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Consumer Health Empowerment

June 13, 2014
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Technology is being applied to empower consumer health, but can it address those who really need it?

In my last blog I discussed the digital divide and the challenges digital medical records face in terms of the digitally challenged elder generation.  Recently, there has been a flurry of market activity with respect to consumer health empowerment, particularly wearable health monitoring devices.  I perceive that this will be a huge market opportunity, but it will present similar challenges for the elderly – the very patients it could benefit the most.

It appears the two smartphone electronics concerns, Apple and Samsung both perceive this as a significant market opportunity, but they are taking different approaches. (  Apple appears to be sticking to its proprietary strategy for such devices while Samsung is going the open hardware reference design approach.  For both vendors it opens up enormous potential for add-on consumer health devices and applications, such as blood pressure or blood glucose monitoring, or fitness tracking. 

Over and above these, there are numerous other important applications under consideration.  For example, sensors might be able to determine if a patient has taken their medications, and if not, alert them to the need to take them. 

The real question is – will these applications be oriented to the tech savvy, or to a broader audience?  It could be argued that there is higher potential among the least healthy portion of the population, but these are also likely to be the least likely to use the technology.  If this is true, these devices will most likely emphasize health maintenance applications that benefit the health-minded.  For example, my new Samsung Galaxy S5 can take a pulse reading, and measure the amount of activity I do in a day.  These might be important to health maintenance, but do little for health monitoring. 

I would have to say though that smartphone-based technology might have a greater acceptance rate among the elderly than PC technology.  Instructing a patient to wear a smart-phone based device that could auto-dial a healthcare provider shouldn’t take as much training as a device that needs to interact with a PC.

From the sounds of both Apple’s and Samsung’s announcements, it appears they may be addressing the broader market.  It appears Apple has had discussions with the FDA about health monitoring devices (  It seems the FDA is more focused on the software applications that make use of the data than the actual sensor devices.  FDA approval could significantly impact the type of applications developed and will require added investment on the part of developers. 

There could be some synergistic uses of smart-phone based devices that can employ voice-based responses, such as reminders to take one’s medications, or whether vital signs are outside a normal range and need to be checked.  And, related to my last blog, perhaps such devices could be instrumental in delivering diagnostic results and instructions. 

We are entering a whole new world in terms of consumer health empowerment.  I for one can’t wait to sit back and enjoy the ride!