Live from CES: Three Digital Health & Fitness Takeaways

I’m at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas with about 170K (other) tech nerds. This year I’m hosting speakers in the Digital Health Live Studio, presented by United HealthCare, all of which is coordinated by a capable and lively crew at Living in Digital Times. Interviewees are diverse, from the Global Head of Health Technology at Johnson & Johnson, to doctors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and entrepreneurs from fledgling tech startups.

I’ve been immersed in the fitness area as well as in health and healthcare, which will be a greater emphasis in today’s conference sessions. In general, many tech companies that began in fitness are gingerly advancing into health and healthcare, though some are put off by HIPAA and FDA requirements.

Here are some key themes I’m picking up from the people I speak with and the miles of glowing, beeping and humming exhibit halls representing tech in every industry.

Your New Health BFF is Smart & Well-Connected

Call her Alexa, Siri, Google, or Chloe — she’s there to serve, and she lives in your phone, your appliances, your bathroom… she’s everywhere.

One of the biggest trends at CES in general is a shift in how we interact with tech interfaces. Instead of pushing buttons on multiple inanimate devices, increasingly you’ll be speaking with a disembodied voice (or perhaps a small robot) based in your phone or elsewhere who mimics a real human and helps you string together the ecosystem of devices that support you in managing daily life, including your health.

For example, LG’s Chloe can suggest healthy recipes based on what’s in your fridge, pre-heat the oven to match the recipe, and set the dishwasher to the appropriate setting to clean your pots and pans. In the bathroom, companies like Kohler are linking appliances and personalizing your pit stop, running a bath for you on command at your preferred temperature, or adjusting the lighting. Some of this is pure entertainment, like the Numi intelligent toilet, which recognizes you and plays your favorite tunes (yikes!?!).

Further along on the health spectrum are the home touchless faucets, just like the ones in airport bathrooms, which minimizes the spread of germs, and the Arclight toilet, which promises to “elevate toilet cleaning to an extraordinary new dimension” through a sanitizing light. Haier from China has exploded onto the CES scene with an array of smart home devices including interconnected devices that measure your body fat, moisture in your skin, temperature, and weight. Toilet-bowl-based urinalysis for health management and prevention is another emerging capability.

Knowledge Alone Isn’t Power

Obviously, knowing intellectually that you shouldn’t smoke or have another drink isn’t always sufficient to curb your behavior. Facts alone don’t cut it. A second trend in health at CES is interpreting the facts and guiding you to act differently by leveraging them. Companies are incorporating behavior change theory, gamification, and the power of peer pressure to help you be healthier every day.

Let’s say your goal is to drink more water. LifeFuels prods you with a digital beverage holder which measures how much you’ve drunk and reminds you with lights to drink more. It further customizes your drinks with flavor and nutrient cartridges selected by you to correspond to needs at certain times, such as soothing you before sleep with chamomile tea.

Peloton, the state-of-the-art exercise bike, is a great example of tapping into community to improve healthy behaviors. At any time of day or night you can essentially telebike… exercise as part of a virtual group with a leader who sees statistics about your workout and can directly address you. You can choose your settings so you are riding virtually with a live cohort of people of a certain type, for example, others of your age and gender. Many apps and tools such as The Outbreak blend gamification and a social contract. Don’t want to be killed by zombies today? Better step up your exercise!

You Gotta Look Good to Feel Good

Many health devices and, until recently, digital health devices looked ugly and clunky. Beyond aesthetic design preferences, people don’t like to use objects and tools that make them feel bad because they convey to the word that they are weak, infirm, or incapacitated.

Health tech tools and devices are increasingly becoming invisible (hidden under clothes like the Qardio continuous EKG monitor), or beautiful extensions of the wearer’s personality and style. Fashionable watches from the Fossil group embody this trend, with designs by Kate Spade and other designers. Another example is Spire, which makes a wearable that helps you measure stress through breath. Instead of broadcasting to the world that you are managing anxiety, it looks like an attractive pendant.

I had the opportunity to try the Whill electric mobility device which looks much cooler than a wheelchair and drives like a game console mashed up with a go cart — it’s actually fun to use. According to one patient, using it changed her conversation with strangers from one of helplessness, “Can I help you, Mam?” to empowerment: “Cool! How did you just drive over that?”

Regardless of your health state, health and wellbeing aren’t just about your body. If you feel good about how you present yourself, your health and wellness become a more seamlessly integrated — and positive — aspect of yourself.

Where do you think digital health is headed? What big trends are you noticing, or hoping for?

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