Supercharged Wearables Are On The Horizon

Posted on January 3, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Over the last several years, the healthcare industry has been engaged in a rollicking debate over the value of patient-generated health data. Critics say that it’s too soon to decide whether such tools can really add value to medical care, while fans suggest it’s high time to make use of this information.

That’s all fine, but to me, this discussion no longer matters. We are past the question of whether consumer wearables data helps clinicians, which, in their current state, are under-regulated and underpowered. We’re moving on to profoundly more-capable devices that will make the current generation look like toys.

Today, tech giants are working on next-generation devices which will perform more sophisticated tracking and solve more targeted problems. Clinicians, take note of the following news items, which come from The New York Times:

  • Amazon recently invested in Grail, a cancer-detection start-up which raised more than $900 million
  • Apple acquired Beddit, which makes sleep-tracking technology
  • Alphabet acquired Senosis Health, which develops apps that use smartphone sensors to monitor health signals

And the action isn’t limited to acquisitions — tech giants are also getting serious about creating their own products internally. For example, Alphabet’s research unit, Verily Life Sciences, is developing new tools to collect and analyze health data.

Recently, it introduced a health research device, the Verily Study Watch, which has sensors that can collect data on heart rate, gait and skin temperature. That might not be so exciting on its own, but the associated research program is intriguing.

Verily is using the watch to conduct a study called Project Baseline. The study will follow about 10,000 volunteers, who will also be asked to use sleep sensors at night, and also agreed to blood, genetic and mental health tests. Verily will use data analytics and machine learning to gather a more-detailed picture of how cancer progresses.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. We are not looking at your father’s wearables anymore — we’re looking at devices that can change how disease is detected and perhaps even treated dramatically.

Sure, the Fitbits of the world aren’t likely to go away, and some organizations will remain interested in integrating such data into the big data stores. But given what the tech giants are doing, the first generation of plain-vanilla devices will soon end up in the junk heap of medical history.