From sleep monitors to fitness logs, consumers—and their doctors— want more ways to track the body
Scanning your body with a handheld gadget to detect ailments was once an idea reserved for Star Trek. But consumers' desire to take charge of their health, combined with the boom in mobile technology and a focus on disease prevention, is creating an explosion in health-tracking services. Fitness and wellness devices and apps are poised to become a $100-billion global market within five years, estimates Duncan Stewart, research director for technology at Deloitte Canada.
The game changer, says Jonathan Collins, a health technology analyst at New York- based ABI Research, is the ability to upload data wirelessly onto devices. In addition, new Bluetooth Smart connectivity, which has very low power needs, lowers costs for developers, opening the market to more competition.
In the consumer sphere, apps and devices that monitor sleep patterns, log running routes or keep tabs on heart rates, often as add-ons to smartphones, are proliferating rapidly. Apple was on track to offer 13,000 health-related apps in its online store by mid 2012. But there are also many products aimed at health-care professionals. Cellscope, for example, is a smart- phone camera attachment that enables doctors to monitor and treat chronic ear infections remotely.
San Francisco's Rock Health, the first digital health incubator, has been a leader in this space. Its 2012 graduates include Nephosity, a much talked about mobile X-ray and CT scanner that enables doctors to view medical images remotely, and Podimetrics, a bath mat that uses biometric pressure and temperature changes to detect foot ulcers in diabetic patients. Products like these "have radical implications for both the health of patients and the reduction of costs," says Sarah Pollet, director of the Rock Health incubator.
There's also great value in aggregating all this individually collected data and making it accessible on a large scale. "We're now starting to have the platforms to make use of the data in a productive way," says Ash Damle. His company, MEDgle, is a kind of Google for health: it synthesizes data from patients' health records and apps to create an information storehouse that sufferers and doctors can consult.
The intent of these services and products isn't to replace health-care practitioners, but to give users immediate feedback. "When you talk about new and exciting markets," says Stewart, "this is the biggest thing we've probably seen in a decade."