CES offers a glimpse into the connected health future

Bluetooth pacifier thermometer CES Consumer Electronics Show health gadgets wearables
A Bluetooth pacifier/thermometer? (Photo: Bluemaestro

A Bluetooth pacifier that takes a baby’s temperature. An iPhone otoscope. A smart yoga mat. And health & fitness trackers out the wazoo. That’s just a small sampling of the health-related technologies showcased at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (or CES).

The Las Vegas-based annual trade fair, a weeklong playdate for gadgetphiles, largely focuses on TVs, computers, cameras, entertainment and mobile gear. This year it also had a robust health and biotech presence, with more than 300 health and biotech exhibitors.

“I witnessed literally hundreds of companies all vying for the wrists and attention of users,” Michael Docktor, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital’s clinical director of innovation and director of clinical mobile solutions, wrote on BetaBoston. “For me, it was a chance to see where medicine and health care are headed.”

That direction includes devices that essentially put doctors’ tools in consumers’ hands, like the CellScope, the iPhone otoscope mentioned above. And tools that add a connected aspect to health devices we use every day, such the Pacif-i (the Bluetooth pacifier/thermometer). And trackers that go way beyond the Fitbits and Fuels you see on so many wrists, like cardiovascular, neurological and sleep monitors that collect, synthesize and display data in clinically useful ways. “With the ubiquity of sensors and their declining cost and power consumption, everything has become or is getting connected and intelligent,” Docktor wrote.

The show also had a cautionary moment, during a speech and accompanying remarks by Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Edith Ramirez. Citing a need for greater digital privacy and data security in the consumer sphere, Ramirez noted that:

“In the not-too-distant future, many, if not most, aspects of our everyday lives will be digitally observed and stored. That data trove will contain a wealth of revealing information that, when patched together, will present a deeply personal and startlingly complete picture of each of us.”

For Docktor, the push toward connected wearables also raises concerns that doctors will end up drowning in data:

“[The Samsung] Simband [may] generate a gigabyte of data per day! Who will make sense of that? Who will manage the data and alerts that are generated? How will a physician tackle the deluge of data from hundreds of patients on their panels?”

The answer, he writes, will be analytics:

“[T]he true winners in the business of this wearable war will be the data scientists, designers, and software engineers who can leverage the data to deliver it in a simple, user-friendly and actionable way that can easily be weaved into the workflow of busy clinical teams.”

Read the rest of Docktor’s take on BetaBoston, and see what others took away from their CES experience: