CES 2022: What’s next for digital health?
The last decade has seen incredible innovation in health wearables, beginning with rudimentary step count features to now having respiration rate and blood oxygen tracking that allows Whoop 4.0 wearers to predict COVID-19 positivity before symptoms appear. Just how far will technology go in improving health outcomes? Given the estimated $1.5 trillion global wellness market opportunity, what can we anticipate in years to come?
Abbott’s CEO Robert Ford gave a keynote on the second day of CES 2022 that was chock full of developments in health technology and exciting partnerships. There were some expectations that COVID-19 at-home testing would be front and center, especially because the company provided the rapid antigen tests for in-person conference attendees. Instead, mirroring industry trends, the pandemic played only a part in the broader story of health innovations.
AR/VR in telehealth
One impressive partnership was Abbott’s NeuroSphere Virtual Clinic, showcased by Dr. Fiona Gupta, Director of The Movement Disorders Outreach Program at Mount Sinai Health, who studies neuromodulation to help suppress tremors among those with movement disorders. As a healthcare provider, she can connect via WiFi to the implanted medical device of her Parkinson’s patient and make adjustments to their therapy in real-time. According to Dr. Gupta, an advantage of the tool is that she can observe her patients moving around their own home – in spaces that are familiar and relevant. It’s easy to see some of the other therapeutic applications of a technology such as this. The widespread use of AR/VR in a virtual world like the metaverse allows for a more simplified and streamlined patient experience, one in which transportation isn’t an issue and the patient doesn’t even need to leave the comfort of their home.
Diagnostic and preventive at-home testing
A more tangible telehealth example that many international travelers may have already used is Abbott’s partnership with United Airlines and eMed, which allows for proctored COVID-19 testing via video chat that would meet U.S. re-entry requirements. While the pandemic expedited the adoption of telehealth for many other provider interactions, even on the diagnostic front there have been many advances made; eMed also offers at-home testing products for the flu, strep throat, and UTIs. The availability of these diagnostic tests supplements the existing preventive at-home tests already on the market, such as 23andme’s ancestry and family health test, Everlywell’s food sensitivity test, Modern Fertility’s hormone test, and Vessel Health’s wellness test.
Health wearables and biosensors
There were many product announcements at CES, including Abbott’s newly expanded Lingo, a health app paired with biosensors that helps monitor four different biomarkers—glucose, ketone, lactase, and alcohol—and then provides personalized recommendations. Many newly released wearable offerings offer a similar value proposition of a smaller, more seamless device with collected health data readily accessible from a phone app. However, with siloed players all managing their own disparate innovations, Dr. Hon Pak, Chief Medical Officer at Samsung Electronics, spoke to the need for ecosystems that integrate all the different innovations for a better consumer experience; his thesis was for Big Tech to fill that need.
What we think: The future of digital health
Though having a centralized company that facilitates the consumer experience sounds ideal, the reality is that it raises many questions around data privacy and the potential for data breaches. Does buying into a company’s product offering mean an acceptance of your health data being used for research or sold to a third-party? What about the legal implications of GPS tracking in health wearables and whether that data can be used for or against you in a court of law? Right now much of the health data collected via digital health innovations doesn’t apply to existing HIPAA privacy laws, so that’s also a regulatory gray area. The intersection of technology and personal data will continue to evolve as consumer sentiment shifts.
Another barrier is democratization, and future partnerships will be key to making health technology more accessible for all. Health technology and wearable startups will continue their partnerships with larger companies that have more established ecosystems, which will allow for wider adoption and an obvious value proposition for consumers in areas such as payment reimbursement, sharing data with healthcare providers, and wellness incentives for health insurance companies.
Convenience is prominent in what consumers desire, but our complex healthcare system often seems the antithesis of convenience. Healthcare in the digital space and virtual world of the metaverse offers a unique opportunity for brands, health providers, and health insurers to improve the health of their customers and engage them in very tangible ways. Innovation in the digital health space is moving quickly, and the future of health looks promising… and wearable.