The market for eHealth mobile apps and digital medical gadgets is growing very fast now and the big smartphone companies and venture capitalists are starting to take serious interest, as they see enormous business possibilites in the global personal health sector.
This is an extended version of my trendspotting talk during my session “Engaged Epatients” at the Digital Health Days conference in Stockholm. In its second year, this kind of conference is also a sign of the growing interest for digital health services.
This is a summary of my talk at the M2M for Real seminar in 2012
Internet of Things? Machine 2 Machine?
It’s all about people! And health!
M2M is really taking off now after years of hype. But most user cases until now have been about logistics and monitoring devices. The goal of the seminar, as stated by the moderator Magnus Melander was to highlight many new types of uses for M2M solutions that exist today.
M2M usually means Machine-to-Machine communications, smart little devices that can connect with each other and internet. In reality it is often about Man-to-Machine (us controlling machines) och Machine-to-Man (machines reporting to us). But for me the social possibilities are equally important, that we can create valuable connections between people using wireless sensors and mobiles to facilitate Man-to-Man communication.
Internet of Things is also a somewhat misleading term, as there is only one internet that is used by both people and things, devices, machines. What’s new is that there is now an enormous number of inexpensive and smart sensors and platforms that make it very easy and inexpensive to connect things to internet and share the data in the cloud, thereby creating new types of services.
I see the possibilities with Internet of Things as the fourth digital revolution, just as important as the first three: microprocessors and the PC, internet and smartphones.
This revolution has already started in personal health, here are some examples:
Problem: Excercise is boring. Step counters are boring and you don’t bother noting down your steps per day or take up any challenges from your work mates.
Solution: FitBit weighs 10 grams and has a battery that lasts more than a week. It automatically tracks not just how many steps you take, but also how many stairs you climb, how many calories you burn, how far you walk and even how well you sleep. It wirelessly uploads your activity data to your smartphone and Fitbit web page:
Result: Increased motivation to change your behaviour and excercise.
Notice the flower display? This flower grows if you are active, shrinks when you are inactive, (Tamagotchi-style!). Sounds silly? Stanford researcher B J Foggs says in this New York times article:
“The little flower growing represents anticipation and hope that something good will happen, which is the flower growing,” he said. “When you push that button and see the change, it’s instant feedback, a reward.”
“Even though the device seems simple, it’s tapping into a complex psychology that changes people’s behavior,” he said. “It hits the right button.”
Case: Body scales
Problem: We don’t use our bathroom scales
Solution:The Withings wifi body scale logs your weight, body fat and BMI automatically. As soon as you step off the scale, your data is uploaded via wifi to your Withings mobile app and your Withings web account. The ability to upload sensor data data automatically is a key factor for success!
Result: You start monitoring your weight in a much more useful way when you see your change over time in diagrams, making it easy to see changes during your vacation, when you start excercising etc.
Problem: Diabetics struggle to log their blood sugar levels and insulin treatments.
Solution:Glucodock is a blood sugar measuring device that is attached to your iPhone. You measure you blood sugar level as usual by letting a test strip absorb a drop of blood from your finger, but the result is immediately shown on your iPhone screen and logged in the app.
Result: Your blood sugar and insulin diary integrated into your mobile, giving you a good overview. You can also email your data to anyone, for example your doctor. However, there are no other ways to share your data online, which is a major drawback in my view.
There is a strong trend in medical care, moving the focus from hospitals and doctors to the patients themselves. The patients are getting involved in their own treatments at a much higher level than ever before, especially for chronic diseases.
Case: Sara Riggare
My project partner Sara Riggare has had Parkinson’s disease since her teens.
Problem: Sara lives a good life, but she is dependent on taking 6 medications in 6 different combinations 6 times per day in order to suppress her Parkinson symptoms. She recently began noticing an increased stiffness in her hands around lunch time daily. So sara asked herself: “How can I optimize my medication to minimize my hand stiffness during the day?”
Solution: Sara started to monitor her self. She found the iPhone app FastFingers (1$ in the App Store):
With FastFingers you tap as quickly as you can with your fingers on the screen for 30 seconds. Sara did this once every hour and logged the results in a diagram:
Result: Sara in this way managed to optimize her medication over time to improve her health. Sara of course collaborates with her neurologist, he encourages her and says “Sara, you know more about Parkinson’s research than I do!” Well, that is because Sara is of course very motivated and she now has these kinds of smart tools.
We are only in the beginning, the whole health sector, from fitness and excercise to chronic disease treatments is changing now becauseof all these new possibilities with M2M sensors and apps and the user empowerment.
There is a very big chance for us in Sweden to be a global catalyst for this disruption. We have a forward-looking public sector, global telecom companies, world-class researchers and highly competent hardware and software developers. Let’s do it!