Digital health product and service opportunities span a wide spectrum of health and wellness needs. They also enable development and deployment of new business models. In developing these solutions, the smart phone platform is hard to overlook because of its ubiquity and personalization. In other words, if it can be done with a smart phone, other approaches fight an uphill battle.
Any innovation project should carefully weigh the application requirements to assess if a custom platform is competitive in the long run. Smart phones advance at a rapid pace, the nature of smart phone marketplace—characterized by customer receptivity for new features and capabilities. As a result, a custom platform that is unique today may not be competitive tomorrow as the smart phone platform integrates more capabilities.
Today’s smart phone is an amazing machine; it not only provides a variety of wireless and wired connectivity features, but also computing, storage, (optical) imaging, display, and sensing. Furthermore, smart phones are ‘glued’ to their owners, i.e., are essentially a wearable; they can be used to perceive (inputs/sensors), analyze, and visualize (display) specific diaries associated to with the wearer. The computing and storage capabilities allow for powerful analytics and data storage, right on the phone. Smart phones have high-resolution imaging and display capabilities suitable for rich photo/video data capture and visualization, respectively. These phones also pack more and more sensors in order to better interact with the physical world (i.e., the wearer and her surroundings), be it for data entry or environmental perception.
A typical smart phone today has sensors for most, if not all, of these measurements: sound, touch, temperature, pressure, humidity, motion, orientation, heading, proximity, light, and image. Many of these sensing capabilities by themselves or in combination can be used for health solutions, e.g., image affect, analyze voice and cough, assess hearing, image skin and wounds, archive actions, track activity, detect falls, coach physical therapy, assess tremor, etc. As we miniaturize new sensors and lowers their cost, more will be integrated into the smart phones.
A variety of external sensors can be used in association with a smart phone to expand the range of the digital health application space. These sensors leverage the phone’s platform and use its capabilities to deliver specific data measurements. Associated with these products is usually a service to further engage the user and enhance the business model.
Another point of note in digital health innovation is that wireless enablement should be a genuine benefit, not just a feature. The wireless enablement is not always necessary; application requirements should be assessed carefully. A given wearable application may be satisfied by collecting and storing data for a period of time, then downloading the data. Nevertheless, the wireless enablement provides a more seamless and convenient uploading process.