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What’s Ahead for Healthcare?

The technophiles at CES foresee a bright future as Obamacare mandates “wellness” and “prevention,” anticipating that digital health tech makers will be able to capitalize on Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) through “Big Data” type capture and data mining, and that this will drive the implementation of ACOs. The expectation is that wellness, prevention and pricing transparency are ingredients for a magic formula to drive costs from the system.

All seems rosy for digital health in consumer electronics land. Insurance providers such as UnitedHealth see digital health tech as a way to intercept health problems earlier and cheaper, and to avoid costs through wellness management, especially from lifestyle issues like obesity and diabetes. Insurers also expect EMRs and data management to allow price-transparent shopping for procedures, the way cars and airline tickets are purchased, with the expectation that this will drive down pricing. Companies like GreatCall have branched out from big-button phones for grandma to remote and automate eldercare management.

Digital health technologies will touch how we live and how we age. They will give us information about ourselves in quantity and quality never before available (“quantified self”) and be able to set up feedback loops to monitor and incentivize being active instead of sedentary. What remains to be seen? How much this will actually save the healthcare system in the long run, who will pay for these technologies, and whether the technologies are sticky enough to be used by consumers for more than a week or two.

CES2 web

Dr. Daniel Kraft, Dr. John Nosta, and Robert Scoble showing off sensor-enabled health and fitness gadgets at a CES 2014 panel.

Now that we have had a quick tour of CES in Las Vegas, let’s travel to the OneMedForum in San Francisco. This conference runs parallel with the larger J.P. Morgan meeting. The differences between the consumer buys/consumer pays non-therapeutic health monitoring environment and the facility buys/third-party pays traditional therapeutic medical device markets stood in sharp contrast.

Clearly apparent were the inroads of digital health into the medical device space. At OneMedForum, 60 percent of the medical device presentations covered health information, mobile products or services. Only 40 percent addressed traditional “gadget” medical devices.

Pressures from reimbursement, regulation, comparative effectiveness and the medical device tax were apparent in the traditional medical device space. Noticeably absent was the sunny techno-utopianism of the CES crowd. The realities of developing medical technologies in an era of ever more restrictive regulation, constrained reimbursement and challenging funding set the tone.