Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Test-driving an aggregator, running on empty

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By Matthew Arnold, Principal Analyst, Manhattan Research

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to upgrading my ancient iPhone 4 -- the Flintstones of iPhones -- for the clown shoes-sized 6 Plus. It came with iOS 8, which comes with Apple’s Health app (stay with me here, Android partisans – there’s an OS-agnostic point in here somewhere).

Having contributed my fair share to the digital gum-flapping that heralded Apple’s iOS 8 roll-out last September, when health tech wags whipped themselves into a froth speculating that HealthKit would prove the Killer App of health data aggregators, I was psyched to actually try it. Like many people in the pharmaverse, I’d been following the evolution of health trackers closely, with an eye to the eventual medical applications of wearable sensor technology. I’m no Quantified Selfer, though – I don’t need a smart watch or band to tell me that the Couch to 5K app on my phone has been sorely neglected.

But now I have this device that uses a motion coprocessor chip (whatever that means, it sounds very impressive), barometer and GPS to calculate steps taken, distance walked or run and flights of stairs climbed. It’s a $600 step tracker, basically, with email, texting, web browsing and “phone” capabilities. I can’t quite remember what that last feature does, but apparently we used it a lot way back in the 20th Century.

Someday soon, of course, we’ll all be cocooned in ubiquitous, always-on sensor technology continuously monitoring our health in the background, 24/7 – wearables, implantables, ingestibles, even smart scarves – and piping the data gleaned to the apps and professionals of our choosing. For the time being, though, populating your data aggregator with more than stairs and steps requires some proactivity – you need to go out and acquire a device that will fill all those empty buckets with numbers on how you slept, your heart rate and blood glucose, etc. Which means that for now, the audience for aggregators is pretty much limited to a small number of early-adopting fitness and gadget freaks.

That’s bound to change. Already, there’s pretty substantial consumer interest in aggregators. Manhattan Research data show that three in ten U.S. online adults are interested in using an aggregator – remarkable for such an emerging technology -- and even more (37%) said they would feel motivated to do so if it lowered their healthcare costs. However, 69% of online consumers said they have privacy concerns about sharing information with websites or apps. With mass-hackings in the headlines, patients will need to be assured that their health data, in many ways more intimate than a ribald selfie, is secure -- or persuaded that the benefits justify the risk. More than half of online consumers agreed that they would share their health information “if it helped me improve my health or treat my condition.”

Hospitals and healthcare professionals may be best qualified to make the case. When we asked online consumers from whom they would most likely use a digital health data aggregator, the largest number – 28% -- said “a hospital system or physicians’ office,” followed by health insurers (11%). Tech companies and health device makers didn’t break out of the single digits.

Even with this very limited health data functionality, my new smartphone has already prompted me to change my mouse potato ways – to take the stairs instead of the elevator, for example, or to walk when I could take the bus. When I’m bogged down under deadlines and can’t possibly manage that lunchtime walk, I ask myself: How will I ever face Apple Health at the end of the day if my step count’s below 5,000?

I know that the novelty will soon wear off, and in the absence of any incentive – say, from my employer or health plan -- I’ll probably stop clocking my steps every day. Fitness trackers and health apps have notoriously high rates of abandonment. But for now, I’m a little more conscious of my activity, or lack thereof. I’ll be ready to go deeper once healthcare companies build devices and apps that make it effortless to do so, when my doctor and my employer give me good reason to, and when I can be assured that my data probably won’t fall into the wrong hands.

Would you like to hear more from Manhattan Research?  They'll be joining at ePharma on Tuesday, February 24 for the presentation Digital Trends Pharma Should Use Everyday.  For more information on this session and the rest of the program, download the agenda.  As a reader of this blog, when you register to join us and mention code XP2006BL, you can save $100 off the current rates!

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