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Transforming Health Care for Those Who Need it Most

Opinion

Xconomy Seattle — 

Like other engaged consumers, my family of athletes tries out many of the new healthcare related wearables and apps. From counting steps to counting calories, there is a site or app out there for everything we do.

But it’s not my immediate family that can benefit most from these tools. Today, devices are bought and used primarily by people who are already engaged and health-conscious. According to the latest Makovsky “Pulse of Health” online survey, nearly two-thirds of Americans would like to use a mobile app to manage their health. The most common motivations: to track diet and nutrition (47 percent); to receive medication reminders (46 percent); to track symptoms (45 percent); and to track physical activity (44 percent). I see these as healthy concerns.

To make an impact, in medicine or in the business of health, our efforts should focus on those who will benefit most: People with metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, other serious disease burdens, and mental illnesses. The wearables and apps should connect usage and outcomes data to their collective community of providers, friends, and family who treat and support them.

There are at least two foundational hurdles that make it so much more difficult to start with the “unwell”: A lack of individual motivation and activation, and the inevitable question of who’s going to pay.

But the idea of expanding beyond the fitness-focused user is becoming mainstream through: family members looking for options to monitor a loved one who is aging, ill or may be managing a chronic condition; parents monitoring a child’s symptoms; games to improve mental health and well-being; tools for sedentary employees, and women on maternity leave. It’s good progress, but it’s still early stages.

I hope that the health industry will build sustainable and economical business models for digital health so these technologies become available to those individuals who wouldn’t otherwise purchase them on their own.

Reflx Labs, the creators of Boogio, has been working at Cambia Grove since our opening, and is creating products that embrace the challenge to disrupt healthcare, while increasing accessibility and lowering cost. By using sensors that turn any shoe into “smart” footwear, they are turning diagnostic data into something that can be used to take specific health actions—to prevent workplace injuries by alerting us before they happen, for example.

This movement to “body area networks” can also lead to more contextualized, convenient physical therapy and treatment options. Products like Boogio represent a platform for the (as yet unmet) promise of an Internet of Things for humans.

Cambia Grove is a home for startups and entrepreneurs like the Reflx Labs team—startups whose health technology is so compelling that consumer laggards and the late majority crave these devices or tools, whatever form they take.

We can help match these solutions with entrepreneurs, investors, large employers, and healthcare providers to help these businesses grow and thrive. Our hope is through innovation and collaboration among the academics, technologists, doctors, business people, and policy leaders in the industry we can decrease costs, focus on people first, and mend a broken health care system.

We challenge the entire health care community to increase its focus on the people our system has yet to engage.