ISPO.COM shares the wearables expert’s analysis of the healthcare market – a market that he believes offers the greatest growth potential for wearables. And developments in healthcare affect not only those working in medicine, but are also of value to athletes in monitoring their own health.
Wearables will soon be able to tell you when doing sport would be good for you and when it would be better to take a break, says Stammel in the third and final part in his series of interviews.
ISPO.com: Wearables such as fitness trackers are booming, especially of course in the sports business. What do you see as being the biggest growth factors?
Christian Stammel: When it comes to wearables, the sport market already has a solid foundation and is growing about 20 to 25 percent each year. We are expecting bigger growth shares in the healthcare market, as much in initial markets as in secondary markets. That means that wearables will soon also be used in the prescription medicine markets which are covered by health insurance.
Today you already get more support from health insurers when you buy fitness bands – this should soon be extended to include certified healthcare devices as well. In the USA, Asia and South Africa there are already successful models for this.
In Europe, and so of course also in Germany, clear limits are already in place because of high data protection requirements. Up to a point, this is certainly right and necessary, but for many applications in the health market, a bit of a rethink would be helpful.
Are people in countries outside of Europe more interested in the possibilities of wearables?
We are working with our Wearable Technologies group internationally and also have our own company in San Francisco. More attention is being paid to the subject there and in Asia. Many insurance companies already offer concrete models for their customers and integrate wearables into their offers. But even there, the actual certified health products are in the minority –
more often, it’s just fitness trackers which are part of the deal. And data protection is also being discussed in these countries. Less so in Asia than in the USA of course, but in general people are more open when it comes to data exchange in other places than in Europe.
How does that manifest itself?
A negative attitude towards any storage of personal data is unfortunately still very widespread in Europe. Yet data storage is in most cases much safer in a cloud than on your smartphone or laptop.
I don’t want to name any names, but when I’m at a trade fair in Europe and I meet a minister in charge of research and the first question he asks is not about application potentials, sensor technology or research results, but data protection, then there is nothing left to say.
Questions about data protection are surely not just to be dismissed though?
It’s the same discussion that we had in the years following the introduction of the internet in 1995. I was heavily involved in this area at that time, so I was confronted with the exact same questions and thoughts back then as I am today, more than 20 years later. The difference is that today you are dealing with an almost schizophrenic consumer. On one hand people complain about data storage, yet on the other, all your personal information is simply given away on sites like Facebook.
Before we share pictures of our children on the internet, which the child will never be able to delete, it would sometimes make more sense to share information about his illnesses or other pains, to help others who could be affected.
Health insurance companies want to introduce a system whereby your payments are decreased when they are allowed to monitor you more.
The models being discussed (or which are in some cases already being implemented) will not be enough in the long term. At the moment, these bonus schemes reach only those people who are already active and usually also better-off financially. Ultimately this means that the best deals are being offered to those who could afford to be paying a lot more.
And you don’t believe in that?
Here is a good example: Over ten years ago, so-called “pay as you drive” schemes using GPS tracking systems were introduced by motor insurance companies for the first time. This model could only be implemented in countries with high rates of theft – not because drivers could be billed according to their driving habits, but because the vehicle could be reliably located if stolen.
If you now take the “pay as you live” model – as we call it – you can see that the simple bonus model won’t work if it is not connected to a higher added value, for example, better support in the hospital or from the doctor via reliable access to the patient’s vital information. Developments like these will however need some more time, because sensor measurements are not yet accurate enough for medical usage and are also not certified.
Yet the problem of data security still remains.
The problem of data security is omnipresent and cannot really be discussed any further. One can only work out more sensible methods of dealing with the potential dangers. There is already technology available that ensures more secure transfer and storage of information, but is not very often actively used – how many of your readers ever send encrypted emails?
We complain about the security problems associated with the internet, but won’t do anything about it ourselves. And the necessity of individual responsibility in the handling of information has of course grown even more with the arrival of the internet of things.
What has the internet of things got to do with healthcare?
Not all healthcare appliances are portable, but many do have the potential to be “smart” – to be connected up. As more and more healthcare systems and components are connected to each other, costs and time can be spared. This could also in many situations save lives – the way I see it, there will be no need to spend lots of time deliberating, all efforts can be focused on finding solutions. Intelligent patient care has come back into focus and it could be open the door to a lot of interesting approaches. For example there was a company in the US who had already got the clinical certification for its intelligent pills: The pill sends data directly to a plaster on the stomach as soon as it has been ingested.
And what information does it transmit?
It gives clear information about how the successful the medication has been: Has the patient taken the right pill? 40 percent of healthcare costs are due to the wrong medication being used and this pill shows you when the wrong medicine is being used.
Surely this technology could also be used in a lot of other areas?
The technology is the so-called intelligent plaster. When the plaster is put on, it can detect changes in its immediate surroundings, and even administer medicine. Last year I met a company working in the field of diabetes that has already sold more than one million units per month in the USA alone. With this patch, insulin can be administered and can be modified and adjusted according to the doctor’s specifications. That is a genuine game changer for diabetes patients worldwide.
The intelligent cloud could use the information and help the user even further.
Exactly, because Google can today work out how a flu epidemic is spreading, for example. The users enter search terms such as “cold,” “cough,” or “fever” – in this way you only see search results where the flu is. With some refinement, it tells you: Watch out, the flu epidemic is only two kilometers away. Through the combination of general information with personalized information about your body, the cloud can be of immense help. It can then tell you things like: “Hey, watch out: Your immune system is not in the best condition, don’t do any sport, get some vitamin C instead!”
Why is it taking so long to introduce this?
Well we have to consider the legal side of things: How do we handle the flow of data? For China, it would be great if we could get everyone to measure the air pollution. Then the cloud would be able to say: Watch out, don’t go for a run, you might get an asthma attack. But the Chinese government is blocking this development because they don’t want everyone to be able to individually take measurements themselves and start forming communities from what they find.
But surely this wouldn’t be used by everyone? Or will it be like the smartphone trend: In the end, everyone has one?
In China, it would quickly lead to the formation of “communities” who would be able to prove that government data about air pollution is wrong or have been distorted. We are anticipating that everyone will want to have one when a real use develops and people start getting excited about it. There are barriers, but at the end of the day everyone will be able to see its uses.
In a three-part interview, Christian Stammel Wearable Technologies explains the added value of wearables in sports, and how athletes can optimize their health with the small, portable devices. Read about this: