MedCity Influencers, Health IT, Devices & Diagnostics

To achieve the net benefits of connected care, we need to think beyond devices

The biggest investment opportunities right now are the software companies that aggregate and analyze the data generated by wearables and the sensors behind them.

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Imagine receiving a text alert that your elderly father, living remotely by himself, has a fever of 102, an irregular heartbeat, and low blood sugar. The text explains that based on your father’s medical history and behavior today, the most likely cause is that he hasn’t eaten recently, was working outside in the heat, and forgot to take his prescribed medication. Realizing the situation is potentially life-threatening, you use your phone to send an on-demand senior care provider to his home. You saved your family and the healthcare system thousands of dollars by avoiding an unnecessary trip to the emergency room, and, most importantly, you were able to get your father the care he needed.

This is the connected medical device world of the future, and without question, these devices are reshaping healthcare as we know it. They’ll help solve the healthcare crisis in the U.S., as healthcare costs skyrocket and Obamacare’s future remains uncertain. Connected medical devices and the powerful data they collect will become an integral part of the healthcare solution.

To achieve the net benefits of connected care, think beyond the hardware. When I evaluate potential investments in the space, the biggest opportunities right now are the software companies that aggregate and analyze the data generated by the hardware components of connected devices.

Today’s wearables and sensors are still nascent—monitoring only a few variables like heart rate, calories consumed or distance walked. But we’re on the cusp of market entry for the next generation of activity trackers, where companies like Fitbit (where I am a board member) will integrate powerful sensors that can monitor several biometrics and translate them into valuable health insights for daily use.

Consider all of the data involved in my prior example heartbeat, blood sugar, medical history, daily behavior (think about all you do on a daily basis – eat, sleep, sit, and stand). Now, take the total number of actions measured and multiply that by 274 million—the number of wearable devices in use as forecast by Gartner. The amount of data is astounding and with it lies an abundance of opportunity for secondary and tertiary businesses to scale, and substantially impact our current healthcare system. For an investor, disruption at scale can mean a big return and for the U.S. population, it means millions of data points to help us live healthier lives.

Data collection and aggregation will inform actionable insights and outcomes, but as in any area of emerging technology, there are sure to be at least a few roadblocks along the way. One hurdle I imagine these secondary and tertiary companies running up against is the aggregation of data from both FDA-approved and unapproved devices.

The connected health hardware and app products on the market today serve a variety of different purposes for different types of users. While many devices, like those that measure heart rate or steps taken are considered low-risk wellness products by the FDA and do not require agency approval, there are some devices intended to inform medical decisions, and as such they currently require clearance from the FDA. Regardless of whether the FDA will change its tenor as to which products are deemed “low-risk,” there is no doubt that people will look to multiple sensors to provide vital information, and data aggregators may need to decipher which data to use and when.

Recent progress in artificial intelligence will likely speed the process. According to CB Insights, there were less than 10 deals for AI-driven health tech companies in 2011. There were 60 deals last year, many of which have data and analytics capabilities where a wearable device API could be a logical path for expansion, like Deep 6 Analytics or Healint.

In the next five to 10 years, many of these companies should provide big returns for entrepreneurs and investors in the connected medical device space. These technologies will support quality, innovative healthcare that can be delivered affordably, a revolutionary development at the price point the country needs.

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