October 27, 2011

Twice

CEA Forum Puts Health, Fitness Market In Spotlight

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is putting the spotlight on the emerging health and fitness market during its annual Fall Forum, which is being held here at the Manchester Grand Hyatt this week.

Panasonic's Eisuke Tsuyuzaki (from left) with Tom Rodgers of ATV Capital Investors and CEA's Ben Arnold during one of the CEA Forum panels on health and fitness products.
 
The Forum gave much of its programming attention to this category, bringing attendees up to date on potential opportunities for CE manufacturers and retailers. The focus on health and fitness is in keeping with the CEA's mantra to "grow the industry" and the expected 2012 International CES focus on the category.

While some in the industry have dabbled in the past with handheld health or fitness products that can be bought over the counter without prescriptions or insurance coverage in recent years, the biomedical industry is taking wireless technology and designing apps or smartphone accessories to monitor existing conditions or even heart and respiration readings wirelessly to health care professionals.

As one Forum speaker said this week, "Patients don't have to be patient anymore." They will be able to take an active role in their own health care with these new devices based on existing CE technology.

In a lunch keynote on Oct. 24, Don Jones, wireless health, global strategy and market development VP for Qualcomm, hosted a panel outlining some of the technology available today. He said wireless technology is "redefining health care management" and taking "passive health care" of going to the doctor when you have a problem to being actively monitored with devices on your current condition.

For instance, AliveCor has a wireless case that converts your iPhone, and soon your Android phone, into an electrocardiogram that can transmit a patient's readings to a doctor.

According to Dr. David Alpert, CEO of AliveCor, the goal is to make such monitoring "available and acceptable to all" with "the goal being to keep patients out of the hospital." When the product is introduced, Dr. Alpert said the company has looked at CE products and said it would be sold "under $100" and may be available here and/or overseas by 2012.

What may hold up the device are FDA regulations and concerns about the security of medical data being wirelessly transmitted.

Dr. Jonathan C. Javitt, chief financial officer of Telcare, discussed his company's glucose meter capable of transmitting a diabetic's readings to a private web portable and, if desired, to family members and health care providers. In the near future it could measure and deliver insulin to the patient, and put the person in touch with other diabetics to exchange information on treatment, lifestyle questions, dining out and other activities.

Dr. Javitt, who worked on the legislation that computerized all U.S. medical records and will be completed later in this decade, said that the availability of this information will enable devices like these, and many others, to flourish and cut medical costs.

Duo Fertility got the attention of the CEA audience when mentioned by Jones. The company makes an advanced fertility monitor. A small patch is placed under the woman's arm and can be connected to the online service every few days, monitoring and predicting fertile days, confirming ovulation and giving as its website claims, "personal expert advice."

And wireless health monitoring may be in demand from consumers, as a CEA study presented by Ben Arnold, CEA research analyst, on Monday afternoon indicated, but more consumer education is needed to explain what devices are available now and what may be available in the future.

If consumers want such products, and they provide strong profit opportunities, the CE industry wants to be there, as Panasonic chief technology officer Eisuke Tsuyuzaki noted in a panel that followed the presentation.

He said that Panasonic has identified health care as "a No. 1 or No. 2" priority for future growth.

The challenge will be "to come up with a compelling reason" for consumers "to buy these products." He said that this is the "very early stages" of the development of this market, which is why Panasonic and other companies must do the planning now.

Tsuyuzaki added that for effective home health care monitoring devices or systems to be done, "you must develop standards for Wi-Fi, connected home and data migration" for medical records, and "we must do it with partnerships."

Tom Rodgers, a partner with ATV Capital Investors, who has tracked and helped up-and-coming companies with ideas for the market, gave practical advice, saying, "There are huge opportunities, but you have to figure out what market you're in and what services you will provide."

If certain devices are going to be paid for by insurance, "activity monitors based on lifestyle will cut [insurance] costs for some. Currently, a vegan who exercises is paying the same as the couch potato who smokes. That is going to change."

What is also going to change is where consumers may buy these devices, according to the CEA's Arnold. "Doctors and health care providers may partner with CE retailers" and give consumers choices on the types of devices and services to buy.

Tsuyuzaki noted, "If you can tell a consumer you can live well five more years" by using such technologies, "this can be a wake up-call to monitor chronic [health] conditions."