January 12, 2017

CES 2017 Digital Health Roundup

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is largely considered the mecca of new consumer technology. Billed as “the world’s meeting place,” it represents the hope for the future when it comes to how consumers will interact with technology and, by extension, brands.

In addition to the smarthome appliances, autonomous vehicles and plethora of robots making headlines at this year’s CES, there were a number of promising health-related products and sessions as well. From tools that monitor heartbeats and body temperature to those that track steps and diagnose sleep apnea, there was something for nearly everyone who wants to keep a close eye on their health.

CES 2017 was held in Las Vegas on Jan. 5-8, and Intouch Solutions team members were there. This POV summarizes what we saw.

CES has never been about the future of healthcare or pharma specifically; rather, it’s about the future of technology and consumers. This year, however, CES featured a digital health track to address the convergence of things consumers care about most, including owning and understanding all the data relevant to their health, as well as the movement toward “well care” rather than “sick care.”

Consumer Digital Health Tools 
Companies like Philips and BewellConnect hope their new tools will become part of the future of healthcare. Philips has a medicine delivery tool attached to their home hub that provides the right medicine at the right time. If it’s not taken from the tray, the machine will save the medicine in a separate compartment (that the patient can’t get access to) while notifying a designated caretaker.

BewellConnect unveiled a series of FDA-approved hardware products that interact with their app to provide diagnostics and actual care to patients, culminating in a complete handheld, vital-signs-monitoring system for mobile healthcare professionals (HCPs) called VisioCheck. VisioCheck is intended to “revolutionize telemedicine” by facilitating communication between HCPs; between patients and HCPs; and between patients and medical platforms.

Prescription Digital Therapies
The credibility of prescription digital therapies is growing, and it’s likely that we’ll see a lot more of them in the not-so-distant future. Pear Therapeutics, which creates “digital therapies for enhanced clinical outcomes,” reported that their substance use disorder treatment is two times as effective when their app, reSET™, is used in combination with outpatient therapy — as compared with face-to-face traditional treatments alone. Pear uses a traditional clinical trial methodology with an updated software development lifecycle to release a series of prescription-based apps. Like BlueStar, the first prescribed app to manage diabetes, Pear’s apps will be available for download through the Apple or Android stores, but only accessible with a doctor’s prescription.

Augmented and Virtual Reality
Almost every booth of significant size had an AR or VR experience attached to it. Some of the experiences were gimmicky, while others were value add-ons; for example, a HoloLens experience that showed blowouts of a motorcycle engine or a simulated driving experience. This technology is proving to have real applications in healthcare. We are also seeing the legitimization of VR as a tool for pain medication. According to one presenter, at Cedars Sinai, they are seeing a 24% reduction in pain using VR without medication.

Personalization and Automation
Gene sequencing used to cost tens of thousands of dollars and was used exclusively in medical research, but we’re nearing a point where almost anyone who wants to can afford to have their own genome sequenced. Such sequencing can be used to identify predispositions to cancer or heart disease, for example, as well as medications that are effective or should be avoided. Previously, a sequenced genome would be something a person discussed with their doctor, but with South Korea’s MyGenomeBox — which debuted at CES — any genome can be uploaded to a secure cloud and the sharer can gain access to a full report on the results and apps related to their genome. Available apps include ones for exercise, alcohol dependence, insulin sensitivity, breast cancer, skincare and more.

Parsing Health Data With Artificial Intelligence
Beyond the shiny gadgets, the talking robots, and other quirky devices found on the CES floor, it was actually an invisible force — artificial intelligence — that we saw as having the most immediate impact on digital health today. Through the use of AI, we’re finally at a point where the data we’ve been collecting for years can now become meaningful, especially when combined with other sources. AI allows us as an industry to identify correlations that previously went unnoticed.

In a world where information is abundant, it’s critical that data be meaningful and translated into bite-sized, actionable, relevant recommendations, particularly when it comes to health and wellness. This can only happen when data from across the complex ecosystem of available sources (e.g., wearables, genomic tracking, cross- platform trends) is parsed.

Image of cute Robot

Up to this point, each device, app or service has been responsible for sifting its own data and trying to pull actionable insights out of it. Now, however, it appears that artificial intelligence (AI) — like IBM’s Watson computer — can take on the task of identifying relevant correlations in the haystack of vast amounts of data. AI is truly poised to bring together all the disparate sources into a solution that can finally be meaningful to consumers.

AI is a tool that will likely someday supplement every HCP visit going forward. For example, using prior patient data and trends, Cedars Sinai is using AI to flag potentially dangerous prescriptions prior to their delivery. And Watson is being deployed to find the most effective oncology drugs and clinical trials for a patient’s specific cancer. Put simply, AI is helping providers make better decisions using a larger set of information available.

Previous years at CES were about the disappearing user interface (UI), meaning technology that was incredibly easy to interact with using digital devices. This year saw the move to “zero UI,” a term used predominantly in conjunction with voice activation (think Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa). The combination of newly accessible technology like genome mapping in conjunction with the destruction of the UI barrier is providing exponentially more relevant and personalized data. Additionally, many of these voice-based systems like Alexa are backed by highly sophisticated AI allowing them to parse data to find new correlations. Alexa itself was integrated into a tremendous amount of the products featured at CES, and perhaps the takeaway for pharma is that this trend toward zero UI and AI-everything shows us how willing consumers are to adopt this technology into everyday life. If consumers are open to interacting with AI-empowered refrigerators, home-lighting systems, etc., it’s likely they will be open to interacting with AI-empowered digital healthcare devices if the benefits outweigh the costs.

“Perhaps the takeaway for pharma is that this trend toward zero UI and AI-everything shows us how willing consumers are to adopt this technology into everyday life.”

We’re on the precipice of redefining mobile and personal. No longer does mobile refer to the consumer moving to access new services; rather, it now refers to services being mobile and delivered to the consumer. Personal now speaks to identified trends across verticals, made relevant and actionable. There are no more verticals; rather there are data sources that can be parsed to provide personal, actionable insights to consumers. The future is personal, delivered and has no UI.

This year, we will see interactive AI conversations with patients and HCPs through branded websites. We’ll also see recommendations to patients based on data delivered to HCPs and brands from a personal wearable device. And this year, we will see patients asking their personal AI assistant (whether it be Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Home) about drug interactions, diagnoses and treatment recommendations.

To that end, now is the time to start investigating cross-platform partnerships, building zero-UI interfaces and choosing an AI engine. This is the time to do so, or pharma once again risks being the industry playing catch-up.