In 2018, personal health technologies exceeded $10 billion in global sales. For nearly a decade, the demand for personal health monitoring has been driven by a thriving health and wellness sector, rise in disease prevalence, and an ageing population. In a global context, ownership of health or fitness monitors has become a norm and there is a positive consumer sentiment in quantifying personal health as a basis for health improvement.
IHS Markit expects the personal health technologies market to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 9.2% from 2019 to 2023, to exceed $15 billion in global sales by 2023. The primary driver of this growth is the industry’s transition from simply quantifying personal health, to improving it. Personalization is the industry’s mantra these days, enabled by advancements in hardware and software technology and a meaningful integration with smartphone ecosystems. Ultimately, the goal of providing personalized solutions is to bring effective self-care to any individual, where possible, and to eliminate the practical aspects and social ramifications of disease or disability.
One example where personalization is enabling self-care is sleep enhancement. The issue is significant, as more than one-third of adults suffer from sleep deprivation. Since 2017, sleep tracking has made its way into the hands of consumers, in most cases through highly inaccurate wearable devices that provide no value. SleepScore Labs (part of ResMed) has had a different approach, offering a multipurpose non-contact monitor that tracks sleep environment, and coupling the quantified sleep patterns to a platform that delivers personalized feedback and suggestions on how to enhance sleep. This includes recommendations on lighting, room temperature, mattresses and more.
Another example of effective self-care is Nuheara’s smart hearing earbuds. In contrast to personal sound amplification products, which offer little personalization, Nuheara’s IQBuds interface allows users to establish a unique hearing profile called Ear ID. Sound amplification, noise reduction and other features of smart hearing are then modified to fit an individual’s ‘Ear ID’ profile. The IQBuds are not comparable to a medical-grade hearing aid, but are effective in providing residual hearing to people suffering from mild-moderate hearing loss. What cements Nuheara’s efforts in this space is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s guidance for over-the-counter hearing aids, which will finalize in 2020. This class of hearing aids will not require the prescription of an audiologist or other healthcare professional. Smart hearing companies, including Nuheara and Bose, are well positioned to lead the OTC hearing aid space which IHS Markit expects to be worth more $600 million globally in 2023.
While self-care may be effective and efficient, it is only possible within the low-acute or low risk aspects of personal health. Other conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases require management by a healthcare provider, but that does not diminish the value of personalization features. In diabetes management, new products will enable low-cost continuous monitoring to enhance the value of diabetes management platforms such as mySugr and Glooko, and allow users to better manage medication, diet, and activity – not just for Type 1 diabetics, but also for Type 2 and prediabetics. In addition, machine learning and natural language processing are enhancing the user experience by helping users understand spot measurements and trends. This adds yet another level of personalization that increases the value of self-monitoring or self-care. This also applies to consumer diagnostics in general, including blood pressure monitoring, ECG monitoring, body temperature readings, and more.
As health technologies catering to the consumer become increasingly personalized, data generation will grow exponentially. Meaningful use of this data remains challenged although circumstances are improving. Apple’s health records are now supported at more than 250 health institutions in the United States, which is no small accomplishment. Since personal health tech companies consider the smartphone as the gateway device that ties everything together, meaningful use of consumer generated data will increase dramatically in the years to come.
It is encouraging to witness the evolution of the enhanced self, which is partially brought by the failure of the quantified self. Personalization will continue to increase the relative value of personal health products, and although still nascent, its impact will be prevalent in both the short-term and long-term.
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