Health tech overselling -- a bubble of hype and reality of non-use

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Nurses are mad – tech has been oversold and they don’t like it.  Not something you see often in our tech-hyped bubbly world of quantified selfies and health tech trendiness – but check this out:  this 185,000 member Nurses union has begun a campaign AGAINST over-reliance on ‘unproven’ technology in healthcare.  Over-reliance on EMRs with inadequate or incorrect diagnoses, the rise of robotics – and the use of tech that is more likely to be associated with cost-cutting than with delivery of better care. Meanwhile health costs continue to grow, even as the rate of growth slows -- now only 17.2 percent of the economy, down from 17.3 percent.

FTC commissioner raises justifiable privacy concerns – but relax, there's no privacy anyway.  So there you are, sharing your weight or diabetes information on Facebook, and a drug company sends you a note suggesting you might want to be part of a clinical trial for diabetics. Why? Because your social media comments were mined by Blue Chip Marketing software and the results were sent to companies recruiting for clinical trials. FTC Commissioner Julie Brill notes that this information, which you created, is not protected by HIPAA. True, but after you check out a new documentary, Terms and Conditions May Apply, you will realize that you didn’t have any privacy protection on anything you share online anyway.

Consumers like but don’t use self-care apps -- then why so much hype? Looking at the American Telemedicine Association’s (ATA) agenda and reading this annual event walkthrough, I was struck by the similarity with ATA 2011 that I attended. All that was there then is more so now, including device complexity, plus a mobile app for the patient or the doctor.  Maybe that’s good – you leave the specialist’s office and there are your instructions on that ‘DermatologyDoc’ mobile app.  But not likely – in April, only 15% of consumers report using a fitness band, never mind tracking a chronic disease on an app – or using one prescribed by a doctor.

VCs see a market, but please show somebody the money, er, results.  When you look at the $20 million of funding WellDoc received to market their diabetes app, one wonders at the thought process of firms like Merck that back it. The market for diabetes drugs is $26 billion. 25.8 million people today have diabetes.  Here’s the interesting kicker – only 1.2 percent of people with diabetes who own a smartphone or tablet use apps to manage their condition.  The only current metric used for adoption of diabetes management apps is number of downloads.  Yet 80-90% of apps downloaded are only used once.  So we have this dichotomy between usage and investor and developer optimism – there are 1100 diabetes apps on iOS and Android – the top one mentioned on this list received only 127 reviews across all versions of the offering.  Hype is up, the cost of diabetes is up, investor caution is clearly down, but someone needs to explain all this to the patients.  It’s no surprise that given justifiable concerns about data privacy and the unproven efficacy of the apps themselves --  that their skepticism remains.