The real story at CES 2011

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Innovations in healthcare seem to be popping up in new places all the time, including the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. For anyone who follows or just loves technology, CES in Las Vegas is the place to unveil electronics of all types, as well as the peripherals and product support ecosystems that accompany them. 
This year, there was a renewed optimism in the global economy, as demonstrated by flashy announcements from some of the large consumer electronics manufacturers, a total of 140,000 attendees over four days, and the fact that all four halls of the enormous Las Vegas convention center were filled to capacity with exhibitors, many from China.
Much of the news coverage during the show focused on the over 3,000 new tablet PCs and the multitude of 3D TVs that promised to make our lives better, or at least more entertaining. The reason I was there (yes, I had a legitimate reason), was to attend the Digital Health Summit embedded in CES. The Summit was made up of a cluster of health-focused products and services on the exhibit floor, and a full day of presentations.
For the biopharmaceutical industry, I think the real story at CES was the wider integration of consumer electronics and healthcare monitoring, delivery and data management, sometimes called "connected health." This is enabled in part by continued miniaturization, ubiquitous wireless networks, smartphone adoption and a steady push to cloud computing. 
On the floor, familiar healthcare brands United Healthcare, Bayer and Walgreens exhibited side-by-side with large tech companies Qualcomm, Cisco and Intel. Technical standards groups like Continua Health, Bluetooth and ANT+ represented long lists of member companies that have embraced open standards for wireless communications and other technical protocols. 
I'll be honest—if I wasn't looking specifically for the Digital Health exhibits, I may have missed them among the much larger areas for automotive, gaming and digital photography, to name a few. Even though 50-plus health vendors would amount to a very good showing at most healthcare-only events, at CES they were a very small drop in a very large bucket filled with thousands of shiny objects. But it's only the second year for Digital Health at CES, and it was clear that momentum is building rapidly.
The other part of the Digital Health Summit was a day of presentations with thought-provoking topics like the impact of remote health monitoring on the doctor-patient relationship, technology-supported motivation and behavior change, and mHealth in the US Army. Five-hundred people crowded a hot room set up for 400, with another 300 people anxiously waiting in line in the hallway for a seat. Presenters and panelists representing healthcare, technology, advocacy, policy and law engaged in lively dialogue with the audience about a range of topics. 
The influence of the tech community on healthcare at CES definitely increased the overall optimism toward creating scalable, affordable technology-enabled solutions for improving world health. Caught up in the enthusiasm of the event, the moderator of a discussion about "hospitals without walls" said: "The only difference between science fiction and science is time." As a member of the research-driven pharma industry, I would have to agree.

Joe Shields is director of worldwide innovation at Pfizer
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