Fortunately, for the past decade, there’s been a growing segment of CES focused on health tech, wellness, fitness, and other related electronics. As such, it was only a matter of time before I would be able to justify attending the event. Finally, 2020 was that year. And I don’t know how the health and wellness portion looked in the past, but I can safely say it’s a substantial aspect of the show these days.
The Digital Health Summit (a component of CES) spans two full days, with dedicated conference sessions devoted to the rapidly evolving consumer health industry. When not listening to the interesting presentations (in a consistently full room), I strolled through aisle after aisle of consumer-targeted gadgets developed to help deliver a better healthcare experience. The tech varied from fitness wearables that monitored vitals to equipment to enhance rehabilitation exercises to at-home test kits.
The experience left me with an array of thoughts I wanted to share with you (apologies in advance if these are a bit scattered).
Blurring Boundaries—Years ago, as combination products started to significantly take off, it seemed as if the lines between drug, device, and biologic were beginning to blur. There was less focus on classifying a solution (outside the FDA, anyway) and more attention on providing a therapeutic remedy for the patient. Today, the lines between traditional firms (i.e., medical device manufacturers and care providers) and “outsiders” making substantial strides in penetrating the market (and they are certainly substantial) are blurred. Apple, Samsung, IBM, Best Buy, Walmart, Facebook, and many others are carving out a niche and are seeking to provide working solutions to patients. During one session, Pamela Spence, EY’s global health sciences and wellness industry leader and life sciences industry leader, speculated in the years ahead, power would shift away from the traditional organizations and grow among tech firms, as well as with patients themselves. In my opinion, that’s only true if those well established in this industry don’t adapt to the changing paradigms. Many, however, are already recognizing the opportunities these outside organizations represent and partnering with them on collaborative efforts.
The Helpdesk—During a panel, it was said healthcare is the largest industry in the world without a help desk. Care needs to be made more accessible wherever you are in the world. A comparison was made to banking; you can go to an ATM anywhere in the world, access your account, and get money in the correct local currency. Try doing that with your medical records or information. It’s virtually impossible. Healthcare must be brought up to speed, leveraging available technology to enable better care.
An Uber-Level Disruption—You don’t realize just how far behind medical technology is for the consumer until you hear the Global Head of JLABS, Melinda Richter, say she was trying to order a soda from a machine using her cell phone but realized you couldn’t perform a blood test using the same device. I know it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison of technology, but the point is still valid. Patients need technology advancements that enable them to take control of their health. Healthcare needs a disruption at the scale Uber had on transportation (a common comparison made throughout the event). Patients need to be empowered to be able to manage the care they receive.
While some may view digital health as presenting that type of disruption, I’d argue most of the technology is really just a modernization of tools. Telehealth, apps, and other technologies don’t alter the paradigm of care delivery; they make the process more efficient. Many seek a change that truly alters the way healthcare is provided.
Convenience of Care—Several initiatives were discussed at CES. Most notable were Walmart’s health centers (think Supercenter with a healthcare component) and Facebook’s Preventative Health section (search for those words on the platform). The former is intended to bring care to people everywhere in the country (90 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart) while eliminating administrative tasks for physicians and care providers. The latter will leverage community—and, as an extension, trust—to promote better health practices.
One final thought stolen from a conference session: When does digital heath just become health? It’s a great question; personally, I don’t think the answer comes until there’s a dramatic shift in mentality throughout the industry.
[What did you see at CES that impressed you? How did this year compare with previous years? Share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.]