Consumer health products and services

Over the Xmas break I began playing with three products which monitor the body with a view to helping you improve your health – they are the iPhone app SleepCycle, a wifi enabled scale from Withings, and an activity monitor and calorie counting tool from Fitbit.

My interest is part personal and part professional. 

Taking the personal first, as I get older and (hopefully) wiser I find myself thinking more about my general health and wellbeing – covering physical fitness, stress, sleep and diet.  These products make it dead easy for me to monitor and measure myself across some of these health dimensions. 

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SleepCycle and the Fitbit give insight into how well I sleep, the Withings scale lets me track my weight better and also calculates my body fat mass (an ugly 19kg!!), the Fitbit monitors my activity levels via a little accelerometer and calculates my calorie burn, and the Fitbit web service lets me track my calorie consumption.  The Fitbit has been perhaps the most interesting, comparing calories burned with calorie intake and comparing my activity levels with other people like me.  The SleepCycle app is the one that resonates best when I tell people about it, and show them the output (picture to the right) they want it for themselves.

On a professional level I’m wondering if the next few years might see a significant wave of company creation based around the consumerisation of health.  The confluence of cheaper sensors (or sensors built into your phone/other devices), cheap and ubiquitous wi-fi, and the ability to mash the sensor data with third party data in intuitive web interfaces make it possible for the first time to build cheap and easy to use services which deliver genuine insight that can help us get healthier and feel better.

My hypothesis is that using products like the ones I list above in combination with the web and soon using home tests for blood, minerals, DNA etc. a portion of the population will take control of their own health and wellness.  For the first time they will have all the tools and information available to doctors, will be able to be manage our health proactively like never before and to take advantage of leading edge thinking and technology before it trickles down through the health industry.

The revolution I’m describing here is consumer driven – which means the products will need to be cheap, easy to use and deliver genuine insight which can lead to health benefits.  The products I’ve been playing with work pretty well, and it is amazing how simply measuring something helps you to manage, but I think we are just at the beginning of the consumerisation process.  Ease of use will be a key battleground and none of these products have reached the holy grail of ‘turn it on and it works’.  Also, finding a way to take the pain out of counting calories would be a big boon.

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  • Nick, have you tried DailyBurn.com? Tracks food and exercise like FitBit but free and no device. I've watched it evolve over the last year and since Tim Ferriss (who absolutely pwns this stuff) came on as an advisor their product's evolved to a point where it's bang on the money.

    I agree that this space is gonna kick off in a big way over the next few years. Apps like DailyBurn and FitBit are doing to fitness and body composition what Google did to advertising. Apply some science, give you the actual data to analyse and cut through all the hand waving fluff.

  • dwax

    Great post!, agree 100% that a wave of inexpensive and powerful consumer centric electronic health products are going to hit the market (health 2.0). i attended the MSFT HealthVault Partner Conference last June and was amazed by very interesting products and developments. This Fast Company article does a good job of showing the potential – http://www.fastcompany.com/future-of-health-care. david waxman co-founder http://www.VITAband.net

  • Thanks David, I will check it out. I was hoping to learn of some new companies in this space via the comments.

  • Thanks for the link

  • Hi Nic – bumped into this on the Economist. You wrote or tweeted about chips embedded on skin using silk back end 2009. Article on pills communicating with chips then sending data to mobiles and the internet for use by Doctors. Interesting stuff. Relevant to above as well.

    'Pills get smart': http://www.economist.com/research/articlesBySub

  • Thanks James! I'm getting more and more interested in this area.

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