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Beware the hype, hope and crowd testing of health tech

mHealth -- is it a teaspoon to stem the tide of healthcare spending? So healthcare costs climb to 20% of GDP, and at the same time so climb market expectations and a boatload of silly stuff - like this latest -- crowd-testing of mHealth apps. Don't you love it?  Crowd testing for what flaws may be present in my step or calorie counting app of choice? What if 10 people test -- do we still release? But maybe low-cost or no-cost testing is the way to go. So many apps for wellness! What's a person to think who wants to be well and healthy or maybe an under-35-year-old tech wannabe who wants to be wealthy by getting some wellness crowd-sourced app funding? This new and over-hyped 'industry' of thousands of downloadable health and wellness apps (40,000 apps just in iTunes) must be, one supposes, good for the economy. Why? Entrepreneurship like this helps software developers maintain optimism even in the face of other sour economic indicators.

Meanwhile, the telehealth market sizing estimates rock on -- usage, not so much. So the telehealth industry is growing -- somewhere --  growing sixfold in just four years. Telehealth, in this case, is another word for 'remote patient monitoring' and is now helping 140,000 post-acute and 80,000 ambulatory patients in the US. Wow. That's a total of 220,000 people. How many outpatient visits were there last year, anyway? The CDC says 96.1 million.  So how's that remote patient monitoring/aka telehealth adoption going in the US? Meanwhile, 500,000 falls occur each year inside hospitals! Remote patient monitoring? How about patient monitoring?

The Digital Health reality check, please. Ever flexible, Pew's latest study refers to tracking one's own health data as Digital Health (hold the wireless, m, and tele). Many do track their health data today, it turns out, but they're just not, per Pew, uploading and analyzing the results. Only 20% are using any technology (the rest track on paper or in their heads). Maybe they are worried about their employers -- or Chinese hackers -- reading their data without their knowledge. But if a tree (or a Fitbit) falls in the forest, is anyone there to hear the results? And if a Fitbit wearer falls in the forest, will anyone know? Sadly, even though it has built in motion detection, if you are in the forest, bring your phone -- there are no real-time alerts. The current version, some say, is not quite ready for broad deployment in senior housing.  And the manufacturer clearly does not see seniors as a viable target market. Too bad, it and other such devices could be great for inactivity monitoring.

Hold the hype -- we need to have our market heads examined. Remembering many hype cycles, I quote a Gartnerism: beyond the hype, some sensible and helpful tech solutions do generally emerge. We must wonder, though, with those deployment statistics about the long-suffering remote patient monitoring-aka-telehealth industry, now mobilized by mHealth mania, what is the business model that will work? (Will anyone make any money?) In the meantime, the Pew report should help bring folks back to earth -- if only 20% are tracking their health using any technology at all, then we are at square one of the evolution of this market -- and hype has yet to make Digital Health tracking happen.


Health is continuous. Healthcare and medicine are the episodic interactions with the system. Technology is trying to bridge the gap between these two realities. I posit that we should concern ourselves with our health instead of repairing the broken healthcare system. Many thirty something MBAs have seized the opportunity to profit on this revolution.
Generation X, Y and me grew up in technology. They play video games in 3D and create virtual lives and avatars as normal. Boomers and the Greatest Generation grew into technology. I suspect many of us use the internet much like the newspaper; check the headlines, do the puzzles and check the obituraries. Our idea of technology was Pong on Atari and Pacman at the local pizza joint. Technology does separate our mindsets.
There is a mission driven (as opposed to profit driven) crowd funding site

I run a health information technology startup that employs only AARP qualified staff. Our mission is to empower seniors to live independently in the safest and least restrictive environment. We don't engage in any biometric measures that track your steps toward a digital journey to Timbuktu (shot and visas not included).
So separate the hype from the hopeful. Boomers have the skills to create technology that truely does enrich our lives.

Thanks Laurie for this. "If a FitBit wearer falls in the forest..." Love your style - and common sense.

And how come I am only now discovering your site? Keep up the great work!

Wonder no more. As suspected, the most used app for 'mHealth' -- track your pregnancy, followed by track those steps. Call me crazy -- but I am sensing that the 65+ population is not a big user.


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