In-Depth: Digital health news from CES 2015

By Brian Dolan
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Health devices were a bigger deal at CES last year: After compiling a thorough roundup of health device news from CES 2015, the MobiHealthNews team has concluded that last year's event had bigger and more novel launches. While 2014 was the year that big consumer technology companies debuted health devices and a majority of CES attendees seemed to discover digital health for the first time, this week's event still offered up dozens of unveilings from small to mid-sized entrants. And while 2014 may have been a peak year for digital health at CES, the discussions that took place at the event this year seemed much more grounded.

Read on for a round-up of news and notable quotes coming out of the big tech event in Las Vegas:

CES organizers predict 20M health and fitness wearables sold in 2015: The CEA, which puts on the CES event, published its forecasts for various consumer electronics categories in the years ahead. The report's press release led with wearable devices, which the group is particularly bullish on: "The wearable device revolution is a key category to watch in the coming years, and especially in 2015. CEA projects overall wearable unit sales will reach 30.9 million units (a 61 percent increase from last year) and generate $5.1 billion in revenue in 2015 (a 133 percent increase). CEA’s wearables category encompasses fitness activity bands and other health and fitness devices, as well as smartwatches and smart eyewear."

The CEA expects that -- thanks to strong sales for activity tracking devices -- the health and fitness wearables category will post a projected 20 million units sold in 2015. Revenues from the subcategory will be more than $1.8 billion, the group predicts. More

FTC urges connected device makers to invest in privacy, too: FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez took the keynote stage at the event to remind all in attendance that the era of The Internet of Things (IoT) brings with it an era of increased privacy risks in addition to the many benefits companies are more willing to discuss at events like CES15.

"To be sure, these potential benefits are immense, but so too are the potential risks," she said, according to her prepared remarks. "Connected devices that provide increased convenience and improve health services are also collecting, transmitting, storing, and often sharing vast amounts of consumer data, some of it highly personal, thereby creating a number of privacy risks."

Ramirez pointed out that given the billions of dollars invested in IoT already, the industry should be making "appropriate investments in privacy and security" too.

"I believe there are three key steps that companies should take to enhance consumer privacy and security and thereby build consumer trust in IoT devices: (1) adopting 'security by design'; (2) engaging in data minimization; and (3) increasing transparency and providing consumers with notice and choice for unexpected data uses," she said.

Giving consumers the choice of whether their data will be used for purposes beyond the immediate services the connected device offers was one of Ramirez's key suggestions.

"Will [the collected data] be shared with data brokers, who will put those nuggets together with information collected by your parking lot security gate, your heart monitor, and your smart phone?" she asked. "And will this information be used to paint a picture of you that you will not see but that others will – people who might make decisions about whether you are shown ads for organic food or junk food, where your call to customer service is routed, and what offers of credit and other products you receive? And, as businesses use the vast troves of data generated by connected devices to segment consumers to determine what products are marketed to them, the prices they are charged, and the level of customer service they receive, will it exacerbate existing socio-economic disparities?"

Ramirez said the argument that big data is so new and shouldn't face limits related to retention of data yet -- because the potential value of such data may not have yet been fully realized -- isn't convincing: "I question the notion that we must put sensitive consumer data at risk on the off-chance a company might someday discover a valuable use for the information." 

HIMSS group tells Fitbit to start sharing the data it collects, securely: "As we're seeing at CES this week, personal connected health technologies, including wearable activity and fitness trackers, are in high demand by consumers. We applaud Fitbit and other companies for developing these important tools to help consumers track important measures such as heart rate, to take control of their health and wellness. The next important step is to ensure that consumers are able to share their personal health data with their health providers, caregivers, family and social networks -- in a secure, user-friendly format," Rob Havasy, VP, Personal Connected Health Alliance, and the executive director of Continua, wrote in a statement. Havasy said Fitbit and others should adopt Continua's technical design guidelines to bring user-friendly, secure connectivity "across the continuum of health data users" to "promote the plug-and-play ecosystem of health technologies". While Havasy didn't mention it, Fitbit is one high-profile holdout that is not integrating with Apple's HealthKit.

Samsung name-drops EarlySense, working on fall detection: Boo-Keun Yoon, president and CEO of Samsung's Consumer Products division, included a few mobile health gems in his keynote presentation. For one thing, Samsung is looking into consumer applications of EarlySense's noninvasive hospital bed sensor: "It’s originally a medical device used in hospitals to protect heart patients," he said. "It keeps them out of intensive care and gets them out of the hospital early. Now imagine meshing such a device with consumer electronics. This sensor is about the size of my hand. Put under my mattress, it checks how I sleep and my vital functions. It monitors my health trends and shows them on my smartphone. Another clever little feature: It senses the best time for me to wake up based on my sleep pattern, and I don’t have to change my habits or lifestyle. It just works."

Yoon also talked about new sensors Samsung is developing for its phones, and included fall detection as an example use case for the highly sensitive range sensor the company is currently developing: "What if your grandmother falls out of bed during the night or slips in the shower?" he said. "The sensor will allow your smartphone to call the nurse or even an ambulance."

Dell founder worries when his friend, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff's Fitbit activity levels drop off: At a dinner event co-located at CES and hosted by Fortune, "Benioff used the opportunity to profess his love for Fitbit, maker of wearable activity trackers. Why? According to Benioff, the startup is an apt metaphor for what he calls a 'one-to-one customer journey'—an intimate way companies can connect with their customers. (Fitbit, it should be noted, is a Salesforce customer.)" Benioff lauded Fitbit for trying to upsell him their Fitbit Aria scale as soon as he activated his new Fitbit wearable. They also asked him if he wanted to connect his Fitbit with everyone else in his social media network. Fortune reports: "After signing up for the Fitbit 'community' he received an email from Michael Dell -- also a Fitbit user -- asking if he was OK. It turned out Benioff hadn't been very active that day.)" Benioff also said that the increasing amount of data being collected by these devices is "heading to creepy". He also said that he sent his Fitbit data to his cardiologist who told him he had no idea what to do with it. 

Intel showed off a jacket for the blind: At its keynote, Intel went over a wide variety of uses for its RealSense camera, a highly accurate 3D camera (including a well-publicized "selfie drone"). One of the less talked about use cases, according to CEO Brian Krzanich was helping the blind or visually impaired. Intel employee Darryl Adams modeled a jacket equipped with the RealSense camera and haptic feedback generators, at the keynote, CNET reported. "I live in a state of continuous mild anxiety because of my visual impairment," he said.  "With this technology I'm able to shift my attention more to the things that matter."

Harris Poll from A&D Medical susses out health tracking potential market: A&D Medical's Connected Health Study, conducted by Harris Poll in December, found a majority of American adults want to monitor their health with connected devices, The online study included 2,024 respondents. Some 56 percent said they would want to monitor their health with a connected device that automatically sent data to their doctors or other caregivers. Specifically, respondents were interested in doing this for: blood pressure (37 percent), weight (33 percent), chronic conditions (25 percent), sleep (23 percent), physical activity (22 percent), diet (19 percent), vision (18 percent), medicine (16 percent), medications (16 percent), sexual activity (5 percent), and fertility (4 percent). More

Walgreens launches its WebMD-powered wellness coaching services: Consumers can now head to Walgreens website sign up to use Your Digital Health Advisor, a virtual wellness coaching program for healthy behavior change created in partnership with WebMD. The companies first announced the offering in October. The interactive coaching programs help with smoking cessation, weight management, nutrition, exercise and emotional health. Real, live coaches are also available via Walgreens Pharmacy Chat feature on its website. Users of Your Digital Health Advisor can earn Walgreens Balance Rewards points for progress.

Walgreens working with Qualcomm Life for rewards program: Walgreens has tapped Qualcomm Life to integrate its 2net platform into the retail pharmacy's Balance Rewards program. Walgreens customers will be able to use 2net to sync certain mobile health devices, including a wrist-worn blood pressure cuff, a traditional blood pressure cuff and a blood glucose meter, directly to their Balance Rewards account, earning points each time they check their vitals.

“Whether transitioning from a hospital to the home or managing a chronic condition such as heart disease or diabetes, Walgreens connectivity solution powered by Qualcomm Life will allow us to help our customers achieve improved health through regular biometric communication with their providers,” Adam Pellegrini, Walgreens divisional vice president of digital health, said in a statement. “Additionally, Qualcomm Life’s platforms help us to reward participating customers for their choice to become more informed and engaged in their health care.” More

Novartis tapped Qualcomm Life to power its mobile-enabled clinical trials program: Novartis selected Qualcomm Life as a partner for its global Trials of the Future program, in which Novartis is endeavoring to use more mobile technology in its clinical trials and to provide connectivity for future Novartis products. Novartis will use Qualcomm Life’s 2net platform and various connected devices to collect medical data directly from trial participants in their homes.

The first trial in the new partnership has already begun, evaluating the use of mobile devices for patients with chronic lung conditions. The trial is observational and doesn’t involve any Novartis products or other pharmaceuticals. According to Qualcomm, the study “leverages 2net mobile-enabled smartphones and 2net Hubs to seamlessly collect and aggregate biometric data from medical devices and transmits this data to the cloud-based 2net Platform, which securely sends the data to the study coordinator.” More

Sharecare's AskMD app gets preloaded on Cricket Wireless subscribers' ZTE smartphone: Smartphone maker ZTE and mobile operator Cricket Wireless have partnered with Sharecare to preload the company's health app, AskMD, on the new ZTE Grand X Max+ phone. More

Family physician association wants to help digital health companies: “We are here [at CES15] as part of a broader effort to improve our health care system and the health of all Americans,” Dr. Glen Stream, the chairman of Family Medicine for America’s Health, said in a statement. “We believe consumer health technologies — apps, wearables, self-diagnosis tools — have the potential to strengthen the patient-physician connection and improve health outcomes. We are here to talk about where we see opportunity and need, and how we, working together with technology companies, can overcome the barriers that are keeping us from fully leveraging the power of consumer technology in primary care.” More

Misfit offers up a solar-powered activity tracker: Misfit, maker of the Shine and Flash activity trackers, has partnered with Swarovski to create two new versions of the Shine that feature a crystal face and look even more like jewelry than the company’s original polished aluminum device. One of the devices, the violet Swarovski Shine, uses solar charging to stay powered up — sunlight, LEDs, or halogen lighting all keep the device up and running. More

Humetrix announces app for blood pressure management: Humetrix unveiled a new app, called Tensio, that will help patients manage their blood pressure. The app analyzes how the user's medications, weight, exercise level, and diet affect their blood pressure. Tensio will collect this data from Apple's HealthKit platform. This will be the first in a suite off apps that help patients manage chronic conditions.

Garmin offers employers wellness portal, health challenges: Garmin has unveiled a new offering for employers, called the Garmin Connect wellness portal, to help them manage their corporate wellness programs. The portal is powered by the same technology behind Garmin Connect, a direct-to-consumer portal that allows users to sync Garmin activity tracker data, view training plans, and interact with the Garmin Connect community. The employee wellness portal will similarly engage users with challenges, social interaction, and activity tracking. Employers can access aggregated activity data about their employees via the portal. Employers can also invite potential participants to join via email and encourage employees by organizing team and individual challenges. Employees can also use the platform to track their individual progress as well as how they compare to others in the program.

Intel shows off button-sized wearable tech and partners with sunglasses maker Oakley: This year, at CES15, Intel unveiled Curie, a low-power module the size of a button that developers can use to build wearable devices. Intel explained that some form factors include rings, bags, bracelets, pendants, fitness trackers, and buttons. Curie offers 384 kB flash memory, a low-power integrated DSP sensor hub with a proprietary pattern matching accelerator, Bluetooth LE, a 6-axis combo sensor with accelerometer and gyroscope, and battery charging capabilities. It’s expected to ship in the second half of the year. Intel also announced a strategic partnership with sunglasses maker Oakley. Intel and Oakley plan to build luxury sports eyewear that will include integrated smart technology. The project they are working on, which will be unveiled later this year, is designed to enhance an athlete’s performance. 

Aterica unveils a smartphone-connected case for an EpiPen: Ontario, Canada-based Aterica announced that first product, a smartphone-connected case for an EpiPen, called Veta, is open for pre-orders. The case has a flashing light and audio alerts that can help the user locate the EpiPen if its been misplaced. Veta also has a proximity alert that will tell users via their mobile device if they left the case behind. Users can customize the proximity alerts by providing flexibility if they are in low-risk locations, like their home. Temperature sensors in the case can alert the user if the EpiPen gets too hot or too cold and if the user has an allergic reaction and take the cap off the smart case, an alert will be sent to caregivers in the user's network.

Beyond Verbal launches Empath: Beyond Verbal announced its new app, called Empath, which tracks personal emotional wellness through a phone. When users speak into a phone, Empath identifies how they felt during an activity, or during a specific time of day, and then records these emotions. After a period of time, based on these records, Empath will determine the emotional effects of daily activities and track mood shifts according to the time or day of these activities. The company already offers an API that enables app developers and wearable device makers to add emotion sensing capabilities to their offerings.

NantHealth’s remote monitoring hub HBox adds BlackBerry security: BlackBerry and NantHealth are working together to create the second generation of NantHealth’s HBox, a portable device that captures and transmits secure medical data between the patient, doctor and hospital. It will use technology from QNX Software Systems, a subsidiary of BlackBerry. The first generation of HBox is already in 250 hospitals and transmits 3 billion vital signs annually according to the companies. But what BlackBerry’s partnership will add to the equation is enterprise mobility security. Over the next few months, the device will be incorporated with BlackBerry’s BES enterprise mobility management platform, which will allow HIPAA-compliant encryption of medical data and compatibility with a range of legacy computers and other devices running in hospitals.

BlackBerry’s relationship with NantHealth isn't brand new. The two companies were talking about this kind of a partnership — particularly Nant Health taking advantage of BlackBerry’s QNX operating system — when BlackBerry made a large investment in Nant Health last April. In addition, last month the two companies launched the NantOmics Cancer Genome Browser, an app for the BlackBerry passport smartphone that allows doctors to compare the genetics of individuals at a highly granular level, which helps oncologists deliver the best personalized treatment to each patient. That technology similarly relied on BlackBerry’s infrastructure to keep patient data safe and secure.

Under Armour partners with HTC, launches fitness data aggregator app: At CES, Baltimore, Maryland-based athletics apparel company Under Armour announced a partnership with Android device maker HTC. It also announced a new app, UA Record, for integrating other fitness apps and data from health devices. Although the details of the HTC partnership were not disclosed, HTC said that Under Armour designers, sports scientists and athletes are working closely with HTC’s Connected Products business unit, as well as its design and engineering teams to create products for both professional and amateur athletes.

Fitbit commercially launches heart rate-sensing Surge and Charge HR: The new heart rate-enabled devices Fitbit announced in October have begun shipping and are now available for purchase online, the company announced during CES. The $249.95 Fitbit Surge, which the company calls a “fitness super watch” and the $149.95 Fitbit Charge HR, a heart rate tracking version of the company’s new flagship device, will be available for purchase by the end of the month at Best Buy, Brookstone, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s, REI, The Sports Authority and Target. Fitbit plans to add more retailers next month.

Fitbit also announced additional features added to the Charge HR: on-device exercise summaries, which were already available on the Surge. The company has also released more information about the technology that provides the heart rate tracking for the two devices, called PurePulse. It will provide truly continuous, optically measured heart rate tracking that users can monitor during a workout to maintain optimal intensity, as well as consult after the fact to learn about their heart rate trends. Heart rate will also factor into the device’s calculation of calorie burn, which should increase accuracy in cases like cycling, elliptical work, or group exercise classes.

Aging in place technology: CES produced a few headlines related to aging in place technology. Independa, a remote care and aging in place technology company, announced that its Independa TV offering, previously available only through a health system, will launch direct to consumer in 2015. The Independa TV system allows older people who might be less familiar with technology to access picture sharing, messaging, video chat, calendaring, reminders, a help button, and more through a familiar technology. Independa also announced the launch of a mobile app version of its caregiver web portal, complete with HealthKit and (planned) Apple Watch integration.

Honeywell HomMed announced a name change to become Honeywell Life Care Solutions, and also announced a mobile patient engagement and population health management tool, called Seymour. According to Honeywell LCS, Seymour "addresses the needs of both consumers and healthcare providers to aggregate and securely exchange meaningful health-related data – from biometric information to data from consumer devices and applications such as fitness activity trackers – and help make it actionable."

On top of that, the show floor had a new mPERS device from Epic Safety and new iPhone-connected hearing aids from Siemens.

Scanadu demos the Flo, names a date for FDA clearance: Portable medical device maker Scanadu was on hand for its third CES, and was demoing not just the Scanadu Scout (which the company has showed off before) but also the Scanadu Flo, the urinalysis peripheral device for the system. Check out the video here wherein Scanadu cofounder Sam DeBrouwer shares some details about the technology: that the colorimetry is designed to work in any lighting, for instance, and that drug testing applications could be coming down the road. In addition, HealthLeaders Media talked to Walter DeBrouwer about Scanadu's road to FDA in an interesting interview. In it, DeBrouwer predicted FDA clearance for Scanadu by the end of Q3 2015.

Epson demo'd several wearables: Epson showed off a long line of sports wearables at CES: A smart, app-connected GPS Watch called Runsense; a connected golf swing analyzer called M-Tracer, a pair of smart glasses called Moverio, and Pulsense, the heart rate and fitness tracker that Epson previewed at last year's CES. Pulsense comes in two flavors: the PS-500 watch, which has a watch face and also tracks sleep, for $199, and the PS-100 Band for $129. Both devices track heart rate.