Sensors, wearables & data – take outs from Digital Health Summit

After spending my first day checking out what was on the floor at CES, the next two days saw me step away from the crazy and into the Digital Health Summit. I was really excited to hear from the broad range of presenters, with physicians, care facilities, vendors, funders, VCs and an extremely important but often overlooked category; patients, all represented on the program.

Consistent themes emerged quickly, with everyone agreeing that it was time to move past data collection into making that data actionable, and that this had to happen now while the information flow was a trickle as it would soon become a flood.

The ownership of the data was also frequently raised, with many parties looking to claim ownership to the data that they contributed to either generating or collecting. Consensus opinion seemed to be it is really more about access rather than ownership, and ultimately it is up to the consumer to decide who will be able to utilise their data within their systems. An interesting analogy compared our health data to our money; we retain ownership of our money, but deposit it into banks and institutions of our choice, who utilise it in a manner allowed by the terms of our agreement with them.

Dr Daniel Kraft introduced me to the term ‘data donors,’ meaning we are all providing our data in return for either individual feedback or potentially to deliver on broader outcomes. A great example of this was illustrated on day two, when Elli Kaplan, CEO of Neurotrack invited everyone to be part of their mission to crowd source a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The early, non-invasive diagnostic test they’ve developed has an outstanding success rate, and they’re making the data collected available to researchers and scientists to work on a cure.  You can sign up to be part of the data collect here, and a link to the quick visual test that you do from your device will be emailed out.

Several of the presenters compared humans and our lack of visible inbuilt sensors to cars, which now have over 400 sensors providing real time information on all aspects of their performance, and most importantly, delivering alerts before problems arise rather than after they have become a reality. Young Soon, President of Samsung Electronics, reminded us that it’s not that long since we used to check the oil in our cars via a dip stick.  Now this information is visible at a glance on your dashboard, and if the oil level dips below a certain pre-defined point you are immediately alerted.

The proliferation of sensors and wearables means we will all be able to have similar dashboards, which when combined with our own unique genomic information will provide exceptionally powerful personalised information about our health. With the analogy of  ‘Google Now’ for health coming up a couple of times.

CES held an absolute proliferation of wearables, the vast majority of which were still wrist-based. Consensus opinion was that wearables would become far more integrated and less visible, with sensors built into clothing, jewellery (not just another smart watch) in a manner that meant data collection was easy, seamless, and happening without effort. Misfit Shine introduced a great example of this with their collaboration with Swarovski launched at CES, showing that wearables could be extremely fashionable and didn’t have to look at all geeky.


While the Shine device has some limitations around the type of data it collects, it’s interesting for a number of reasons. It has a long battery life (and the new coloured stone version being released as part of the Swarovski collaboration takes this even further, with a coating that allows solar charging) and is waterproof, so the number of times it has to be removed are minimal. This is important, as Misfit founder Sonny Vu articulated: ”the more often you have to take a wearable off, the more opportunities that are created to not put it back on’.’  Taking devices off to charge them also mean that they are not gathering data at that time.  Not so important in terms of tracking steps, but as wearables move from the fitness arena to becoming real healthcare tools this is going to continue to grow in significance.

The big question is how is all of the data collected going to be presented in actionable, meaningful formats that clinicians are able to access via their existing systems in a way that integrates into their workflows. As one physician put it, ‘I have no interest in patients turning up with spreadsheet extracts of their Fitbit data.’

A couple of large hospital CIOs spoke to this exact issue, and urged developers to build products that would bolt on to existing platforms rather than standalone systems for greater chance of uptake. Data needs to be presented as trends rather than individual instances to be useful and relevant. For example ,how often a post-surgery patient is mobile today as opposed to yesterday, rather than flagging each time they got out of bed.

While data that’s unique for each individual is useful to their clinicians for their own treatment plans, we all also have the potential (with our consent) to be data donors who allow some or all of that de-identified data to be pooled into broader data sets, to provide information that can help identify wider population based trends and potentially contribute to discovering better solutions.

An interesting point made was the kind of information physicians find useful and the kind that patients think is important are not necessarily the same. There’s an opportunity for health professionals to guide patients in the type of information they track, and David Schlanger, CEO of WebMD suggested it won’t be long before we see the introduction of digital prescribing, where digital health programs (including wearables) become a standard part of treatment regimes along with medications.

There were way too many thoughts and ideas from this event to cover them all in a single post, so I’m going to leave this one as more of a general overview of data and wearables, with additional posts to come covering the disruption of the doctor visit,  the specific opportunities for pharmacy, and of course what the patients perspectives were.



Newer Story:

Disrupting the doctor visit

January 10, 2015

Older Story:

Initial impressions from #CES2015

January 07, 2015

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