activity, it recently completed a study of 250 patients in collaboration with PatientsLikeMe, Naomi Fried, vice president of medial information and innovation at Biogen, referenced the study as part of a keynote presentation […]

As part of an effort by Biogen idec to explore ways to use wearables with MS patients to help physicians quantify patient activity, it recently completed a study of 250 patients in collaboration with PatientsLikeMe, Naomi Fried, vice president of medial information and innovation at Biogen, referenced the study as part of a keynote presentation on digital health at the MidAmerica Healthcare Venture Forum in Chicago this week.

This is the problem that Biogen idec wants to solve. Impaired mobility affects more than 90 percent of people with MS, but the quantified assessment of their walking ability tends to be limited to clinical settings. Sensors could give physicians a more accurate assessment of the level of activity of these patients if they were willing to wear activity trackers between appointments.

The study of 250 people with MS sought an answer to the questions: Would patients actually use wearables as part of their daily lives and be willing to share that information with physicians?

The initial takeaway from the study is that it needs to use devices with more sophisticated sensors to quantify movement accurately and consistently. “Current technology is not built to provide consistent and validated data in MS.  We are early in the process, but hope to have progress in the coming months,” according to an emailed statement about the study from Biogen. It also noted that it was encouraged by the “overwhelming positive participation” from MS patients. It took the response as a sign of encouragement as it explores using wearables in the future.

The data from the study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting next month.

The study reflects both the hope and current shortcomings of digital health at the moment. Healthcare professionals see the potential benefit of wearable devices to give a fuller picture of patients’ activity levels between medial appointments, but the “bad data” that they generate — inconsistent and innaccurate — remains a vexing obstacle for clinical applications.