THE BLOG
05/02/2016 10:01 am ET

Battle of the Health Data Ecosystems

With the announcement that Finland-based Nokia acquired France-HQ'd Withings in late April 2016, the tipping point for a new era of health data ecosystems began.

This deal, described by Ramzi Haidamus of Nokia Technologies as more of a "reverse takeover," is part of the growing health/care Internet-of-things, where our health and medical "things" generate individuals' health data that flow through internet clouds and get mashed up and repurposed for population health analytics and personal application.

At the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in January earlier this year, I identified many (fragmented) types of tracking technology that can support healthier living and healthcare. These connected health things addressed activity (the largest market share belonging to the long list of Fitbit-branded trackers), weight and BMI, heart function, sleep, food, mood, blood sugar, gait and balance, among a growing list of functions. Some new-new tracking metrics cover the Nivea Nose app for sweat and odor detection, and sun exposure via a L'Oreal UV Patch app. Clearly, consumer products companies are getting into the tracking game to bolster brand loyalty.

As Nokia pointed out in their press release, all these gadgets are part of the growing era of the Internet of Things. And increasingly, all of our "things" will be connected to the Internet, generating data. But the point of all these data points is not really about that data; the point is what the aggregated data means for you and me in living a better life.

An example of that better-living-through-personal-data scenario is the recent emergency department visit of a 42-year-old man who presented with an irregular heart rate following a grand mal seizure. The august Annals of Emergency Medicine published a peer-reviewed write-up of this encounter, summarizing: "A 42-year old man presented to the emergency department (ED) with newly diagnosed atrial fibrillation of unknown duration. Interrogation of the patient's wrist-worn activity tracker and smartphone application identified the onset of the arrhythmia as within the previous 3 hours, permitting electro cardioversion and discharge of the patient from the ED." Translation: a man came into the ER with an irregular pulse after experiencing a grand mal seizure at work, and the treating physicians noticed the patient was wearing a Fitbit Charge HR. The clinicians used the data archived in the Fitbit app to figure out that atrial fibrillation had occurred three hours before the patient was admitted into the emergency department, in a patient with no history of heart disease.

Fitbit has become a sort of on-ramp for millions of people wanting to enter the world of personal health tracking. The Withings Smart Analyzer Wi-Fi scale was that for me several years ago, helping me keep my BMI in check. Since then, I've adopted a bunch of different devices for trial, some of which have stuck with me over time. And all of which, when I opt-into their apps, have collected lots of data points about my steps, calories taken in, calories burned, weight, heart rate, and sleep patterns. All of that data is in different companies' health data ecosystems, at Withings, at Fitbit, at My Fitness Pal (now part of the growing Under Armour family of health data), Garmin, Jawbone, and Apple.

Clearly, Nokia and Withings will be growing and mining a data ecosystem. Other such data worlds are evolving. Apple is fostering its health data garden through the Apple Watch and iPhone apps, the HealthKit (for health and fitness), ResearchKit (for medical-clinical research), and the newly-launched CareKit program. CareKit, meant for personal chronic care management, is starting off with apps for pregnancy, infants (Glow Nurture and Glow Baby for growth tracking), diabetes and depression, with more conditions and life stages in the pipeline.

Google has a health data ecosystem. So do Amazon, Samsung, and the aforementioned Under Armour which is morphing from a sports gear company to a data-centered one. Under Armour is currently classified for industrial and tax purposes as serving SIC code 2300, serving the market for "Apparel and Finished Products of Fabric." What might Under Armour be considered by 2020? A health care or services company? With the acquisition of Endomondo, MapMyFitness, and My Fitness Pal, Under Armour is certainly growing its role as a health data and personal health coach player, leveraging its Healthbox technology and partnership program (which go beyond fitness to include national healthcare brands such as Ascension Health, Blue Cross of Massachusetts, and Intermountain Healthcare, among many others).

When it comes to personal health, for people, it's not about the data itself or the doctor or a shiny-new-health-tech-thing; it's about "my" health. Note what Rajeev Suri, President & CEO of Nokia, said in the Withings-acquisition press release: "With this acquisition, Nokia is strengthening its position in the Internet of Things in a way that leverages the power of our trusted brand, fits with our company purpose of expanding the human possibilities of the connected world, and puts us at the heart of a very large addressable market where we can make a meaningful difference in peoples' lives."

That adjective used with the word "brand," "trust," will be a key secret in the successful sauce for companies wanting to address that addressable market of health consumers looking for meaningful health engagement. Thus far, the overall Internet of Things market hasn't generated much consumer trust. The convergence of the IoT with personal health will require even more of that trust for consumers to engage as health consumers with the growing community of health data ecosystem players.

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