Clearly wearables are “all the buzz” in our industry. Soon our Fitbits, watches and the like will become an essential part of connected healthcare, monitoring our bodies and feeding important data about our health to the cloud to be analyzed by our healthcare professionals. More data in, better outcomes come out—it’s fantastic news. But what if these devices can go the next step and actually respond to the data they are monitoring? Can you envision a future where a wearable device can improve our body’s function and a person’s quality of life in real-time? I recently learned about one that just might.
It’s called the WAK, short for the Wearable Artificial Kidney. This wearable innovation has the potential to be truly life-changing for the more than 400K patients with end stage renal disease who are currently undergoing hemodialysis every day in our country.
For the majority of these patients, treatment is their lifeline, but it can also take over their life. Hemodialysis patients receiving treatment in centers spend on average 4 hours a day, 3 days a week completely immobile—tethered to a chair, tied to a machine. Much like chemotherapy, the treatment that is saving them often makes them sick for hours afterward. In the absence of a successful transplant, they will undergo dialysis until the end of their life.
The WAK is designed to help patients get out of the chair and back into life. It is a miniature battery-powered dialysis device that is worn like a tool belt. It is connected to the patient by a catheter, weighs approximately 10 pounds and offers dialysis 24/7. Some experts believe that in a perfect world, more frequent dialysis would yield better control, however this comes with a tremendous burden to the healthcare system. If proven successful, the WAK could improve outcomes and deliver new hope for patients, reducing their time in the chair and giving them the mobility to go about activities of daily life—a more “normal” existence. The FDA fast-tracked the WAK, and it is currently undergoing its first human trial in the United States. Human clinical trials conducted in Italy and London already concluded successfully.
For me, following the progress of this wearable technology is personal. I lost my dad to end stage renal disease and its complications three years ago this June. During the five years he “survived” on dialysis, I watched his body and spirit wear thin. Early on, the dialysis center gave him the personal connection he needed to share with patients having a similar experience, but soon after getting into the three-day-a-week routine, he and my mom longed to get back the flexibility that every retired person deserves. The ability to hit the driving range with his buddies on a Tuesday, attend his grandson’s football game on a Thursday, or even make the trek to NJ to visit me and my family on a Saturday afternoon.
Looking back, I wonder how the WAK would have changed my dad’s dialysis experience and the burden it placed on both him and my mom.
What’s your wearable wonder?
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