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4 Consumerization Strategies Medtech Need to Learn Fast

Andrew Atwell
Andrew Atwell

It's official: the consumerization of healthcare is now a huge trend, and evidence of it is everywhere. But what should medical device companies do about it? 

There are four key things they should keep in mind, Andrew Atwell, principal at Samsung Open Innovation Center, said Wednesday at BIOMEDevice San Jose.

1. Free the data.

There are tons of devices in the world right now that can gather health information. But to really drive healthcare forward--improving outcomes while lowering costs--more data should be shared between devices.

There needs to be an ecosystem of integrated health devices, Atwell said. Standards are needed to help make this happen and organizations like Continua are helping to lead the charge in this respect. Continua has developed a test and certification program designed to foster interoperability integrity of healthcare technologies while ensuring the integrity of the data.

Ultimately, companies making healthcare apps need to accomplish with healthcare data what USB did for usability of consumer devices like printers. "When USB came out, you could buy a printer from any manufacturer and when you hooked it up you just knew it would work," Atwell said. 

2. Generate actual information.

While the uptick in activity tracking devices in recent years is impressive, the failure of those devices to keep users engaged over the long term shows the perils of feeding users data rather than actual information.

To illustrate this point, Atwell informally surveyed the audience, asking owners of fitness trackers like the Fitbit and Jawbone to raise their hands. A majority of people raised their hands. Then he asked: how many of you continued to use them for two months after you got the devices? Roughly half of those users lowered their hands. "How many of you continued to use those devices for a year?" he asked. Only a handful kept their hands up. 

Companies creating consumer-facing devices should ensure their products don't just spit out data like number of steps taken in a day; they should convert it into actionable information that can be spoon-fed to users.  

Rather than trying to cater to the Quantified Self trend, users should consider the idea of the Qualitative Self, Atwell said. The difference between the two is the use of analytics to turn data into information, which can be translated into coaching or valuable insights for patients.

An example a startup that is effectively doing this is a nutritional startup company out of Israel named nutrino.co. Rather than ask users to enter what they ate into an app so it can guesstimate the nutritional value of the diet, nutrino.co asks users to enter their fitness goals, food preferences, and lifestyle information. It then takes that, and does meal planning for the user, providing recipes, shopping information, and can even help facilitate delivery of food to the users. 

3. Do it in real time.

The clinical setting is one of the last places to embrace digital technology. In medical labs, for instance, there are still many devices that output paper-based results that are manually entered by a lab tech.

"The doctors should be able to see the data immediately at a patient's bedside or on the golf course," Atwell said. Doing so can help them ensure that patients follow proper protocols after being released from hospitals to prevent readmission.

4. Keep it all about the people.

When it comes to usability, medical device companies still trail consumer tech firms.

"Patients are asking: 'Why doesn't my glucometer look like my smartphone?'" said Atwell. "The traditional form factor of many medical devices has been frustrating for many users." And now both patients and doctors are demanding consumerized medical devices that engage users.

"There are plenty of opportunities in the wireless healthcare space to update legacy devices, including many opportunities for direct patient engagement," he said.

When Samsung develops a new phone, they go to the phone providers and ask them: what would you like to see? And the company takes those requests, builds a purchase order, and builds those devices.

This approach is rare in the medical device sector, Atwell said. "Samsung has relationship with Kaiser Permanente. We asked them, 'What would you want your diabetes management system to do?' They got excited because no one really asked them before. We built a prototype for them and they were ecstatic."

Smartphones may prove to be an important part of the healthcare system because of their ubiquity and ease of use. Samsung alone sells hundreds of thousands of phones each day. Studies suggest that people check their phones 150 times per day and that they trust information from them. "The smartphone can act like a billboard where you can provide patient-related information."

Smartphones could also be a powerful platform to foster behavior change, getting people to move away from unhealthy behaviors.

But for technology to really be successful, it needs to become invisible, leaving users unaware that it is there for the majority of the time it is gathering data. 

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz.

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