The promises of consumer health data dominated CES 2019

By Dave Muoio
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CES 2019 is in its waning days, and with its end comes a time for reflection. This year’s consumer tech expo boasted no shortage of health and wellness products on display, ranging from novel ECG-equipped wearables to novel approaches to skin care.

Meanwhile, the Digital Health Summit — CES’ sub-event focused exclusively on health technology — celebrated its tenth year at the show with two full days of on-stage roundtables and interviews discussing hospital at home technology, digital therapeutics, healthcare consumerization, mental health management, voice technology and plenty more of the biggest movements poised to impact health technology.

But regardless of whether a discussion was being held by executives on the main stage or between vendors in the expo hall, it was never very long before many of the year’s conversations would turn to the subject of data’s role in healthcare technology.

“We’re going to see about a 1,600-fold increase in data over the next decade, and [we’ve started] to think about what would it mean to really harness this information that’s coming from the clinic, that’s coming from home, that’s coming remotely. And I think even the definition of health data is going to change over the next decade,” Dr. Jess Mega, chief medical and scientific officer at Verily, said during a Digital Health Summit roundtable discussion. “[In healthcare], anything we do, whether it’s a new medication, device, digital therapeutic, we have to prove efficacy and safety. And if we can harness real-world health data — and the 21st Centuries Cure Act is telling us we have to do this — if we harness real-world data, I think we start unlocking innovation.”

CES attendees highlight data plays

On an individual product level, it was just as likely as not that a show floor demo would highlight some aspect of user data aggregation, management or analysis.

Take, for example, NeuroMetrix’s wearable chronic pain management product, Quell 2.0. In explaining the latest features of the recently updated device, CEO Dr. Shai Gozani was keen to stress the copious amount of user data the company had collected throughout the lifespan of its first device. Leveraging that information has helped NeuroMetrix regularly push new updates to Quell’s accompanying app that help users better understand their personal progress as well as fine tune their treatment.

“We now have what we believe is probably the largest chronic pain database in the world, 70,000 people who have contributed to this data, collected now over the three- years this product has been available,” Gozani told Babyforyou.net.ua. “One of the realizations was when you start using this product, there’s a lot of automation but there’s also a trial and error to find the right parameters … but with 70,000 people preceding you, we’re able to apply machine learning techniques and now we can match the new user to the database and predict, with pretty good accuracy, the right level for you, the optimal schedule.”

Meanwhile, other wearable manufacturers like Omron and WIthings stressed in their demos similar features that help users better understand and act on their data — in particular, Withings President and cofounder Eric Carreel said that his company was investing in data and mental health specialists alike in an effort to transform Withings’ years of consumer data into new, more effective behavior change strategies.

Speaking to Babyforyou.net.ua, Steven LaBoeuf, president and cofounder of Valencell, described the increasing focus on user and performance data among vendors as a refreshing change from years past, when novel devices would promise major health benefits with little evidence to back up their claim.

For Akili Interactive Labs founder and CEO Eddie Martucci, its the only way for health tech products to gain serious recognition within the rest of the healthcare industry.

“The very first time they touch your digital therapeutic, if you do a quick measurement we can start to have predictive signals where we say, ‘Okay, you’re X percent likely to actually respond to this and we can continue,’ … or ‘Look, based on our data we think you’re unlikely to respond to this,’” Martucci said during an on-stage discussion. “We’re okay with this as a business because what that’s going to lead to is more targeted, high-fidelity treatment for a patient is what we care about. We believe it’s also going to build a better business — treating everyone blanket and having everyone fail is actually not good medicine.”

Better infrastructure still needed

The call for better data collection and management is hardly a new one for those in the healthcare industry, where doctors and CTOs alike regularly bemoan the operational challenges of data silos and EHR interoperability. What was especially interesting throughout this year’s show, though, were frequent calls to expand health IT’s well-worn conversations of forward-thinking data management into the realm of traditional consumer technologies.

“When you have siloed data, it doesn’t work, and with the more recent advancements with the 21st Century Cures Act and the big push from CMS and ONC and a lot of other groups too, they enable this data to be brought from siloed spaces such as the EHR onto a smartphone, into a cloud environment for technology devices,” Samsung Electronics America’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Rhew said during the Digital Health Summit. “The consumer now has access to information that they can use in collaboration with other things such as their lifestyle data and the sleep and activity and all the other things. So what we’re starting to see now is an opportunity for real data aggregation, democratization, normalization and really deep understanding of that. That’s what’s really exciting right now. We’re at a point now where, before, it was set up in such a way that organizations could hold on to their data and feel pretty comfortable about that business model. It’s being disrupted in such a way that consumers are now being put in charge of their data. What we need now is an opportunity once you do that to better understand it.”

In a later one-on-one with Babyforyou.net.ua, Rhew noted that consumer engagement doesn’t always need to be led by health devices. Rather, products that are already embedded into consumers’ daily lives — for instance, a smart refrigerator — are now also capable of recording an individual’s regular activities and promoting lifestyle changes that could influence their health.

But the fact is that this kind of technology has already been available to the industry for a few years. Wearables have been logging daily steps for years and smart home products have long included a variety of responsive, health assistive features, so why haven’t these approaches already made a substantial impact in the health of the average consumer? On the one hand, Christina Rogers, global consumer technologies leader at EY, argued that consumer healthcare has yet to really adopt marketing and audience research skills necessary to make a product stick — skills that these companies could learn from their non-health peers.

“Historically, consumer product companies were the first data collectors. They put the consumer first, they went out and understood what they wanted, how they felt, what they needed, and then took that back and made products that met and served those needs,” Rogers said during a presentation on leveraging consumer health data. “I think that [consumer product companies have been] really excellent in really collecting and mining data on consumers and creating not only functional products that solve problems, but creating emotional stories around brands. They were good at understanding the impact that had and changing the story over time so that it continues to resonate with consumers. … I think there’s still a lot to be learned about the way in which they have taken loyal consumers on a journey, whether it’s through a product life cycle, continuing to update, or offering new products and services that meet a need that we would have.”

On the other hand, Rogers’ colleague David Roberts, global health leader at EY, stressed these adjacent industries still need to develop an effective ‘glue’ before they can appropriately connect the cavalcade of point solutions being released every year. Achieving this goal would finally allow both the most promising healthcare technologies, and the data they’re collecting, reach their full potential.

“You cannot leave this event and not be inspired by the fantastic technologies that are here, and are emerging,” he said. “But if we fail to embed those technologies in a holistic form … then we will fail them, and those technologies will go and be wasted. And the data fusion component of that — the ability to actually use, utilize, understand and analyze those data to actually help us live better, healthier lives — is key to it. So let’s keep enabling this technology to be thought about, to be created, to be put into the marketplace, but let’s also figure out what is going to be required to utilize them effectively in holistic care.”