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How Can Health-Tech Encourage Gadget Adoption?


The potential of new tech, from wearables to telehealth platforms, is undeniable: But how can all this stuff be made both cool and credible?

The revolutionary capabilities of new devices and concepts—whether telehealth platforms, wearables, or even digital pills—are not in dispute. But how can healthcare and tech encourage patients to use new technologies by making them both cool and medically credible?

Brian Cooley, a CNET editor, was wearing an Apple Watch with a Kardia EKG monitor wristband while he moderated a 2018 Consumer Electronics Show panel on health tech. Most people, he acknowledged, are significantly less tuned-in to the topic than those who attend the annual gadgetry megaconference in Las Vegas, Nevada. He compared the device adoption situation to the market for electric cars.

“Electric cars are taking some pretty good market share…but it’s not really being drawn through by organic consumer demand, most of it is because we’ve been told we should,” he said. Regulations, incentives, gas prices, and standards placed upon manufacturers have all been bigger factors in their spread than some overwhelming public thirst for Priuses.

All the things that make tech novel could limit, as Cooley put it, the “gravitas” of the technology. As neat as the developments are, “What I want when I’m sick is the best doctor in town, in her white coat, with a Harvard diploma on a wall,” Cooley said.

Ian Tong, the chief medical officer of telehealth company Doctor on Demand, said new technology can be jarring to patients. Although they're appearing through a tablet screen, a doctor in a telehealth appointment is still that expert in the white coat who can help them.

There’s both a push and pull toward adoption, according to Brooke Basinger, the technical lead of ophthalmic hardware at Verily. There’s a push for patients with diseases that requires use of a medical device or application, and there’s a pull for savvy consumers interested in the latest tech and health-monitoring devices.

“What I’m a little concerned about is the space in between,” she said. “People who are not yet diagnosed with a disease, but could still benefit from having some of that health information.”

For that problem, panelists said that healthcare had to first determine what it could get out of all the new technologies, and then demonstrate the value of it to patients.

“Engagement in one’s own healthcare is critical for us,” Paul Sterling, the Vice President of Emerging Products at UnitedHealthcare, said. “We don’t want to lock into one mode, methodology, or medium. It’s personalization: How do I want to consume and interact with this data first, and then bring this data into the healthcare system second.”

David Rhew, the Chief Medical Officer and head of healthcare and fitness for Samsung, stressed the need to prove value. “If you just give technology to a consumer and expect them to get better for themselves, it’s really hard,” he said.

Rhew pointed to a project in which Applied VR and a team from Cedars Sinai developed virtual reality videos that simulated the effect that sodium has on one’s blood pressure and heart, from the perspective of a red blood cell. They tested the video on a group of mothers, and followed up a week later to see if they were still putting the same amount of salt in the food they were feeding their children. The women said they had cut down it.

“That’s the type of approach that we need to start thinking about…using some of these tools to get people to want to change their behaviors. Because now it’s not about them, it’s about their loved ones,” he said.

Another thing that health tech can focus on? Making the use of devices more appealing. Traditional medical devices often carry stigmas, Basinger noted, and she thinks that’s where consumer tech companies come in: “The consumer electronics field is very good at getting high scalability, high usability, and developing things that people want to use, where there’s a ‘cool factor’ to be wearing it, rather than a stigma.”

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