Some of the most interesting health tech trends at the outset of 2021 point to a future that merges healthcare with consumer electronics, two trends that have barely touched so far. At CES 2021, CNET's Senior VP of Content & Strategy Lindsey Turrentine asked if they canwhen merged. Here are some of the most interesting health tech products that may bring us to that point.
Health tech that knows you're having an issue is just a tree falling in the forest unless there's a connection to the healthcare system. Omron has taken an important step in that direction with its VitalSight connected blood-pressure monitoring system. It's not a slick watch, nor does it take your readings passively, but when you do take a reading it automatically logs it into your electronic medical record and can notify your care provider if you need attention. Vitalsight is being made available through physicians.
Omron is also the maker of the, a pioneering clinical quality blood pressure meter in smartwatch form that was launched at CES in 2019. The company says HeartGuide is not yet compatible with VitalSight's automatic reporting system but it seems clear that will be in the offing.
Across the span of consumer electronics, people over 55 get short shrift, often seen as caricatures of frailty or a market that doesn't look sexy in a startup's funding presentation. But the over-55 market composes one of health tech's biggest white spaces. "There needs to be much more focus on developing great technology for seniors," says Jenniifer Kent, Senior Director at Parks Associates.
algorithm detects a person has fallen, Nobi can send out an alert to summon help. Absent such emergencies, the sensor can emit tones of light that complement the time of day, which could help keep you on a healthy diurnal cycle. It also learns patterns of behavior to get better at detecting anomalies as well as nudging you to get to an appointment or take medication. The downside is that Nobi will be priced at a lofty $2,499 plus a $19 monthly monitoring fee.seems to have heard that. Its stylish lamp sensor lights a room to prevent falls when it detects human motion. It can tell the difference between a person getting up and someone just turning over in bed. When that
CVS Health launched its Symphony system at CES 2021. Symphony's array of in-home and wearable devices create a mesh network of sensors to detect falls, monitor motion and oversee room temperature and air quality while providing an emergency alert service when needed. All of this runs from a voice-activated hub. The system's algorithms promise to learn when conditions change from normal as part of its alert logic. Symphony kits start at $150 with monthly monitoring fees starting at $30.
There's a cautionary tale about continuous monitoring, however: A study of the accuracy of Apple Watch heart arrhythmia detection found that "a clinically actionable cardiovascular diagnosis of interest was established in only ... 6 of 41 (15%) patients who received an explicit alert." Healthcare providers remain skeptical of automatic alerts from any form of consumer electronics until they're proven to be of quality and don't add noise or false alarm to an already strained healthcare system.
Some people will eagerly wear health tech, but many won't want to be bothered with sensors or their ability to trigger the complex correlation between healthcare and awareness of our own mortality. For those people, who will likely make up the majority of us, there's a trend toward making health sensors as transparent as possible.
Valencell offers sensors that can measure blood pressure indirectly, embedded in tech products you might wear for other, more enjoyable reasons, eliminating the need for a dedicated blood pressure and heart rhythm monitoring device. It works via photoplethysmography, measuring the nature of light reflected back from skin as blood courses variably beneath it. I love the idea of our earbuds or headphones becoming a vast fleet of passive blood pressure monitors, but Valencell says industry momentum is leaning more toward using its tech in fingertip or wrist wearables, with such retail products arriving in 2022.
NuraLogix showcased its Anura app during CES 2021, claiming it to be the first app to determine heart rate, blood pressure and stress via a 30-second selfie. A paper submitted to an American Heart Association journal, by researchers that include two NuraLogix scientists, says the Anura app is accurate when measuring people with normal blood pressure but further tests are needed to document its accuracy with people who have hypertension. In any case the technology makes an intriguing move toward embedding medical diagnostics into one of our most common everyday behaviors, the selfie.
Home diagnostic kits
If telehealth is to continue to flourish, it will need to locate basic doctor's diagnostic tools into the home.
HD Medical introduced HealthyU at CES 2021, a home device that senses a seven-lead electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) without wires. It can also sense heart and lung sound and rate, blood oxygen saturation, body temperature and blood pressure. The HealthyU is pending FDA clearance, which will tell us everything about its accuracy, but the product bundles a remarkable number of signals in a single handheld device.
ICON.AI introduced a health sensing device with Amazon Alexa built in, perhaps a first in this category. This hybrid device looks like an Amazon Echo Show 8 smart speaker with a lift-out sensor pad docked in the top that takes a basket of six cardiovascular measurements via your fingertips. When it's not checking your vitals, it can function like a normal smart speaker with a screen, including showing YouTube videos, some of which are sure to raise your blood pressure.
The Tytocare kit lets you check if your provider supports data from its kit, and if necessary it can connect you to a doctor that does. Tytocare has recently announced partnerships ranging from Florida homebuilder CC Homes to telehealth platform Amwell.
Electronic allergy relief
Less serious but much more common are nasal allergies and startup Fluo, showcased by Proctor and Gamble Ventures, seeks to change treatment of them with its device called Flo. It uses precisely modulated light pulses delivered by putting the device into each nostril for 6 seconds to activate the body's own antihistamine response in a process called photobiomodulation.
The Flo device is expected on the market by late 2021. It'll be priced under $100 and will offer plenty of reasons to pay: It can treat allergies to tree pollen, grass, ragweed and dust without drowsiness, contraindications from other drugs, concerns about pregnancy or jobs that require strict drug-free compliance.
One of the most confounding health problems in the US is our failure to properly take prescription drugs, resulting in over 100,000 deaths and added health care costs of between $100 billion and $289 billion annually, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Some of the most ambitious tech related to this can be seen in the partnership of Pear Therapeutics and etectRX, announced at the start of 2021.
While the "smart pill" sector is a tricky one, this deal seems to endorse the idea that important medications should self-report when they were taken which can then be mapped against personal health device signals to extrapolate the effect of those medications. It's not happening tomorrow, but it's a tantalizing new prospect.
Until this year, the intersection of digital wellness and consumer electronics was largely populated with a lot of fitness bands and watches that threw off elective signals that were easy to ignore. But the 2020's are shaping up to be an era of compelling home health that addresses serious questions with signals that will be hard for patients or providers to dismiss.
Update: Feb. 2: Clarified the readiness of Valencell's core sensor technology versus the timeline for finished goods that are expected to embed it in 2022.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.