Despite the promise of a revolution in health, consumer wearables thus far have delivered little more than a flood of meaningless data. Finally, that’s starting to change. A new approach that combines biologically-driven technology and big data, will transform consumer-class wearables and reshape the healthcare and insurance landscape.
Years ago, we drove our cars between scheduled vehicle services, hoping they would make it to the next one before breaking down. We did basic checks (oil and water) and listened for strange noises – but mostly we lived in hope. Now engine management systems give us early warnings of issues, keep a full record of the engine performance for computers to diagnose and even enable remote issue resolution.
And yet, as it relates to our bodies, most of us are still stumbling blindly from one acute health episode to the next, occasionally (at best) checking our “oil and water” – but mostly living in hope that we won’t get sick, or when we do, that someone will be able to fix it.
We’ve begun trying to replicate the car scenario for our bodies with wearable sensors, but the information available from these has thus far been wholly inadequate to catalyze a real change in managing health. Despite the sales of tens of millions of health and wellness wearables over the past few years, the promised revolution in health, has so far not materialized for number of reasons.
Firstly, a lack of accurate and relevant data from these wearables. This stems both from an inability to measure the right things accurately in a low friction way (that is, on the wrist) and a lack of tools and know how to transform the baseline physiological measurements (such as heart rate) into more valuable health data.
Secondly, there has been very limited and siloed access to the little good data that does exist. Too many of the solutions have aimed for vertical integration, with companies trying to own all the data. The space is by its very nature inherently highly fragmented and specialized.
As a consequence, those with the relevant specialist knowledge have not had access to this information to build scalable solutions, thereby inhibiting a shift to a truly consumer-centric and preventative approach to health management.
Here are three areas of innovation that are addressing this gap:
- Data Acquisition: Wearable sensors that are able to accurately measure important biometrics, such as continuous heart rate, motion, breathing rate and oxygen saturation, are finally appearing in the market. Collaborations and partnerships between device builders, silicon vendors and specialist life science companies are creating sensors and wearable form factors that can measure the right things accurately with relatively low friction for the user.
- Data Transformation: The real value of these baseline metrics from wearable sensors is when they act as inputs to more sophisticated models of human physiology. These models, which can effectively simulate an individual’s physiological systems, provide information previously only available through clinical equipment with specialist support. This continuous and biologically-driven big data will for the first time enable solutions towards impacting health outcomes at scale.
- Information-Driven Platforms: Open platforms that enable specialists and companies – healthcare providers and insurers – to access this new information in a single space, will form the foundation of a new healthcare model. These platforms will enable solutions that can be scaled to include a range of data source and specialists to interpret and distribute information. Given what is currently possible with only wearable inputs, the horizons for high value health information become almost limitless as the full set of relevant human inputs (genetic, behavioural and environmental) are fed into such open platforms.
Solving the fast spiraling $9 trillion global healthcare problem requires a shift in our approach. Currently more than 90 percent of all money spent on healthcare is on intervention — after the fact.
We need breakthrough information platforms that, for the first time, will provide a user-centric and preventative approach to health management. Consumer-grade wearables grounded in computational systems biology should also function with specialist and health insurance companies. A healthcare model with balanced spending on prevention and intervention is the only way to reduce costs to a sustainable level and save lives.
(Top image: Courtesy LifeQ)
All views expressed are those of the author.