February 20, 2021
We hear the word digital health a lot these days, but what exactly does that mean? It refers to all of the ways technology supports your health—from mobile apps and health platforms to wearable devices and digital tools. And leading neuroscientist and digital technology expert Dr. Walter Greenleaf has been at the forefront of the field for decades. From inside Stanford labs, he’s done some interesting research that reveals how digital and wearable technology will be a key part of the future of health.
Walter Greenleaf & The Digital Health Revolution
From head research posts at Stanford to advising NASA to Chief Science Officer at Muse, Greenleaf’s goal has stayed consistent: to research and develop digital technologies to solve problems in health systems and personalized healthcare. He’s been watching digital trends for decades and recently spoke with PharmaComms TV about the current evolution happening in healthcare.
“Right now medicine is shifting…For example, we’re seeing a combination of apps and pharmaceuticals. So you’re no longer just taking a medication to help you with a problem, but you have an app that goes along with that. We’re seeing a big surge forward..in application technology.. and better wearable sensors to keep track of our health conditions (1).”
The increasing amount of data and personalized insights we now have at our fingertips from wearables and mobile health apps, are helping us make smarter decisions about our health. This impacts everything from prevention to diagnosis to management of chronic conditions outside traditional healthcare (2). Not only are these technologies helping improve access, but, according to the Federal Drug Administration, they’re also helping increase quality, while reducing costs and inefficiencies (2).
When discussing the importance of accessible and low-cost new technology like Muse’s mobile EEG platform’s ability to impact the digital health space, Greenleaf also feels strongly that we are a pivotal time for new research and the future of medicine:
“Digital Health Technology is having a dramatic impact on medical research and clinical care. We are seeing innovative technologies like Muse’s mEEG system emerge as cost-effective pathways to improve clinical care and to facilitate the use of precision-medicine techniques within our current healthcare ecosystem.”
Low-cost mEEG systems and the vast amount of brain-health data they can measure and analyze will make it possible to conduct breakthrough research studies in the neuroscience and health technology field. The fact that mEEG systems allow us to collect key brain-health information outside of the research lab – while the user is at home for example – provides a way for us to collect dramatically more relevant and accurate information. These breakthroughs are very exciting for the future of medicine.”
Making (Brain) Waves at Stanford & Around the World
Greenleaf has worked on many digital products and clinical systems over the years that help patients and consumers better manage and track their health and wellness-related activities. These include automatic sleep-staging systems, clinical informatics, and digital health products for behavioral medicine.
At Stanford, where he earned his Ph.D. in Neuro and Bio-behavioral Sciences, he’s spent decades diving deeper into neuroscience and its applications. When he was the Director of the Mind Division at Stanford’s Center on Longevity, he focused on the changes in cognition that happen as we age. He and his team worked to create technologies that not only help the aging life longer and more comfortably but, he believes, can help save the healthcare system from hefty geriatric costs.
Most recently, he’s been researching as a Visiting Scholar at Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab where he applies virtual reality and digital health technologies to address health challenges like post-traumatic stress, anxiety disorders, depression, traumatic brain injury and stroke, addictions, and autism spectrum disorders.
He and his team use virtual and augmented reality to create a stimulus their patients can respond to. The team uses EEG-devices to get real-time data on patients’ brain activity and to make assessments. They apply this data to not only help tackle problems in healthcare but also to inform their future research. Greenleaf sees virtual reality and wearable technology as a key part of the future of neuroscience and clinical care.
“What’s exciting is that we’re going to finally have a way to do more objective assessments of people’s cognitive processes. Often what happens right now is people are asked ‘How are you feeling today?’ or ‘How did you do this week?’ if you are dealing with anxiety or depression or pain… Now we’re able to [use this technology] to capture their physiological data, their gaze direction, their facial expressions, their voice tones—information that reveals their cognitive state. We can now do more research because we have some biomarkers of mood and cognitive processing (1).”
And his cutting-edge research has not only turned heads within the field of neuroscience but others as well. Over the years, various national organizations have asked Greenleaf to be a scientific advisor, including the U.S. Public Health Service, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the U.S. Department of Education.
Dr. Greenleaf Leading Science at Muse
As the Chief Science Officer at Muse, Greenleaf’s goal is to bring his neuroscience and medical technology expertise to further develop the efficacy and validity of Muse products for consumers. With the company expanding into neuroscience and sleep, Greenleaf sees Muse’s EEG products as a key area of digital transformation for the future.
“The team at Muse has developed an extremely sophisticated multi-sensor medical wearable system. Developing next-generation medical products is key to addressing several challenges that our society is facing—the current pandemic, the looming problems generated by an aging population, and the associated burden on our healthcare infrastructure. I’m excited to work with the Muse team as we evolve digital health technology and develop new products to improve clinical care and promote individual health and wellness.” – Dr. Walter Greenlead
Since October 2020, Greenleaf has been developing strategic partnerships and business initiatives within the global neuroscience community as well as working to identify new applications for Muse’s technology.
When Greenleaf isn’t in the lab or leading the science arm at Muse, he’s helping create new centers to do more research as well as bringing together the best minds in the field from around the globe. He co-founded the International Virtual Reality Health Association and helped establish the California State University Center for Disability Solutions as well as the International Society of Virtual Rehabilitation. He’s also one of the key organizers of three annual global conferences in the field: The VR and Behavioral Healthcare Symposium, the Annual Virtual Reality and Healthcare Symposium, and the European Virtual Reality and Healthcare Symposium.
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- Watch Dr. Walter Greenleaf on Pharmacomms TV discuss innovations in digital health here.
- Learn more about digital health from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration here.