Nike and mHealth: Does the shoe fit?

Recently, I wrote about PGHD (Patient Generated Health Data) and how I believe it could be the wave of the future for pharmaceutical insights, particularly in regard to population level trends, drug adherence and longitudinal tracking. Yet, even though the industry is still very young, recent mHealth news prompts me to wonder when this data will actually be useful and available to the pharma industry.

To be clear, mHealth (per Wikipedia) “is a term used for the practice of medicine and public health supported by mobile devices.” Think apps and devices that connect wirelessly, from glucose meters and heart monitors to wearable fitness devices. PGHD is frequently enabled by mHealth when shared beyond the actual smart phone.

So what is currently happening in this space? First, Nike recently decided to lay off its 70 workers who were focused on its Fuelband wearable fitness device. Speculation abounds as to why they are backing out of this seemingly popular space (worth $330M in 2013) and one wonders if they are conceding the hardware market to the likes of Google and Apple, both reportedly planning to enter the space in the near-term. And, given its relationship with Apple, Nike may have other plans to integrate itself on the app side of the fitness house.

Meanwhile, Mobiquity recently commissioned a study (April 2014) to survey people on their views of mobile apps to track their health and fitness. The results reveal that while 70% of respondents track calorie and physical activity on a daily basis, only 40% share this information with their doctors. When asked why they did not share, the majority claimed that they have never thought about it. Additionally, given the personal nature of this type of data, privacy was a concern for 61% of all respondents.

So, while two data points do not make a trend, it does raise a couple of interesting questions:

  • Where is the industry going (e.g. why is Nike backing out?)
  • Will consumers (i.e. patients) ever be comfortable sharing this data with the health care system?

Is the cart ahead of the horse?

I suggest the answer to both of these questions lies in the fact that consumer demand and interest is far ahead of this emerging industry’s ability to coordinate technology, share data across platforms, aggregate information, and ensure confidentially. Presently, each device and app has its own unique purpose, with little industry convergence or consolidation. In fact, start-up investments continue to grow, doubling growth to $1.35B in Q114 alone, with the biggest growth areas being in patient engagement (410%) and sensors/vital signs monitoring (243%). And, Amazon just announced that it is launching a “wearable store” to cover this growing category.

So clearly, consumer demand is present (and driving investment), yet the interoperability of the “internet of health things” does not yet exist (including patient confidentiality standards). I expect with Meaningful Use Stage III coming in 2017, that both the technical and confidentiality standards will be addressed; the industry will have time to scale, consolidate and make empirically driven, strategic decisions – as demonstrated by Nike. For pharma, the challenge is to not only understand this new medium, but to get involved, learn and use these mHealth tools as another means to engage with their patients and use these social, behavioral, and environmental data to develop novel therapeutics and improve outcomes.

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