Integration the Key to Google Fit and HealthKit’s Success?

By Scott Rotermund

Welltok’s Scott Rotermund explains that what we really need from Google Fit and HealthKit is an integrated approach that not only collects data, but also meshes with the current healthcare ecosystem.

As tech giants like Apple, Google and Samsung compete over dominance in the healthcare market, with their latest platforms and apps, the question remains will any or all of these innovations truly tap into the greater realm of consumer health?

Aside from the buzz now emanating from consumers’ pockets, is there a real signal being sent out here about how to change healthcare, or will these latest consumer-concentric technologies add nothing more than noise?

We at HIT Consultant spoke with Rotermund to find out why he believes that in order for Apple, Google and Samsung to succeed in the healthcare market, they must intimately partner and integrate with established entities in the healthcare system – like insurers, hospitals and health systems. He also believes that disappointments with the likes of consumer use of FitBits validates one key thing – in order to get consumers interested in changing their behaviors and making healthy decisions over the long-term, we need more than mobile devices and apps; we need these actions to a benefit or reward (be it a reduced health insurance payment or even a broader financial incentive). Here’s what he had to say:

Scott, can you tell us three reasons why you feel mobile tech companies – like Google, Apple and Samsung – are almost destined to fail when it comes to approaching connected health?

First and foremost, we do not believe that these tech giants are destined to fail. We welcome the likes of Samsung, Apple & Google coming into the health space, as it only validates the massive opportunity to focus on the health of individuals rather the traditional sick-care system. However, to succeed, they need to focus on how to connect with the system and tap into consumers’ motivations:

1. Understanding the healthcare system: Most of these companies are taking a direct to consumer model, which will limit the market opportunity. They will only be hitting the “quantified self” audience and at risk of being a fad versus an integral player in the healthcare continuum. The true answer applies in partnering with insurers and other health entities to make these tools a part of an overall population health strategy. These population health managers have the distribution channel and desire to get wearables in the hands of all consumers to help them get and stay healthy.

2. Consumer motivations: It’s not enough to strap a tracking device on a consumer and expect them to automatically be healthy. We need to tap into their personal goals – be it swimsuit season or the desire to play with ones grandchildren – and tie those goals to incentives to truly motivate consumers. At Welltok, we know consumers need that extra motivation. Ninety-six percent of CaféWell users (Welltok’s Health Optimization Platform) said that they are more likely to be healthy if rewarded.

3. Personalization: We also need to acknowledge that healthcare is not one size fits all and start addressing populations as individuals. These companies have collected all of this data and created a centralized hub for it, but now what? It’s not enough to have a database of steps or restless hours of sleep; people need personalized guidance and support.

What lessons learned from the disappointments associated with the consumer use of FitBit and others tell us about behavior change?

We’ve learned two things:

1. A cool gadget is not enough – The novelty will wear off along with the use of the wearable. In my experience, most people lose interest in their tracking device after a month – they learn their sleep patterns, know average steps, etc. To maintain usage, we’ve tied tracking devices to challenges, participatory incentives and personalized action plans with defined goals.

2. Relying on the consumers to take action – With the startling statistics associated to preventable diseases like obesity and diabetes, it’s safe to say that we cannot expect consumers to take action on their own. These big tech giants are treating health activities as they would consumer electronics – the same rules don’t apply. To move beyond early adopters, they need to tie into programs that provide personalized guidance on how to use the trackers and the resulting data, and align those defined actions with the right incentives to get people moving.

What are the key metrics to successful health behavior change?

The industry is currently using behavior change and engagement as synonyms – using neither correctly and measuring both by ill-defined metrics. When we talk about behavior change, we should be talking about outcomes. It starts with engagement – can you get them involved in their health; then actions – can you get them to do something; and finally, does it drive outcomes, both related to health and costs.

What about the security implications, should we even trust these companies with our health data?

Is HIPAA even on the radar for these tech giants? Most likely not. They are more concerned about big data and big metrics, which can be a big problem. Whereas, it is something that we live and breath. At Welltok, anonymity and security are paramount. Every person who registers with our CaféWell Health Optimization Platform creates a username and is assigned a number as their identity. This allows the end-user to freely participate in the program without concerns of their conditions or activity defining them.

What other important factors do you think these companies are overlooking?

For better or worse, the healthcare system is a complicated web of key stakeholders including the consumers, employer groups, brokers, health plans and providers. This is not a playground that Samsung, Apple or Google know how to play in. Each constituent has their own agenda and, in order for a company to be successful, it needs to be well versed in each to truly solve the healthcare crisis.

The original article appeared on HIT Consultant in July 2014.