by Shireen Yates, co-founder and chief executive officer of Nima
Wellness technology, welcome to 2018.
This year’s much ballyhooed CES was a wake-up call for anyone who limits health tech to heart-rate monitors and wearable exercise appliances. Aging consumers are taking healthcare into their own hands (literally), opening major doors for proactive, innovative manufacturers in this burgeoning industry. Those who attended CNET’s panel discussion at CES learned just how wide-open the future is for companies willing to think beyond Fitbit into an era when people, especially Baby Boomers, can finally take care of themselves on a micro level.
Before entrepreneurs start watching “Star Trek” reruns for inspiration, though, they must be mindful of two realities: First, consumers expect to be connected. Thus, any new inventions should give them far more access to individualized data than ever before. Secondly, consumer behaviors have evolved beyond the standard doctor-patient relationship. Basically, the patient wants a connection with medical professionals but demands a sense of independence in healthcare choices, too.
In this whirlwind of changes, tech companies are teetering on the leading edge of the future of what it means for our population be holistically healthy.
People Want to Know More About Themselves.
At the risk of TMI, I’m going to tell a story.
Recently, I visited a gastroenterologist to talk about the normalcy of my digestive tract. Because I have multiple food intolerances, I wanted to know what I should expect as far as, to put it delicately, elimination frequency. What I discovered was that “normal” elimination behavior was relative to an extent. In other words, I had to determine what was right for me so I could recognize personal inconsistencies.
My doctor’s feedback shows how far we’ve come. Here was a medical professional telling me that I should use information gathered on my own to take better care of myself. Easy. However, some less tangible metrics, such as REM sleep cycles or blood sugar levels, aren’t as simple to obtain without technology’s help. Plus, solid software and algorithms give us better context to interpret numbers.
For instance, if your smartphone says you’ve only walked 9,000 steps today, are you in a deficit? Not necessarily. The 10,000-step focus was a rather arbitrary figure developed to sell step-counting products. One person might see excellent benefits with 8,000 steps, while an Olympic-level athlete might need the equivalent of 30,000 or more steps to get a day’s workout.
How about those nutritional labels based on a 2,000-calorie diet? If you’re an adult female weighing about 132 pounds, you can take the labels at face value. Otherwise, you must adjust the percentages to your own needs. At the same time, you need to determine whether one calorie is more nourishing than another, such as the difference between 50 calories of potato chips versus 50 calories of quinoa.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a technology to help you make these conclusions based on your individual makeup?
Personalization is truly a missing ingredient in healthcare tech and perhaps the reason why 30 percent of users ditch wellness-tracking devices, according to Gartner. As someone with a gluten allergy, I believe customization is essential and will set certain technologies apart from others. Case in point: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that 20 parts-per-million of gluten equates to “gluten-free”; Australia’s rule is 5 ppm for the same label. But for me, 20 ppm could be too high. I need to have as much information as possible to avoid the pain that comes with gluten intolerance — and I need it immediately.
Tech to the Rescue.
A recent study from Stanford proves that personalization in technology is indeed a desired commodity. When asked, nearly two-thirds of people wanted to get wearable tech products from their physicians, a hospital or even an insurance provider. Basically, people want access to body chemistry information to track intake and output at the deepest levels.
If your company is positioned to provide customized health tech, take these considerations to heart when designing new solutions:
1. Create systems that consistently test and return results.
One data point on a graph doesn’t mean much; it takes many points to create a full-fledged picture. The same is true of health data — and that’s why companies such as WellnessFX exist. WellnessFX extrapolates information from blood work to assess cardiovascular improvements. The data serves as a launching point for discussions with trained medical consultants and experts and gives users a visual, trackable sense of progress.
2. Connect your technology service with healthcare professionals.
Ginger.io has made a difference in how people and professionals contextually understand mental health. By leveraging mobile data, Ginger.io allows providers to understand when a patient might be distressed. The provider can then react. As Quest Diagnostics and Inovalon have noted, 65 percent of healthcare providers cannot access this type of data, leading to a huge disconnect between providers and patients. Find a way to bridge this gap, and you’ll lead the self-care movement.
3. Help users set personalized health benchmarks.
The next stage of the health revolution will be for consumers to create self-customized benchmarks, leading to smarter medical decisions. To get to this point, we all need greater transparency in our energy usage and consumption levels. How else can we change our behavior in granular ways to reach optimal performance? Ironically, this lucrative marketplace hasn’t really been tapped. But the aforementioned Stanford study suggests that the personalized medicine market is going to exceed $2 billion within the next four years, so get started today on your next inventions.
The need for personalized health tech is already well-documented, so connect the dots for would-be users. Remember that no one is interested in what’s normal for humans anymore; people want to understand what normalcy means for them. Become their trusted partner in this journey, and your solution might just be the next CES breakout star.
Shireen Yates is co-founder and chief executive officer of Nima, which works to create greater food transparency to help consumers make better health decisions. Its first product is a discreet and portable device that allows consumers to test their meals for gluten in about two minutes.