Healthcare Venture Capital

The Quantified Self: The Future of Wellness

In healthcare on April 29, 2010 at 4:17 am

Those of you who follow me on twitter know that I started a little data experiment a few months back.

Gary Wolf’s great New York Times piece on Quantified Self and a conversation with a friend this afternoon motivated me to write about this movement from an investor’s perspective.

Three months ago, I bought a few personal sensor-based devices and started to track my sleep, caloric intake, exercise/activity, etc.

And while I have not been religious about it, I have generally used most of these devices at least weekly for a few months. 

A few months into the experiment, I am now convinced more than ever that the future of consumer-driven health is largely dependent on better health data tracking technologies.

The history of wellness and disease management is littered with companies and ideas that have failed to get traction with consumers/patients or have failed to show tangible Return on Investment (ROI).

Yet, the obesity epidemic continues to explode and corporate healthcare costs continue to rise.

The big missing ingredients in many prior efforts at disease management, health coaching, and employee wellness programs has been the inability to “close the loop.” 

Wellness is the buzzword in coporate benefit departments these days.

Wellness programs help employees take health risk assessments and motivate to exercise, eat healthier, stop smoking, and to take their medications. But without an ability to automatically track whether someone is actually undertaking the desired behavior, the wellness program is practically worthless.

I’m convinced that humans will cheat any system that relies on self-reported data. Any wellness program that doesn’t automatically report on compliance by closing the loop will fail either based on low consumer engagement or bad results.

In 2010, we are finally at a tipping point where advancements in low-cost technologies have caught up with this glaring need. Nike+ was a great start.  Now there are dozens (maybe hundreds) of other technologies manifesting themselves in all aspects of gathering data about our bodies and our behaviors. Many approach it from a consumer angle, while others like Proteus Biomedical are far more “medical” in the approach.

The confluence of mobile devices, low-cost senors, and ubiquitous data sharing by average people will make health and wellness ripe for a revolution.

The most interesting companies I am seeing these days sit at the confluence of these sensor-based technologies and consumer wellness.

It may be that the optimal business model in this space has still not yet been found, but let me put forward three thoughts for discussion:

1. Greed is a good motivatorLarge self-insured employers will be the ones who create the business model for this space by subsidizing the costs of these wellness monitors and integrating the data into the design of the employee’s health benefit, reduction of the co-pay, etc. 

2. Fear is a good motivator. Sustained healthy behavior is driven by community.  The first sensor-based company that effectively integrates web community tools into data reporting will emerge as a winner.  Think about “The Biggest Loser” run at your office, but imagine that everyone’s daily caloric intake and activity level was reported to the group. 

3. Silos Suck.  There needs to be an open standard for the data output from all of these sensors and teh industry needs to get serious about data standards. Rather than having to plug each senor into my PC so that the data can be uploaded, I want my iPhone or a small bedside unit to automatically gather all of the sensor technology and upload as often as I tell it to.

Lots of questions remain: data privacy, the GINA laws, sales cycles and adoption time for employers, and getting hardware costs down another 10x from where they are now.

But I’m very hopeful that we are just at the very beginning of a massive movement in healthcare that will become ubiquitous over time. 

  1. I was also very interested in Gary Wolf’s article and have been following his blog since reading it. Out of curiosity, what toys did you buy?

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