IBM Sees Large Market for Wireless Health-Monitoring Devices

By Brian T. Horowitz  |  Posted 2011-06-29

IBM Sees Large Market for Wireless Health-Monitoring Devices

Devices smaller than a cell phone will allow people to monitor their health within the next five years and consumers will be willing to pay for them, according to a new study by IBM's Institute for Business Value.

The institute performs studies for senior executives on major public and private sector issues.

For its report "The Future of Connected Health Devices," IBM surveyed more than 1,300 users of wireless health-monitoring devices. It also interviewed consumer electronics companies and medical device makers.

The company studied how "information seekers," those people in between fitness enthusiasts and the chronically ill, can manage their health. This middle group wants to manage their health but stay independent.

They are generally healthy but need assistance leading even healthier lives. They aim to maintain their health and limit visits to doctors, IBM reports.

"They have some kind of condition but are relatively healthy," Heather Fraser, co-author of the report and global lead for life sciences and distribution at the IBM Institute for Business Value, told eWEEK. "They just want to keep that condition at bay."

Information seekers could also be healthy but have a family history of illness, or they may be cancer survivors who are now recovered but need to manage their condition.

One factor motivating people to manage their health with these devices on a regular basis will be to keep their health care costs down, according to the report, released on June 27.

People will use the devices to monitor their diet, care for the elderly, manage high blood pressure and help quit smoking, IBM reports. The devices will allow people to maintain independence and mobility and communicate data in real time to caregivers and doctors. These wellness devices may connect to a PC, gaming device, tablet or smartphone.

The survey found that 86 percent of respondents demand simplicity for these devices, according to IBM. Furthermore, although consumers are willing to pay for the health tracking devices, three-quarters of respondents expect a reasonable price of $100 or less, IBM reports.

Device interoperability will be a key factor in whether or not they take off in the market, according to IBM. The Continua Health Alliance is helping to bring about great collaboration among consumer electronics, life science and technology companies to explore these technology and market issues, Fraser, a pharmacist, said.

Continua is a nonprofit organization of health care and technology companies that aims to create compatibility for home health devices.

"As the health care market continues to grow, we envision a marketplace of products, devices and services that empower consumers to better care for themselves and to connect seamlessly with their health care providers," Chuck Parker, executive director of Continua, said in a statement.

"The collaboration of companies within the health care industry is essential in creating these new reliable, cost-effective personal health solutions," Parker said.

Users will share health data from these devices on social networking services such as Facebook, especially those contacts with similar issues, according to Fraser.

The Privacy Factor


In addition, although three-quarters of respondents consider privacy a key factor in considering whether to employ the devices, 63 percent are willing to use them to share their data.

Wireless health devices at home could prevent patients from developing White Coat Syndrome, which is raised blood pressure that develops from anxiety in a doctor's office.

"A lot of people feel that they get stressed about the hospital setting, and the situation tends to raise their blood pressure," Fraser said.

As people manage their health using the devices, fewer general practitioners and office visits may be needed, she suggested. Physician practices may then be able to save money on infrastructure costs.

Health-monitoring devices can be beneficial in cases where conditions change from day to day, such as for diabetics' sugar levels. They could help monitor a child's ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), a condition that changes from day to day.

Doctors will then get a more complete snapshot than they would get from just a random visit to the office, Fraser said. "The child disorder can be all over the place, but on the day they go in to see the doctor they can be good as gold," she said.

These monitoring devices could even be built into games on a Nintendo DS or Wii, Fraser noted.

For patients with diabetes or heart conditions, Medtronic has a line of CareLink devices. Other manufacturers include A&D Medical, Nonin, 3M and Omron.

Meanwhile, the Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group) has released new specifications for the Bluetooth 4.0 wireless standard and expects health-monitoring devices incorporating this update to hit shelves by December.

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