Health care is undergoing a transition that might sound familiar to advisors who are watching the robo-advisor space: consumers using online tools and mobile devices to control more of their health on their own.
“There’s been a real interest in individuals becoming more self-directed when it comes to their health care,” Charles Teague, CEO of fitness app Lose It, told Investment Advisor in April. Ten years ago, health care consumers could visit a website like WebMD to learn more about a diagnosis or research symptoms on their own. Now, consumer-focused technology like wearables and apps allow them to make small but long-term changes.
For example, obesity “tends to co-exist with a whole set of medical conditions that are very expensive. That ranges from the really obvious ones like cardiovascular disease or diabetes, to orthopedic disease. It puts more strain on your back, it puts strain on your knees.”
There are limitations to weight tracking tools, of course—losing 20 pounds won’t remove the need for medication for someone with Type II diabetes—but “the thing with wearables is there’s a general trend to try to start taking better care of yourself and to originate that with yourself,” Teague said.
Obviously, those tools only work as well as consumers use them, though. Teague said that the goal is not getting users to track every step they take or calorie they eat, but to get to better health.
“We have to look at engagement the right way,” Teague said. “This isn’t the kind of thing where we say, ‘Boy, every user should engage with health technology like this for all time.’ I think it’s much better to think about it as something that’s episodic and tied to what their goals are.”
Widespread use of apps and wearables has led to an interesting dichotomy between wanting to protect personal data and sharing personal information that makes these tools more useful or engaging.
“Everyone has gotten both more tolerant about services that have all this data about you, but we’ve also gotten a little more sensitive about it lately,” Teague said. “We’re a little more aware of all the ways that data can be used and how specifically it can be tied to us. In health, that’s definitely no exception.”
That puts a burden on providers of this technology to be very transparent about who owns the data the user enters and how private it will be, Teague said. “A lot of times, the users want to share the data, they just want to make sure they’re in control of it. They want to make sure [they know] who it’s with, why they’re sharing it and understand they have the ability to stop that relationship if they like.”
Lose It’s users are trying to lose weight and eat better, but Teague said 10% of users come from a doctor’s referral. “A physician may not feel equipped to deal with everything that someone needs when they’re going through this process from the day-to-day monitoring.”