2013 was a big year for consumer health technology. According to mobile tech consultancy Research2Guidance, there are now close to 100,000 mobile health apps in 62 app stores, with the top 10 apps generating over 4 million free downloads every day.
So if 2013 was the year of wearables and health apps, what’s on tap during 2014? Here are five exciting health tech trends to keep an eye this year.
1. Data in the Doctor’s Office
According to Pew Research, 21% of Americans already use some form of technology to track their health data, and as the market for wearable devices and health apps grows, so too will the mountain of data about our behaviors and vitals. Next year, we may see more of this data incorporated into our day-to-day medical care.
“The next phase of quantified self will combine physiological data with medical knowledge, transitioning us from self-awareness around a few data points (like the number of steps we’ve taken) to real potential for the prevention of diseases like diabetes,” says Heather Bowerman, McKinsey consultant in healthcare and technology and former White House Science and Technology policy advisor. “That’s the game-changer: pairing physician expertise with pragmatic actions to take in nutrition and exercise, plus tracking our data using popular apps.”
But where there’s data, there are also security concerns –- especially when it comes to sensitive health information, says Paul Martini, CEO of iboss Network Security.
“The rise of wearable health technology in 2014 will incite patient concerns, government regulation and workflow adjustments within healthcare institutes to ensure that patient data remains secure,” Martini predicts. Watch for an increased focus on data security as data moves from apps to the exam room.
One technology that’s already addressing this issue is TrueVault, which provides HIPAA-compliant storage for all the protected health information (PHI) that comes from apps.
“Once consumer-originated data is shared with a doctor, it becomes PHI, and the app handling the PHI needs to be HIPAA compliant,” says Trey Swann, founder and COO of TrueVault. “We’re enabling the most important part of the feedback loop to happen: the doctor’s analysis, diagnosis or treatment based on the consumer-originated data.”
2. Smart Clothes
If a wristband or clip-on tracker isn’t part of your look, there’s hope for you in 2014, because a new wave of wearable smart garments will be hitting the stores next year. In fact, market research company Markets and Markets expects sales of smart clothes and fabrics to reach $2.03 billion by 2018.
One company to watch in this space is OMsignal, which is developing the world’s first bio-sensing apparel to track daily health and wellness. Embedded sensors in the apparel monitor your heart rate, breathing and activity while the OMsignal app displays your data in real-time on your mobile phone.
According to OMSignal co-founder and CEO Stephane Marceau, “When you think about it, clothing is the original wearable. We’re going to see technology integrated directly into our clothing — first through sensors, but eventually it will be weaved into the fibers.”
Stacey Burr, VP of Wearable Sports Electronics at Adidas, also sees much of the innovation that started in the sports and fitness sector being translated into broader consumer markets in 2014.
“Technology innovations used by professional sports teams, like the miCoach Elite smart sensor shirt used by every team across Major League Soccer, will be the same technology in 2014 to help fitness and wellness participants get healthy,” Burr says.
3. Augmented Nutrition
Of course, if you want to fit into the latest smart fashion, you might need to keep better tabs on what you’re eating. We’ve already seen popular apps such as Fooducate make things easy by letting you scan the barcodes on packaged foods to gather nutrition data. In 2014, we’ll see new technologies that take even more of the guesswork out of counting calories.
For example, the AIRO wristband — launching in the fall of 2014 — will be able to track automatically both the calories you consume and the quality of your meals. With a built-in spectrometer, AIRO uses different wavelengths of light to detect nutrients released into the bloodstream as they are broken down during and after your meals.
But it’s not just about calories — what about tracking for pesticides, GMOs and allergens?
TellSpec is developing a handheld device that can scan and analyze the chemical composition of any food, so you know the real ingredients before you buy or eat it. Worried there might be gluten in a dish? Soon you’ll be able to run the TellSpec device over your plate and get an instant reading on your smart phone.
4. Virtual House Calls
If all that tracking, counting and scanning still feels like a lot of work, don’t despair: This next trend is all about bringing the doctor to you.
“It’s ironic that patients are called patients,” says Ron Gutman, founder and CEO of HealthTap, an online service that gets you free answers to any health question from a doctor. “When someone is feeling emotional or is in physical pain, they are anything but patient.” HealthTap’s new app, Talk To Docs, lets you get medical questions answered on your mobile device.
Virtual house calls also just got a big boost with the recent launch of Google Helpouts, a new marketplace for getting personalized help over live video chat. Although it’s still early days for the new service, you can already browse the Google Helpouts Health marketplace for medical advice, mental health issues, nutrition counseling, weight loss and more. You can even get wellness advice for your pets.
Also watch for a slew of new devices that enable virtual care. For example, Scanadu’s ScanaFlo device — which is expected to launch in 2014 — can turn your smartphone into a urine analysis reader that will test for pregnancy, glucose levels, protein counts and more.
5. Health Rewards
If looking and feeling good isn’t enough of a payoff, how about getting paid for getting healthy?
Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health recently reported that more than two-thirds of companies offer financial incentives to encourage participation in company wellness activities — up from just over half in 2010. In 2014, we’ll see more use of technology to track and reward people for these types of healthy habits.
For example, one service that’s currently in beta is LifeVest, an online health incentive program that companies can use to reward employees for improving their health. Users can also ask their family and friends to sponsor them within the system to earn even more rewards.
As getting paid to hit the gym becomes more commonplace, we may also see greater adoption of consumer apps such as GymPact. GymPact lets you check in via GPS at the gym, count your running, biking or walking with RunKeeper, or track your exercises by wearing or holding your phone while working out. The system fines you a small amount for missing workouts, and rewards you for hitting your goals.
Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity