CES: Consumer health breaks out

By Brian Dolan
12:27 am

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsFor many years I avoided the Consumer Electronics Show. Too big, I was told. Too much noise -- not enough news. With my focus on the wireless industry at the time, this advice was mostly true -- for many years CES was not an event where companies made wireless-related news. Then -- seemingly suddenly -- CES became one of the most popular places to launch mobile phones, announce new mobile entertainment services, and introduce mobile tablets. For those not in attendance, this seemed like a creeping trend.

Over the last few years CES attendees actually witnessed two macro trends related to wireless: Consumer device makers began embedding wireless radios and mobile phones increasingly became more like consumer electronics devices (i.e. mobile music, TV, games).

Just as wireless began to make its mark on CES five or six years ago, in 2010 consumer health began to make its mark.

If the organizers of the first annual Digital Health Summit hadn't invited me to moderate a discussion on the wireless health industry this year, chances are -- travel budgets being what they are -- I wouldn't have made it CES 2010. I'm glad I had the extra incentive to attend. In many ways, the Digital Health Summit, the first dedicated consumer health event at CES, marked an important milestone for consumer health companies, which were no longer just scattered on the exhibit floor (if they were there at all). For the consumer electronics industry in 2010, health now has a position at the podium.

Wireless-enabled pill boxes that glow when it's time for a medication; Alarm clocks that interact with wireless-enabled head bands that track EEG's and analyze sleep activity; Easy-to-use mobile phones with one button connectivity to real live nurses -- each of these and many more like them were on display at CES. They are also commercially available today and they're called GlowCaps, Zeo and Jitterbug, respectively.

Despite being a first-time event, the Digital Health Summit also offered up about a half dozen news announcements, demos and or related product launches: Jitterbug is now offering a heart-healthy health tips service with the AHA; WellCore, a start-up with a wireless-enabled fall protection service, launched; Swedish start-up Great Connection announced plans to bring its service, Mobile Baby, to the US; CloseBy Network launched a senior care remote monitoring service with sensors, software, email and text alerts.

By many accounts, the highlight of Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs' keynote address to the wider CES audience was co-presenter Dr. Eric Topol's demonstrations of various wireless health products. His talk included the first ever live demo of GE's portable ultrasound device, Vscan -- Topol used the device to point out the unique structures of his own heart live on-stage. Jacobs said the Vscan would make the 200-year-old stethoscope a thing of the past. "Buggywhips," he quipped.

Perhaps in a few years we might be able to declare CES an event dominated by consumer health news -- and those on the sidelines may find this to be a sudden event. The road to mass consumerization of wireless health devices, however, is much more complicated than those for other CE categories. It might just take a blockbuster 3D movie to convince consumers they need 3D televisions. Not so for health. With yet-to-be proven efficacies, regulatory unknowns and little reimbursement, there's no magic bullet. Just a lot of work ahead.

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