The rapid consumerization of med tech

Consumer-facing wearable devices are becoming incredibly sophisticated and are increasingly measuring and enabling statistics that are core to health. Next year seems likely to bring even more technological advances--but they must surmount growing consumer skepticism as early generations of FitBits and their ilk collect dust in forgotten drawers as well as growing scrutiny from regulators.

Health wearables, and the apps that often accompany them, are becoming so sophisticated that they are attracting more attention from regulatory agencies. While the FDA has said it only will regulate apps that are intended as an accessory to a medical device or that make a mobile platform into a medical device--with massive technology improvements these kinds of applications are becoming more common.

As the kinds of health data from patches, wristbands and clothing gets more complex, this also raises privacy and security concerns. Employers are interested in monitoring their employee's health habits to encourage them to be healthier, thereby lowering insurance costs. Payers are looking to monitor patients to ensure they are in compliance and to enable more risk-sharing. This brings a lot of parties to the table with often conflicting sets of interests. These scenarios will play out more commonly, sparking regulatory and political debate as well as intervention along the way.

In addition, more companies are seeking to cash in on a broader, but related, trend--an older U.S. population that is seeking to age in place as long as it possibly can with in-home assistance. So, look for more at-home versions of sophisticated medical equipment that would be more typical in a hospital or physician office.

The effective integration of med tech into everyday lives could be the source of significant cost-savings for the costly U.S. healthcare system, as it can improve patient compliance and shift some activities out of a more expensive hospital or physician office setting. If med tech companies can demonstrate that they can successfully save payers money, it will give real legs to consumer-oriented health devices and apps. -- Stacy Lawrence

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