A health app a day keeps the doctor away

Consumerisation of medical devices not only provides individuals with at-home health monitoring, it also encourages healthy lifestyles and keeps people out of hospital

In 2012, Intel’s general manager of health and life Eric Dishman predicted that up to 50 per cent of healthcare would be found in the home, away from hospitals. This wasn’t far-off future gazing – he was talking about a time period of just a decade.

Around three years later and Mr Dishman’s forecast is already coming true as we’re at the dawn of the digital health era with smartphones, tablets and wearables powering the way.

This quantified self-movement may well prove to be the saviour of an ailing National Health Service, with NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh saying consumer-facing devices, such as fitness bands, could become the key preventative measure for serious illness thanks to the wealth of health-related information their sensors can track.

“Self-monitoring will help keep people safe in their own homes rather than just waiting for serious deterioration necessitating an ambulance or GP call and admission to hospital,” he says.

Mobile Health Statistics

For a real-world example of the sort of advanced home health-monitoring that is already achievable, at a relatively cheap price, consider the soon-to-launch Jawbone UP3. The fitness band, which weighs just 29g and costs £150, is not only able to motivate wearers into becoming more active, by counting steps and calorie burn, it also features a bio-impendence sensor capable of recording the user’s heart rate, respiration and galvanic skin response.

Like many of its rivals in the ever-expanding wearable tech world, this data is not only recorded, it is analysed within a companion smartphone app and virtual “coaches” are on hand to offer health advice.

In addition, the Jawbone band is able to monitor a user’s sleep stages and patterns – REM, light and deep – with the app then able to provide suggestions for maximising quality sleep, and improving alertness the following day.

The traditional tech powerhouses Google, Apple and Microsoft all now boast mobile health monitoring solutions

Some companies, such as Withings, take personal health-tracking a step further by not only recording the metrics of people wearing one of its wristbands during the day, but also keeping tabs on them in the bedroom, bathroom and living room too.

The French company has a range of smart, internet-connected devices designed for the home, from body-fat analysing scales, to blood pressure monitors, to sleep quality systems, to a security camera that monitors the quality of air within your home.

All of this information, combined with the wealth of data its various wearables collect, is collated within the Withings Health Mate app, providing an in-depth overview of an individual’s health and fitness.

And it’s not just niche tech brands such as Jawbone and Withings tapping into the data. The traditional tech powerhouses Google, Apple and Microsoft all now boast mobile health monitoring solutions that not only collect movement data from their range of smartphones, but also integrate detailed information from third-party devices and apps.

“Our arch-competitor in 20 years will not be Boston Scientific, St. Jude Medical or Covidien,” Stephen Oesterle, senior vice president of technology at Medtronic, the world’s third largest medical device company, told the 2014 MassMEDIC annual conference. “It will be Google.”

Mobile Health Revenue Forecast

Google Fit was only announced last year, but is already recording health and wellbeing statistics from more than 30 sources. Apple’s HealthKit platform takes the notion a step further. Not only does it collect data on movement, sleep, weight, body-fat percentage, blood pressure, nutrition, temperature and a whole host of other metrics, the Cupertino giant’s platform also allows dedicated medical professionals to access and analyse a user’s data – with that user’s permission, of course.

According to Mayo Clinic’s medical director for public affairs John Wald, speaking following the launch of Apple HealthKit integration with a Mayo app: “Users of the new Mayo Clinic app will have easier access to health information, guidance and care when they need it most. Through the Apple Health app, users will be able to integrate information from other apps with their Mayo Clinic health information, creating actionable data to improve health and wellness.”

Smart Phone user base

A future update for the HealthKit-powered iPhone app will include disease and condition management, and personalised feedback tailored for users.

Almost three years into the timeframe of Mr Dishman’s prediction, it’s clear the home healthcare industry is already big business.

We’re not quite at a point where a GP can prescribe a patient a fitness tracker to strap on their wrist – there are a number of consumer versus medical-grade sensor certification issues to iron out before that can become a possibility – but with the likes of Google, Apple and Microsoft all investing heavily in the technology, and vast quantities of quality data already being collected by millions of individuals on a daily basis, we’re not far off.