A company that looks at facial features to guess life expectancy and lifestyle choices that might contribute to changes in that number. Life insurers like this for obvious reasons.
A company that uses a wearable + physiological/speech data to detect if people are engaged in your conversation and gives social coaching nudges on cues to pick up on.
A project that develops solutions for tumor sample collection INSIDE an MRI by using almost entirely plastic parts and pneumatics.
Watch me ship, watch me pay pay
You know what’s fun? Giving a talk about tech giants in healthcare and then finding out at midnight the night before that Apple dropped the bombshell that the Apple Watch Series 4 will include fall detection and an FDA-cleared ECG sensor. This continues the spree of companies going after the “tech tools to monitor the elderly” market with Best Buy acquiring GreatCall and both Amazon and Google exploring using their smart home hubs to monitor the elderly.
Anyone that read our Apple in Healthcare analysis knew this was coming and is a continuation of Apple’s shift in strategy for the Watch towards more and more healthcare applications.
This feature is going to get the Watch into the hands of more people because it expands the buyer base significantly. How many more children are going to buy this product for their aging parents? Which Medicare Advantage plan or life insurer will be the first to subsidize the purchase of the new watch for its members (a strategy that worked well for phone carriers and the iPhone when it came out)? When will the IRS let the Watch be bought by HSAs/FSAs?
You down with ECG? Yeah you know me
There’s a lot of very valid discussion about whether putting the single-lead ECG in an Apple Watch is a good thing. Considering the Apple Watch demographics skew way younger and towards a demographic that typically doesn’t have atrial fibrillation, we might be creating a bunch of unnecessarily worried young people that end up going to their doctors more frequently based on the Watch data.
Here’s some of the questions/data we need to look out for to know if this a net-positive and cost effective:
1) How many people outside of the typical risk segment were found to have heart issues thanks to the Watch?
2) How many people went to the hospital because of a Watch reading but ended up not having heart issues? Especially that have not been previously classified to be at-risk.
3) How many people in the at-risk category for afib did not have a Watch and now have one? I’m sure it’s not coincidental this announcement is right before the holiday season.
I believe Apple’s announcement is a directionally correct area that healthcare needs to move into – give more patients data directly with the proper interpretation tools. However, the piece we’re currently missing is the infrastructure that can properly triage patients and assess patients remotely.
With the Watch generating more demand from patients, businesses will pop up to manage the concerns of patients and direct them to the appropriate next steps. This could include doing more of the gold standard tests (e.g. 12 lead ECG, Holter monitor, etc.) in more everyday areas outside of the hospital (e.g. your local retail pharmacy) and interpreted remotely by a cardiologist. We’re many, many steps away from that, but this is what an unbundling of the hospital starts looking like and how tech might be able to handle the extra patient demand generated by putting medical-grade wearables on healthy people.
This announcement from Apple does pose another question though: should companies that are providing patients with data be divorced from the downstream effects they cause? What do you think about the announcement?
Big Tech vs. Big Industry
Apple is just one of the tech giants entering the space seriously. We mapped out where the tech giants are placing their bets in private markets. See the analysis.
The Apple Watch is doubling down on the heart, which can signal many different issues because it’s connected to the autonomic nervous system. AI is an enabling tool to help screen for issues through these shifts in biomarkers from the heart. AliveCor recently was cleared to non-invasively screen for hyperkalemia via ECGs, and Cardiogram previously found it could potentially detect pre-diabetes via heart rate.