After a meteoric rise, and then some time in the doldrums, the “quantified self” seems to be back in favour, a trend crowned by Google acquiring Fitbit for $2 billion and accelerated by the pandemic and a greater societal focus on managing our health. Nothing new there — a classic example of Gartner’s hype cycle. But what became more apparent from CES 2021 was the potential value of our increasing ability to combine data from the quantified self (i.e. our own user-generated medical data) with environmental data to answer new questions and improve our overall approach to health.
Meredith Barrett from Propeller Health (a ResMed-owned respiratory digital health business) gave an inspiring example of the potential of combining new data sets to inform better healthcare solutions.
It has long been known that health outcomes are impacted by the social and environmental determinants of health, only often it’s hard to prove. Barrett showed that Propeller has the data demonstrating that, in their patients, air pollution such as PM2.5 and ozone levels is directly associated with higher use of rescue inhalers.
In their Air Louisville programme, when a coal fired power station in Louisville, Kentucky, was shut down, Propeller saw significant drops in rescue medication usage and asthma-related ED visits. This link is not surprising, but the proof in the form of data has unquestionable implications across the board, such as:
Will we choose where to live based on air quality if we could quantify it’s impact on our lifespan?
What would that do to our concept of city living? What societal inequalities might that create? To me, this was an example of the power of data and the importance of combining data sets to glean insights that can change the world for the better.
In the same session, Vik Panda from Dreem (a sleep monitoring device company) focused on the importance of addressing what he called “the full health stack” of fitness, nutrition, sleep. You don’t need to look at the VC figures to know all these areas are on a significant growth trajectory.
He was quick to point out though that…
interoperability across platforms and datasets represents the biggest hurdle, but also the biggest area of opportunity.
This is where the digital transformation of healthcare and the road to opportunity lies. But as in all other sectors, some organisations are further ahead in their so-called ‘transformation’ — and establishing the rules of engagement, collaboration and mutual trust remains the hardest thing to crack.
In the ‘Next Gen Health Tech’ session, the importance of data capture and interoperability was something EY’s Aloha McBride eloquently referred to as enabling ‘Data Flow’.
Data flow is a rich seam for innovation and the creation of new health technologies, but realising its true potential will require systems thinking at scale and unprecedented co-operation between organisations, which brings us back to the macro trend of the moment, the importance of trust.
As Michael Miebach — Mastercard CEO — put it in CES’ ‘Future Reimagined’ session: “Progress in the future relies on Trust. Young consumers may be comfortable giving up all sorts of data but if their trust is compromised in a fully digital ecosystem — it all unravels.”