The 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas showcased countless consumer-facing health applications, from mobile phone apps to home health monitoring. There were both a Digital Health Summit and a Silvers Summit held at the Show, featuring a mix of hardware, software and — importantly — service.

But not all vendors at the show were techno-optimists when it came to actually selling direct-to-consumer. “We can’t invest further in all things required because we don’t see a market,” said the director of technology programs for Sharp Laboratories of America, Deepak Ayyagari, according to MSNBC.

What’s the primary barrier to market development? The consumers themselves, Sharp believes.

Notwithstanding a growing veritable buffet of apps (e.g., Intel unveiled its app store at the CES), home monitoring hardware, and health games, no one really yet knows what the consumer will pay for such offerings.

One of these home health applications, monitoring for seniors at home, is mature, so we have some understanding of what consumers — either aging people living at home or their adult children caring from afar — will spend on this specific service. Monthly rates run about $30 a month depending on the vendor, according to Consumer Reports.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: What happens in a consumer’s spending mentality when technology morphs over to health? Why wouldn’t people want to spend money on goods and services that bolster their health?

Data available on consumer spending by household line item is illustrated in the graphic from Wired magazine. While the data is a couple of years old, it begs the question: would a consumer rather spend $20 on a DVD or 15 iTunes versus a health app?

Deloitte’s 2009 health consumer survey, represented in the first graph, shows that most consumers are keen on home monitoring technologies for managing health. That’s the ‘need’ part of consumer demand.

The fact is that consumers already spend money on hardware that can be used to access health services. Mobile phones, broadband Internet connections, and digital music players are sunk costs for a growing number of health citizens.

Once these hardware investments are made, the cost of health services via apps, CDs, SaaS, and other offerings could be perceived as marginal over-and-above the initial hardware financial outlay. Is Sharp Labs right about the lack of consumer willingness to pay?

This question gets to the difference between consumer raw ‘need’ versus consumer ‘demand,’ the latter of which accounts for a consumer’s willingness-to-pay that finally parts her from her cash.

The answer is: what’s the value to the individual consumer? For me, as a consumer of home monitoring services for an aging father at home thousands of miles away, the value was high and the cost, relatively low for peace-of-mind and excellent service. For someone else, it’s the opportunity cost of the latest On Demand wrestling match.

When health tops a consumer’s personal value-chain, the cost will favorably compete with other spending choices. That’s the result a complex interaction of personal preferences, public policy, and risk-benefit. Successful marketing of these services will be mindful of that mix.

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