As the Baby Boom generation enter or edge closer to retirement, the digital health field is becoming more important to consumer electronics manufacturers.
The Freedonia Group, an international business research company, says demand for home medical equipment will grow 5.5 percent annually through 2012. It's already a a $7.7-billion industry and consumer electronics companies are eager to expand their minimal presence.
Recognizing that, CES founders are hosting a new summit focused on digital health, looking at consumer spending for health and wellness solutions, and there are several new gadgets that will focus on merging your well being with the high tech world.
One of the products on display will be the TabSafe, which monitors the ingestion and release and of medications in your home (as well as vital signs like blood pressure, blood sugar levels and oxygen levels).
When a patient needs to take their medicine or monitor their vitals, the device gives a visual or audible alert. When the medicine is retrieved from the device, TabSafe then uploads a notice to a secure Web site, allowing caregivers to monitor patients from afar.
“The big issue in this country is that 51 percent of all prescription medicines aren’t taken correctly,” says Dr. Stephen L. Axelrod, CEO of TabSafe. “What’s happening is we (as doctors) prescribe these things—and the only way to know if people are taking them is to have them come back with a pill bottle I gave them a month ago and count ‘em. That’s not practical.”
Improperly-taken medication wastes $290 billion per year, says Axelrod, and results in 1 million hospitalizations and 125,000 deaths. Thirty percent of all prescriptions, in fact, are never picked up.
“Doctors get paid for two hours per year and people sit at home for something like 8600 hours per year,” he says. “We’re rarely in front of our doctors and we need to take responsibility for managing our own healthcare.”
Monitoring patients is a big focus for many digital health consumer electronics makers. ABI Research predicts there will be more than 400 million wearable wireless sensor devices by 2014, making that segment of the industry alone worth $5 billion.
AT&T plans to tap into this, increasing its footprint in what it calls the ‘telehealth’ industry, an emerging field that uses online communications to link patients and physicians.
It sounds complicated, but the devices will be seemingly commonplace, such as a pair of slippers that transmit foot movement data. If an elderly patient begins to move in an unusual pattern, his or her doctor could be alerted via e-mail or text message. The technology—and the early alerts it provides—could potentially prevent a fall or even alert caregivers to a possible stroke.
"It really comes down to the design and functionality of the hardware itself," says Harry Wang, an analyst with Park Associates. "If the manufacturers can overcome those hurdles, there’s definitely a great potential there. I think the market will be a big one four-five years down the road."
This year’s CES will also highlight gadgets to encourage preventative care.
EasyHealthMD, for instance, will showcase its new service, offering patients real-time webcam & telephone access to doctors for a consultation at any time. (It’s meant as a supplement to insurance plans and to increase user convenience – not to replace office visits or traditional insurance.)
Numerous fitness devices, including exercise management tools, will also be on display – along with the usual regiment of massage chairs and products.
Over 5 million people in the U.S. have a chronic disease—a number that’s expected to double in the next 20 years. The healthcare world isn’t just a largely untapped market for consumer electronics companies; it’s one that’s growing fast.