Wearable gadgets for tracking health data are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their ability to measure a host of physiologic functions.
But the next frontier for innovators will be finding ways to use that data that actually improve patient outcomes.
During this week's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty invited Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak to share the stage during her keynote address. The two companies have been partners since April on a platform that combines data from Medtronic's diabetes devices with analytics from IBM's Watson Health technology.
The two companies on Wednesday shared the early results from their collaboration.
Medtronic has developed a sensor about the size of a quarter that's worn on the abdomen and contains a tiny cannula that can measure interstitial fluid. It can predict a potential episode of hypoglycemia in a diabetes patient up to three hours in advance. The companies are now developing the smartphone app that will allow patients to get alerts whenever their risk is elevated.
They're currently in discussions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and hope to launch the app this summer, said Annette Bruls, president of Medtronic's Diabetes Services and Solutions business.
“As we see the future, we see we need to move into a more holistic, solutions-based company so we can demonstrate value,” she said.
Insurers and providers are already transforming their business models, and medical-device companies will need to transform alongside them, she added. Data and predictive analytics will be a significant part of new offerings from the company.
“We will be seeking more and more of these types of partnerships,” she said. “Everything that we are doing is to complement the existing healthcare systems. Where we see our solutions fit is really in between doctor's visits.”
Legacy medical device and technology companies aren't the only ones trying to tap into a new market opportunity in predictive analytics.
A number of digital health startups are working on algorithms that not only identify patterns in data, but offer a care-management platform, said Richard Cramer, a principal in the healthcare advisory practice at EY, the accounting and consulting firm formerly known as Ernst & Young.
For instance, it's no longer enough to be able to flag which patients have the highest risk for expensive complications—instead, these software platforms are also suggesting detailed care plans to lower that risk.
Healthcare took center stage at the consumer electronics expo—particularly for wearables and devices that allow patients to monitor their health at home.
The connected health market is expected to grow to $117 million by 2020, according to a report from ACT, a trade association for app developers and information technology companies. The largest piece of that will be chronic condition management, followed by personal fitness and wellness and then remote patient monitoring, according to the report.
The conference also presented an opportunity for other companies to unveil partnerships that crossed industry lines.
Digital health company Sharecare announced that it is working with Blackberry to incorporate Blackberry's secure messaging and Voice over Internet Protocol capabilities into its software. Sharecare allows users to determine their “RealAge” by entering health and lifestyle information; its AskMD feature also provides health consultations over an app.
Sharecare will use Blackberry's technology to further protect users' health data and enable secure communication between doctors and patients.