From Misfits to FitBits: CES 2015, The CLINICAL Electronics Show

John Nosta, founder, NostaLab
John Nosta, founder, NostaLab

Upon returning from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I was struck by a few key trends that defined both the meeting and exhibitions. While my first reaction was “that was more of the same,” that perception evolved a bit with a closer look and some analysis.


My inclination to be a bit negative was tempered by certain trends and activities that take the “point” of digital health and create a “vector”—a force that defines digital health with both magnitude and direction. And one of these key insights is that digital health and aspects of wellness and care are taking up more and more mindshare.


More of the same: My first reaction on the CES convention floor was that trackers seemed to dominate the space. From Misfits to FitBits, the evolution of wearable technology is certainly taking off. The tracker market is now rich with volume and innovation and ready to leverage this scale to move in new and exciting directions. Beyond simple “wrist trackers” are devices now being built into clothes which offer other information, such as body temperature and blood oxygen levels. The conventional activity tracker has emerged as mainstream technology that is gaining acceptance across a variety of audiences. The challenge for trackers is to move beyond digital fitness and gain recognition and value with patients and clinicians.


Style and Substance: For me, what defined CES 2015 was the 2-day Digital Health Summit. Now in its sixth year, the event has shown significant growth, but 2015 was the year that really put it on the pharma map. Some of the program titles are sure to grab your attention: Consumer accessible innovation, Pharma rises above the pill, Reinventing the doctor-patient relationship, Personalized biometric medicine, Winning the war on diabetes.


The event was oversold and the venue needed to be changed to accommodate the crowds. One other interesting note is the composition of the audience: approximately 35% of attendees came from the pharmaceutical industry. The value of this program to help define and dissect key issues in digital health and its practical reality in care was tremendous.


Minds over matter: It seems that activity trackers are evolving into “thought trackers,” with aspects of the computer-brain interface beginning to take shape. Simple, head-worn devices can now read your EEG and provide a consumer-friendly interface to foster stress reduction. Example of this include Muse and Thync. Thync creates wearable consumer products that use neurosignaling to shift one's state of mind; the technology induces on-demand shifts in energy, calm or focus. From sensing to stimulating, neurotechnology seems to be emerging as a key area of development in digital health.


The pharma collaboratory: It seems that the pharmaceutical community has taken notice of the digital-health movement, which has resulted in new collaborations between well-established pharma companies and tech upstarts. An example: the relationship between technology patch innovator MC10 and UCB. Together, these two companies are exploring motor abnormalities, such as Parkinson's disease, from the expanded perspective of tracking individual movement (tremor, gate, etc.) and then leveraging these data to optimize care.


Innovation outside pharma: One of my favorite discussions wasn't with a technology upstart or pharma powerhouse. Instead, it was with Kyle Nel, the Executive Director of Lowe's Innovation Labs at Lowe's Home Improvement. Yes, I'm talking about home improvement. As sensors evolve to be less intrusive and technology lives in our kitchens and bathrooms, the “ownership” of health may shift to new brands and companies that can help make the home more of a non-obtrusive clinical laboratory. From carpets that track steps and activity to bathroom mirrors that can take an ECG reading, digital health is attracting new players and innovators. The presence of Apple, Google and even Lowe's shows that innovation outside the walls of pharma is redefining a model that, until now, was defined—and perhaps even limited—by a single industry.


John Nosta is the founder of NostaLab.


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