If there’s one thing this digital health revolution has brought us, it’s information — information about our well-being, sent straight to our smartphones and even teleported to our wrists.
But what do we do with this information? How often do we look at a lit screen, scroll down, and mutter to ourselves, “Oh, that’s how I fix that”?
Bridging this information-action gap seems to be the goal of the next generation of health-tech products. Base-level information no longer cuts it — new products also recognize the importance of context, as well as feedback. Here are six innovators we’re watching closely.
FocusMotion keeps in mind that not all your workouts involve counting steps. (Photo: FocusMotion)
Say you’re in a yoga class, where the workout may not be as “obvious” to your fitness tracker as a traditional cardio class, which has lots of hopping around (and therefore, steps). Your tracker may only give you a couple steps’ worth of “credit,” even though you were hardly staying still the whole time. That’s where FocusMotion comes in.
The two-year-old, Los-Angeles-based company is the brainchild of business and engineering majors at the University of Michigan, who looked at the fitness tracker space as the Nike+ FuelBand emerged and “saw a huge opportunity to understand what people are doing contextually,” co-founder and chief operating officer Grant Hughes tells Yahoo Health. Unlike some other fitness trackers on the market, FocusMotion’s platform has the ability to recognize a pose and how long it’s held. “We wanted to give people ‘credit’ every time they go to a yoga class,” for example, Hughes explains.
But the logic applies beyond yoga — and, really, to anything involving movement. More recently, FocusMotion partnered with the Fitocracy app and the Pebble Time smartwatch, addressing the former’s pain point: It had an engaging social network, but its members were forced to manually input their workout data. Now, it has auto-tracking.
FocusMotion, which realized early on that it could gain more traction by partnering with other companies on its products, also has designs on guiding the physical therapy rehabilitation of post-op patients and even incorporating sensors in factory settings, where employees can be trained to work better, safer, and perhaps even faster. The use cases are unlimited. “Because we can understand what people are doing on a per-exercise, per-repetition, per-movement basis, developers can use the FocusMotion SDK to actually give people customized and targeted training plans based on what they want to achieve,” Hughes said. “And developers can monitor their progress and [how] they should intervene in order to help them get there quicker.”
Robin Berzin, MD, the founder of Parsley Health. (Photo courtesy of Robin Berzin)
Robin Berzin, MD, who trained in medicine at Columbia University, was doing the kind of work she believed in, recommending natural therapies — not pills — to treat her patients. But Berzin had a financial problem. “I couldn’t afford myself,” she tells Yahoo Health, without a hint irony. “And all my friends wanted to see me, and they couldn’t afford me either. … Functional medicine was really for the 1 percent. And nobody was using data or technology to make the process more seamless or modern; nobody (was) tracking outcomes; and nobody was making it affordable. My goal was to change that.”
The result, launched in February this year, is her very own Parsley Health. The philosophy is similar to her previous work — global, 360-degree support to help patients lead a healthier life — but the costs are not. “Health care should work the way the rest of the world works,” Berzin says. “It’s in the Dark Ages, in terms of using digital communications.”
The subscription-based Parsley gives members five annual visits (and unlimited health coaching) for the price of one at her old employer, in addition to discounts at partners such as yoga studios and physical therapists. That manila folder with your medical history? At Parsley, it’s completely online and accessible to both you and your coach; attachments can be uploaded and downloaded. Parsley deliberately doesn’t have a phone number.
There’s talk of the New York-based company opening an office in California if its tech front-end keeps up with its growing community of patients, who receive personalized programs from Berzin. Some people also choose to enroll in Parsley’s seven-day and 21-day detox programs. “A lot of people feel stuck, and they accept that ‘stuck’ is the norm,” Berzin says. “We’re in this awesome era where technology is empowering us to have more information, and a service like Parsley is giving you, in these targeted ways, a coach, a doctor, a program — the ways to get unstuck.”
Athos produces clothing that tells you how you’re working out. (Photo courtesy of Athos)
Like many successful startups, Dhananja Jayalath’s came from thinking about money and time — more specifically, a lack of both. Then a student at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Jayalath and his classmate Chris Wiebe (the two would go on to co-found Athos) couldn’t afford a personal trainer, and they couldn’t spend all night in the gym teaching themselves. “With two guys working out together, there was also that sense of competition, of, ‘Oh, you’re doing more weight because you’re doing it wrong,’” Jayalath tells Yahoo Health.
Jayalath and Wiebe knew they wanted something that would produce valid data, which in turn would inform valid decisions. The end product: Tech clothing company Athos, which produces electromyography-powered clothing with sensors that can tell you, for example, if you’re overworking one muscle or underutilizing another, or breathing too hard or not hard enough. “We’re the (company) closest to telling you what you need to do,” Jayalath said. “Every piece of information you get is actionable.”
In the past year, Athos troubleshot the manufacturing of this smart-yet-machine-washable clothing. Consumers have taken to the product quickly — “knock on wood,” Jayalath says — though not all for the same reason. “Some people have worked out for many years and are using this to gauge how they’ve performed,” he said. “For another set of folks, it’s about accountability, like, ‘Yes, I worked hard enough, I hit my goal.’” What’s next for Athos? Iterating the software and varying the clothing styles to be smarter and more stylish.
Hyperice’s Vyper smart foam roller. (Photo courtesy of Hyperice)
Everything can be made smarter — even your foam roller. This is the stance taken by Hyperice, which makes wearable recovery products for many problem areas, including your back and knees. Its Vyper roller vibrates at three speeds, has two hours of battery life, and claims to loosen and lengthen muscles before a workout (or to massage them after one).
The company often cites an August 2011 American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation study that concluded “vibration treatment was effective for attenuation of delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of range of motion after strenuous eccentric exercise.” And, hey, Hyperice’s technology is good enough for LeBron James’s right shoulder.
A wearable with superaccurate heart rate monitoring. (Photo: Mio Fuse)
On the surface, the Mio Fuse seems like just another device for your wrist — but runners in particular might find this one useful. Mio’s newest product takes advantage of the company’s EKG-level accuracy in heart rate monitoring, a boast that was confirmed by an April 2013 study conducted by a San Francisco State University researcher. (The device is smart, of course, because your heart rate can help you measure the intensity of your workout.)
The Fuse can also can track your pace during a run, while working the more traditional magic behind the scenes — number of steps and calories burned, plus app connectivity — when you’re not exerting yourself. It compares favorably to other training devices, although bicyclists may prefer the smart, heart rate-measuring helmet made by Israel-based LifeBeam.
The Muse Headband in action. (Photo courtesy of Muse)
Picking up where meditation-focused mobile apps like Headspace and its own Calm leave off, the Muse Headband comes personally recommended by Berzin of Parsley Health. Using electroencephalography (EEG), which records electrical activity of the brain, Muse “passively detects changes in your brain” using the headband’s seven sensors. It also provides real-time feedback: Based on your brain signals, you’ll hear the sound of wind; an active mind causes louder gusts. And whether or not you’re an experienced meditator (can you start out with a three-minute meditation session?), the associated app tracks your “success.”
Yes, data is king, even in meditation.
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