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Mobile tech reshaping the health sector

28 July 2014, 09:00

Washington - Your smartphone is not only your best friend, it's also become your personal trainer, coach, medical lab and maybe even your doctor.

"Digital health" has become a key focus for the technology industry, from modest start-ups' focus on apps to the biggest companies in the sector seeking to find ways to address key issues of health and wellness.

Apps that measure heart rate, blood pressure, glucose and other bodily functions are multiplying, while Google, Apple and Samsung have launched platforms that make it easier to integrate medical and health services.

Digital health

"We've gotten to a point where, with sensors either in the phone or wearables, gather information that we couldn't do in the past without going to a medical centre," says Gerry Purdy, analyst at Compass Intelligence.

"You can do the heart rate - mobile EKGs (electrocardiograms). Costs are coming down and these sensors are becoming more socially acceptable."

The consultancy Rock Health estimates 143 digital health companies raised $2.3bn in the first six months of 2014, already topping last year's amount.

An analysis by the global consultancy Deloitte suggests that smart glasses, fitness bands and watches, should sell about 10 million units in 2014, generating over $3bn and that the number of devices will hit 170 million by 2017.

Chronic diseases

"Many health- and fitness-related technologies have multiple applications and encourage wearers to be more engaged in their own fitness, help modify behaviour by reminding wearers to exercise or take medication," Deloitte's Karen Taylor says in a report.

The California start-up MD Revolution has created a system adapted from a concierge medicine practice, which allows participants to track a variety of health indicators using mobile or wearable devices.

The company uses fitness and other tracking devices to address "imminently preventable conditions such as diabetes or hypertension," says spokesperson Lisa Peterson.

"We are creating a new specialty in digital health in which people can interact with nutritionists, exercise physiologists to receive a plan and coaching, to prevent or reverse chronic diseases," she said.

Peterson said the company using existing commercial devices from makers such as Fitbit or Jawbone and plans to launch its own app for its users.

Recent studies suggest that people who use connected devices to monitor health and fitness often do a better job of managing and preventing health problems.



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