12.21.2018

Looking ahead to CES 2019: The Splintering of Health Tech

by Rich Gallagher

One look at the floor plan for CES 2019’s Sands Expo Level 2 will make your eyes cross. A few years ago, this area was referred to as the “health tech” showcase, and was the launching pad for some truly innovative devices. But as that category attracted billions of investment dollars, the number of players in the space grew – and the differences between them, in many cases, diminished. Now we have a collection of companies with very specific stated purposes, but many similar devices.

This year’s show will feature dedicated areas for:

  • Wearables
  • Fitness
  • Health & Wellness
  • Smart Home
  • Sports
  • Sleep Tech
  • Family & Kids

 

Within those areas, there is a ton of overlap. Making matters even more confusing, leaders in any one of these categories are likely producing “Swiss Army” gadgets or software that play in more than one field. Most current offerings from a brand like FitBit, for example, land comfortably in ALL of the above. And that’s a shame, because some audiences have very specific needs that these companies could be addressing. Aging, health-minded boomers, for example, represent a tremendous opportunity for tech companies, and in turn, a serious opportunity for any company looking to unite a suite of services under one brand — like a personal tech stack for taking care of ourselves. But more on that later.

Unfortunately, this post is not going to make CES smaller or less confusing for showgoers. A general feeling of disorganization and “been there, done that” in the health tech halls is a symptom of a larger identity problem for all of these subcategories. But if the reporters and marketers who live and breathe health tech are confused, you can bet consumers and investors will be too. And that’s bad for all of us.

Forget Special Swim Lanes; Focus on User

So ‘health tech’ is overly broad, but now we’re left with too many splintered categories, just as our hardware and apps are doing more and more things well. So what’s the best way forward for marketers to keep these cords from getting tangled? The key is to think about the user in a more holistic way.

This can be done in each of the two very practical handles that encompass nearly every software and service offering designed with our health in mind:

Healthcare tech – the family of products and services that incorporate medical professionals into at least one piece of the user experience. This is where the lion’s share of health tech investment dollars are going, even though the brands involved are decidedly less sexy than their consumer-facing counterparts. Electronic Medical Records providers like Epic, professional devices from GE and Texas Instruments, and other things you see in a hospital would all obviously work here. But I expect we’ll see a rise in software that collects data from the consumer for healthcare professionals – similar to how diabetics use an app like MySugr to package their diet and blood sugar data for their doctor.

Wellness techthe softer, consumer friendly field of tech that keeps us healthy. Yes, of course we’re talking about wellness when we’re talking about wearables, but investors would be wise to think more holistically about wellness when thinking about bundling adjacent companies. For instance, apps that help manage diet have sat reliably at the top of the App Store charts for over 10 years. But they do not compete with the App of 2017, Calm. And the consumer that uses their phone to meditate is likely open to practicing yoga remotely, through OmPractice, and possibly look to an app like TalkSpace for regular therapy.

Where do we grow from here? Boomers

Of course, this would all be idle talk if health tech receded in the coming years. But even the most skeptical shot callers haven’t mentioned a health tech bubble, or even *hinted* that we could see a burst. What user, then, should health tech companies focus on for growth?

Thanks to advances in medical research, and the healthier lifestyles they produce, Boomers are morphing into a first-of-its-kind consumer segment – active, empty nesters who continue to make purchasing decisions well into the silver years. They control over $30 trillion, and unlike previous elderly generations, are very much interested in maintaining their independence and embracing technology. From color TV to social networking, they’ve seen unprecedented innovation in their lifetime.

I’m honestly surprised that more brands aren’t going directly at our current crop of seniors. Apple’s fall detection feature on Apple Watch version 4 is intriguing, and meal kit brands like Blue Apron backed into it. Perhaps we’ll see more at CES? After all, if wellness tech is explicitly packaged for a real audience, the show will be much less confusing for *all* of us.

If you’re planning on attending CES and would be interested in meeting up to talk about your PR requirements whilst you’re there, please do get in touch with Julia@resoundmarketing.com