Health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn shares her takeaways from CES 2020—and explains how digital health technology is blurring into healthcare.

By Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, MA, MHSA

Earlier this year, Deloitte released findings from its 2019 Health Care CEO Perspectives Study. The study revealed that the top three drivers of healthcare industry change are a shift in care setting, proactive consumers, and new payment models focusing on quality and value. Other factors shaping the healthcare delivery landscape are “digital transformation,” the shift from public sector health plans to commercial, and increased competition from consumer tech.

That shift in care setting is motivated by changing payment regimes—whether we call these out as based on “value,” “bundling,” “pay-for-performance” or “quality,” the bottomline for plans and providers is the need to do more care in lower-cost settings. Instead, these plans should include more ambulatory care in the clinical bricks-and-mortar sense, more care in the patient’s home, and more services delivered and “consumed” in the community where people live, work, play, pray, learn and shop.

What will increasingly enable this shift in care is a convergence of two mega-forces—proactive healthcare consumers and technological innovation. With that healthcare industry landscape in mind, now consider these four shortlists of corporate exhibitors at CES 2020, the annual mega-conference that convened over 180,000 people from around the world this January in Las Vegas:

  • Digital Health: Fitbit, Omron, Philips
  • Home and Lifestyle: Kohler, Procter & Gamble, Sleep Number, Samsung
  • Major Manufacturers: 3M, Stanley Black & Decker, Whirlpool
  • Medical Device and Health Insurance: Abbott, Cigna, Humana

Each of these companies came to CES 2020 to examine the latest in consumer electronics. They all had a healthcare story to tell—from safety and personal emergency coverage to beds that help us sleep better. Other new products targeted how to deal with pain through non-invasive, non-medical means and how health plans engage with people via digital platforms for self-care and population health.

Innovation on Display

Digital health continued to be one of the fastest-growing categories at the meeting this year.

For context, let’s consider CES compared to other health-and-technology focused conferences. RSNA, the annual mega-meeting of radiologists in Chicago, met five weeks before CES 2020. HIMSS, the world’s largest meet-up of health IT stakeholders, is scheduled this year in Orlando seven weeks after CES 2020. And, on the heels of HIMSS in Orlando, South by Southwest, the digital/interactive/entertainment happening, occurs as usual in Austin.

Digital health is a feature at all of these events. But it’s #CES2020 that captured the continuum of the consumer health experience from clinically relevant and accurate FDA-cleared devices to AARP-vetted tools for healthy aging at home.

Here’s a graphic from my book HealthConsuming that shows the 10 categories I checked out at CES to cover the consumer healthcare continuum. Increasingly, we’re finding wearable tech moving to more passive formats like sensors and apps in our phones, to the Internet of Healthy Things at home and, in just a few years, to our cars.

Digital heart health gets real. Step-tracking aside, the most mature digital healthcare segment at CES is heart health. These tools can help providers and payers address chronic conditions and, in the acute care setting, help prevent readmissions.  Omron unveiled its Complete blood pressure and EKG combo, with clinically accurate readings and FDA clearance. Omron’s exhibit featured a kiosk telling the story of a stroke survivor who was now using Omron tech to track AFib and manage his medical condition. Withings, which has reestablished its French corporate identity, announced its CES-awarded innovation, ScanWatch, which embeds an ECG and Sp02 sensor for continuous oxygen tracking relating to sleep apnea.

Sleep as a prescription for self-care. Poor sleep is a public health issue, contributing to chronic medical conditions, metabolic slowdown and cognitive decline. Some  70% of people in the U.S. suffer from sleep deficits. CES awarded e-Skin from Xenoma an innovation award for pajamas with sensors that monitor a user’s sleep and adjust the bedroom’s environment for optimal sleep conditions. That objective of adjusting the temperature for better sleep was launched in Sleep Number’s Climate360 smart bed, among nearly a dozen other beds connecting to apps with their own innovations to promote good sleep. Wearable tech also covers sleep, with headbands from Dreem, Muse and Philips that use sounds and waves to bolster restfulness. And a less obvious piece of “tech” comes from SleepScore Labs and IFF, the flavor-and-fragrance folks, who have pioneered a scent in the form of a pillow spray to lull us into a long, luxurious sleep.

Oral care as a gateway to overall wellness. That’s what the Mayo Clinic believes and, at CES, oral health has been getting more attention in the past couple of years. Health inside the mouth relates to digestive, cardiac and respiratory health. Furthermore, some conditions can negatively impact oral health, such as diabetes and osteoporosis. This year the “Big 3” in oral care at CES were Colgate-Palmolive, P&G (home of Oral B and Crest-branded toothpaste), and Philips. Each of these companies offered their version of a smart toothbrush connected to an app that shows the user spots they may be missing during brushing. Colgate’s Plaqless Pro, with a focus on plaque build-up, scored a CES innovation award. The Oral B iO toothbrush claims to use artificial intelligence data analysis to bolster brushing effectiveness. Philips’ has expanded the BrushSmart toothbrush ecosystem with a teledentistry program that links consumers to dentists in their community, and it also inked a deal with Delta Dental plan members to provide added benefits to smart-toothbrush users.

The ear and hearing category grows. Smart hearables went beyond music and entertainment at CES 2020, likely because hearing is increasingly recognized as a social determinant of health for mental health and loneliness, dementia, and overall cognition. For many years, Valencell has exhibited at CES, and in 2020 the company launched a blood pressure sensor system through the ear. The company claims this innovation recognizes hypertension with 89% accuracy. Coupled with voice technology in the not-too-distant future, Valencell envisions a powerful integration that could provide personalized insights for users, whether focused on health coaching and fitness, or medical care decisions shared with a nurse or doctor.

Healthy aging at home. Last year at CES 2019, I happened upon the Stanley Black & Decker booth. To my surprise, the team told me about the company’s innovation lab in Boston’s Seaport, and it identifies home health as a key growth category for the company. You know the brand for home DIY tools. Now the company is leveraging their trust equity for keeping our houses in shape by moving into healthcare, beginning with the challenge of medication adherence. A year ago, I saw the Pria prototype for medication adherence, and this year the concept is now commercially ready to help people stay on their meds—a key medical challenge preventing adverse events, hospital readmissions and overall good health at home. This product was another CES innovation winner.

At CES 2020, AARP also hosted a large booth with innovations to support healthy aging at home—a particular interest for Medicare Advantage plans and physicians taking on risk to manage the health of older patient populations. With that objective in mind, among the programs I appreciated was an augmented reality app called HomeFit AR, which scans a room seeking safety and mobility risks. Similarly, AidarHealth developed a non-invasive “Rapid Health Assessment” tool to measure health metrics; Embr Labs pioneered the Wave, a wrist-worn device that helps the user feel warmer or cooler; Sana Health focused on neuromodulation for pain management; and SingFit promoted its app that supports music therapy to improve cognitive function.

Smarter homes for health. In the growing agenda of smart home conference content at CES, one session asked and answered the question, “Can Smart Homes Improve Our Health?” This panel featured experts from AerNos, a clean air innovator; MIT AgeLab, which studies seniors’ life flows; and Microsoft, active in healthcare beyond the hospital.

Every room in our home can be embedded with some form of digital health sensor or tool, from the kitchen to the bedroom and bathroom. In fact, the bathroom has a lot of potential as a health-observation room, from the “smarter” toilet to shower to mirror. A new innovation here was the Mateo Smart Bathroom Mat, which functions as a scale that looks like a bathroom rug. Embedded with sensors, the mat connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone or connected mirror app to monitor a user’s weight and posture. The developers are working on coaching algorithms to personalize feedback for users of the mat.

Continuing our brief tour of the bathroom-for-health, I’ve tracked the expanding capabilities of the CareOS Poseidon smart mirror for several years, which has developed a health and wellness ecosystem baked with Privacy by Design principles since its launch in 2018. CareOS is based in France, part of the EU, which is covered by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This organization’s embrace of consumer data privacy, especially in this health and wellness category, demonstrates the growing reality of consumer-generated data that’s sensitive—and important—in evolving toward personalized care.

The above quote comes out from the Deloitte Health Care CEO research. This recognition by one health system executive that health systems of the future will have distributed sites for physical care, coupled with digital platforms, capabilities, and relationships is compelling.

Final Thoughts

There was a sort of sentinel event that happened at CES 2020 that personally impacted me and, I think, represents a broader trend. Gary’s Book Club (named for Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association) picked my book, HealthConsuming: From Health Consumer to Health Citizen, to be featured at the show. Its selection for this annual program underscored just how prevalent the theme of health/care was at CES 2020.

This year’s CES 2020 show gave us many examples of digital health innovations. Though many will need further evaluation and the FDA will increasingly be involved to vet their clinical effectiveness, plans and providers have the opportunity to collaborate with these and other digital health innovators to make the case for adopting these tools. Over time, these innovations could help migrate care to the community and inspire engagement, improve outcomes, lower cost, and delight providers and patients alike.

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