Friday, January 25, 2013

CES 2013: Digital Health Takes Center Stage

Healthcare, in particular digital health, took center stage at this year’s CES. Two full conference tracks, Fitness+Tech and Digital Health Summit, were dedicated to the industry. Technology companies, large and small, pharma, insurance companies and providers were all in the mix:

Health and wellness vs. clinical/therapeutic

One major distinction in the digital health market that panelists at this year’s Digital Health Summit made is between health and wellness, and clinical / therapeutic focused technology. This is normally the line drawn between whether a technology is regulated by the FDA: a clinically focused technology will often make medical claims, while a health/wellness technology will not. Pharma is naturally most interested in the clinically focused apps, though major companies like Sanofi-aventis have applications in both categories. Sanofi has two applications focused on diabetic patients: 1) GoMeals helps patients make healthier eating choices, and 2) iBGStar, the blood glucose monitor that can plug into an iPhone and track readings (technology developed by AgaMatrix). Though health and wellness technologies get all the press, in particular FitBit and Nike+ FuelBand, devices that track your activity throughout the day. Sonny Vu, co-founder of AgaMatrix, launched a very successful campaign on Indiegogo to crowd fund his company Misfit Wearables. Misfit Wearables is launching a very elegant quarter sized device that tracks all types of activity (running, swimming, cycling), first shipments should be available in Q1 2013.

Payers come to the rescue?

Tech startups and pharma are not the only stakeholders getting in the digital health game. Health insurance companies are also sticking their foot in, and tellingly the main sponsor of the Digital Health Summit was UnitedHealth Group. These companies have a lot vested in the success of technology to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. UnitedHealth Group partnered with Comcast to deliver a reality TV show on demand to prediabetic patients with the goal of preventing diabetes onset through weight reduction. Companies like Aetna (iTriage, CarePass) and Blue Cross Blue Shield (Blue365 program, a Groupon copycat for health and wellness purchases) have developed and acquired applications to help their members more proactively manage their health. Health care insurance companies are becoming health care technology companies out of necessity, as stricter provisions of the Affordable Care Act kick into place.

Telecom companies jumping on board

Even major telecom companies are finally starting to join in, as they try to push for the “consumerization” of healthcare. Dr. Paul Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm, announced in his pre-show keynote a partnership with the X Prize Foundation to launch a contest to create a medical tricorder device – “a tool capable of capturing key health metrics and diagnosing a set of 15 diseases” (yes, inspiration for the tricorder comes from Star Trek). Nokia is also partnering with the X Prize Foundation to launch a companion contest to create the sensors that will be paired with this device. Verizon, General Electric and Tenet Healthcare announced a partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative to launch the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, a partnership with a mission to build a platform “to help people make small lifestyle changes that will improve their health in big ways.”

Can digital health cross the chasm?

Right now digital health seems to be a focus mainly for tech / fitness obsessed early adopters, and we shall see in the next few years whether digital health will gain broader mainstream adoption. The power of digital health did not quite hit me until I actually used one of these technologies. On the last day of CES I was walking around the mostly empty exhibit floor and was lucky enough to find a representative from AliveCor, Kathryn (who is the founder’s daughter and a member of the research team). AliveCor’s main product Heart Monitor is a $199 FDA approved technology that allows you to turn your iPhone into an ultraportable ECG machine. With the blessing of Kathryn, I put my hands on the two leads behind the AliveCor iPhone on display, and within seconds my ECG popped on the screen. I saw a slightly irregular rhythm read out, and she assured me that it must have been a misreading, but I knew inside that it was my amazement at the potential of this technology and many others to truly revolutionize healthcare.

Posted by Shawn Dimantha, Principal Analyst