Digital health innovations were fast-proliferating at CES 2017. The bad news is there are so many of them, it’s dizzying and fragmented. The good news is that there are emerging health data ecosystems that will streamline consumers’ user experience so that people can derive knowledge, actionable advice and value out of using these tools.

Walking miles of aisles in the Sands Convention Center in the first week of January 2017 can be a dizzying prospect, with hype and best-faces-forward in every single exhibitor at the show. In the health segment at CES, there’s a long list of digital tools to deal with skin, hair, nausea, pain, food and nutrition, sex, fitness, heart, waking up, getting to sleep, respiratory, health step tracking, muscle building, oral/dental care, baby care, eye and vision health, hearing, gait, posture, mental health and mood, addiction, breathalyzing…from head to toe, there’s a specific app or a digital health tech for it.

Close-up, it’s a fragmented lot of connected “things” in the context of the larger Internet of Healthy and Medical “things” (IoT). Each one of those things has an app associated with it, so if you’re a digitally-engaged health consumer, your personal platform (say, phone) can get very crowded and you can develop health app-overload that can lead to (1) frustration and (2) abandonment. That’s not a happy outcome for sustaining health engagement over time.

But in retrospect and quiet analysis, six days after leaving Las Vegas, far away from the casinos and smoke and techno-optimism written into shiny new things’ product announcements, one over-arching green-shoot emerges: that a few companies are working very hard to build health data ecosystems that go beyond one app’s data to mash up and develop information and advice for people who opt into this personal quantified health scenario.

Start with Philips. I spent some quality time, one-on-one, with Jeroen Tas, the CEO of Philips Connected Care and Health Informatics, for an in-depth conversation on how digital technologies can help to build a healthy society. In 2016, Philips made a big bet to become a pure-play health company. “What’s unique about our approach,” Tas explained, “is we have a strong consumer franchise shipping 250 million consumer products.” The company also has a huge footprint on the professional side of healthcare. “One-half of all patient monitors in the U.S. are Philips” branded, Tas added. With such a strong professional footprint, the company has the unique opportunity to bridge consumer health with the clinical world — historically, two data silos. Last year, the company acquired Wellcentive, a population health IT company, which will play a big part of building the bridge from individual to societal health.

15 years ago, Philips coined the term “ambient intelligence.” Tas explained the concept in light of personal health:  your environment understands you through the tools you use every day, such as toothbrushes, mirrors, kitchen appliances, and so on. Intelligence is “there,” non-intrusive, designed to be secure, constantly interpreting what’s going on in a person’s life. This is the health opportunity for the Internet of (Healthy and Medical) Things. Philips is working with Amazon’s AWS, Qualcomm and Salesforce on various aspects of this evolving health data ecosystem.

At CES 2017, Philips exhibited many “things” in the company’s own health-oriented IoT portfolio, including:

  • Lifeline (the personal emergency response system that now has embedded GPS and bolsters social connectivity). The company is researching how the user’s voice can show early indications of illness, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease
  • Connected kitchen appliances that can bolster health and wellness (with an eye toward food-as-medicine and nutrition for overall wellbeing)
  • A range of baby-oriented innovations such as baby monitors and smart thermometers that are aligned with the company’s Avent uGrow app to help parents and caregivers pre- and post-birth. Remember, Philips also markets clinical ultrasound that enable many parents to first “see” their babies in utero. UGrow can pull in information around the nursery and from the outside, like that ultrasound image
  • Research into connected car for health, working with Mercedes and the Formula 1 racing team. “You look at the cockpit of Formula 1 like a flight jet. How stressed is the driver? How sleep deprived?” Tas asked. There is a lot to learn by observing these professional drivers and translate those lessons into better understanding health, stress, and safe driving
  • The Health Watch, which is an FDA Class 2 regulated device and is, thus, medical grade. The watch’s app offers a behavioral program that enables users to set personal goals and receive coaching. Part of a Heart Health program, the watch tracks resting heart rate, heart-rate recovery, and resting respiration rate
  • Portable CPAP technology for sleep and respiratory health
  • A smart scale and blood-pressure monitor
  • For oral care, a smart Sonicare toothbrush for oral care and Sonicare breath analysis.
“We believe by engaging consumers and patients as well as connect to caregivers, not just doctors and nurses but friends and family, too, we can build up knowledge of those patients and turn that into actionable insights and guidance, creating better outcomes for everybody,” Tas noted.

Other companies exhibiting at CES 2017 are developing health data ecosystems as Philips is doing. Nokia, which acquired Withings in May 2016, has a corporate commitment to connected health. At CES, the Nokia-Withings combination showed off several innovations in the growing landscape of IoT for health:

  • The Kérastase Hair Coach Powered by Withings, a smart hairbrush developed with L’Oréal’s Research and Innovation Technology Incubator. The brush couples with a mobile app to provide personalized insights and recommendations to help people better care for their hair. This is part of the fast-growing beauty+tech segment at CES. The device won the CES Innovation award at the conference.
  • Wearable tech devices to track health and wellness including the Steel HR, Activite, and Go watches
  • Connected scales, blood pressure monitors, and thermometer (the new Thermo)
  • Devices for the smart healthy home such as the Aura and the company’s air quality monitor
  • Working with IBM Watson Health on cognitive computing to better care for aging and vulnerable populations
  • In regulated medical grade technology, Nokia is also working with the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital to develop remote monitoring technology for neurology outpatients.

“Digital health is one of the biggest IoT verticals that has emerged and is very consistent with Nokia’s vision and assets. It’s about being able to scale with mass-market potential, the capacity to partner with large-scale strategic partnerships,” Cedric Hutchings, Withings’ CEO, said. The company’s collaboration with L’Oreal and Kérastase is an example of such a partnership across the health/care ecosystem which is generating data across devices.

Under Armour is building another health data ecosystem. No longer a strictly athletic gear company, Under Armour’s acquisition of MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, and other health apps in the past couple of years has afforded the company one of the world’s deepest health/food/fitness data mines. This year, Under Armour unveiled the UA Record Equipped line of smart footwear, featuring the Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps modeling them at CES. “I wish I had stuff like this eight years ago….It is helping you get the best out of yourself,” Phelps told the CES audience. The smart shoes sync with the MapMyRun app in UA’s connected health ecosystem.

Under Armour also introduced Athlete Recovery Sleepwear, with tagline: “These aren’t pajamas. They’re advantages.” The textile is woven with sensors embedded with “Far Infrared” technology that absorbs the wearer’s natural heat and reflects the energy back to the skin; the theory is that this process helps us recover faster, sleep better, and reduce inflammation based on research from the National Institutes of Health. Tom Brady is the celebrity rep on this product.

The goal of these innovations, Kevin Plank, the company’s CEO said, is to create, “a holistic system to help you make better choices about your life…and to turn your data into direction.”

Fitbit’s bet for CES 2017 is to leverage its huge database of millions of users to help people socialize health and wellness, and make health yourself and with your tribe. This tactic is more about software than hardware. With the largest market share in terms of activity trackers in use (54 million and counting), it’s time now to maximally leverage that data via Fitstar, the company’s guided workout app. Fitbit is also building out a new Community social feature with content, updating, and trainer-led workouts in peoples’ communities.

“We see ourselves as a behavior change company,” Tim Roberts, Fitbit’s EVP, Interactive Product & Design, told me. “Consumer experience is fundamental to that….inspiration, motivation, engagement, and guidance that help people change behaviors” will make the difference in helping people sustain healthy behavior over time, Roberts explained. “Social relationships are so fundamental to engagement and behavior change,” he has learned.

Fitbit’s data bear this out: people who have a friend on Fitbit take 700 more steps per day.

Fitbit is also expanding its own ecosystem working with Medtronic, the medical device company, on the healthcare, regulated side; and, UnitedHealth Group in the health insurance and employer health plan world. On the clinical side, Adam Pellegrini, Fitbit’s Vice President of Digital Health, talked about the Medtronic program which was announced in December 2016. This partnership integrates health (via Medtronic) and activity tracking (via Fitbit) for patients managing diabetes, and their clinical care teams. The iPro2 myLog mobile app enables patients living with type 2 diabetes to view glucose levels and physical activity in one dashboard. “By partnering with Medtronic, we are able to bring the power of Fitbit’s automatic activity tracking together with continuous glucose monitoring, allowing patients and providers to have a more informed conversation,” Pellegrini said.

Fitbit has been getting more embedded into the clinical side of healthcare, too, with 21 clinical trials currently ongoing with healthcare researchers.

Fitbit has also joined with UnitedHealth Group and Qualcomm in the employer wellness market. Fitbit’s Corporate Wellness Program has been working Target and dozens of other companies to boost activity and cultures of health in these workplaces. UnitedHealthcare is adding the Fitbit Charge 2 wearable to the health plan’s Motion health program that incentivizes workers to track activity in exchange for up to $1,500 in discounts for health plan premiums.

Further extending its health data ecosystem, Fitbit is also working with Peloton, the connected cycle; Habit, the nutrition planning tool; and, VirZOOM, a virtual reality (VR) game developer with a portfolio of games designed for use while exercising on fitness bikes.

Finally, Omron, a 40-year-old veteran in the wearable heart-health space, is expanding its reach into health through relationships with the American Heart Association, Lark, AliveCor, HealthCorps (the not-for-profit founded by the Oz Family to deal with children’s and teen’s health), on a collaborative platform for health data with open APIs to enable data sharing. The program, Going for Zero, is dedicated to seeing “zero” heart attacks and strokes in the world. The company is developing a physician outreach program and consumer health education campaign about heart-health, to create a movement and awareness about how people’s tracking blood pressure, along with lifestyle changes and engagement with healthcare providers, can help bend mortality and morbidity of heart disease.

At CES 2017, Omron launched EVOLV, a Bluetooth-enabled one-piece blood pressure monitor that fits on the upper arm and generates a blood pressure reading within seconds of use. EVOLV couples with the Omron Connect US app, which also tracks BMI, body fat, and weight along with the EVOLV’s BP readings of diastolic, systolic, and pulse. The app charts and graphs data and alerts users to high readings.

“We want to help save lives,” Ranndy Kellogg, Omron President and CEO, told me at CES Unveiled.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: “The age of the traditional doctor’s visit is over,” asserts a recently-published West Monroe Partners’ report on consumer-driven healthcare.

Patients, now health consumers, demand accessible, convenient, more digital, empowering and well-designed on-ramps to self-care for health, wellness, and disease management. CES 2017 featured apps and tools covering every aspect of wearable tech for health, illness, beauty, mood and mental health. The diagram, from Unison RTOS, illustrates their WearableOS concept from head to finger to toe. CES 2017 covered most of these.

The point of all this is the platform, the health data ecosystem, that can bring data from each of these individual apps and tools together for the benefit of the person, and ultimately, social and public health.

Philips, Nokia+Withings, Under Armour, Fitbit, Omron and other companies are diligently doing the hard work to build the health data ecosystems that can help us improve health for all people. These are important case studies because they illustrate the power of collaboration across healthcare and health data silos.

And it’s the data that are the new currency for health improvement. Artificial intelligence (AI) has begun to positively impact healthcare. We will see more about AI’s and Big and small data’s role, in healthcare at the upcoming 2017 Annual HIMSS Conference in Orlando in February 2017. That will feature more of the clinical, professional side of this equation, as discussed above in the Philips and Fitbit discussions. (I will also be addressing the conference in my talk about social determinants of health bolstered by health IT on Tuesday 21st February).

It is early days, but these companies’ hard work at getting the data out of the systems, into algorithms, fed back to us with actionable advice will help us move to address our huge healthcare challenges: access for all health citizens, quality, and lower cost.

A summarized version of this analysis appears in The Huffington Post dated 13 January 2017.