By Jennifer Wang
Technology can't cure all ills, but doctors (and entrepreneurs) are working on it.
Market research firm Parks Associates reports that the digital health technology market will be worth $5.7 billion by 2015--up from $1.7 billion in 2010--with chronic care, wellness and medication management leading the charge. Meanwhile, consultancy ABI Research estimates that sales of wearable wireless health-monitoring devices will grow from less than 3 million units in 2011 to 36 million by 2017, pushed by rapid growth in the senior in-home care market.
Early players in the mobile-health space include Happtique, an app-management company that helps healthcare professionals integrate digital technologies into their treatment programs, and Proteus Digital Health, inventors of a sand-grain-size ingestible sensor that monitors physiological and behavioral metrics from within a patient's body.
Startups, of course, want in. "Regulatory challenges still pose a problem, but the ability to scale healthcare absolutely has to happen," says Leslie Ziegler, chief evangelist at San Francisco-based health-dedicated accelerator Rock Health, which is nurturing promising ideas like Cardiio, a $4.99 touchless biofeedback app that uses mobile-device cameras to measure pulse via light reflected off the face (changes correspond to the flow of blood underneath the skin), and Podimetrics, maker of Wi-Fi-connected mats that can detect burgeoning foot ulcers in diabetics.
"Technology has finally caught up to the need, and the solution finally fits into people's lifestyles," Ziegler says.
The money has caught up, too. According to Rock Health, nearly $1.1 billion has been invested in digital health startups this year, up from $626 million last year, marking an 84 percent increase in deals.
In November 2011 Chris Hogg, co-founder and CEO of 100Plus, raised a $1.3 million seed round from big-name investors like Peter Thiel of Founders Fund and John Lilly, former CEO of Mozilla. Hogg's company is developing an app that uses large data sets to assess behavior and spur healthier living habits--only now possible because of a sea change in the way people collect and share their own data.
"People are hungry to learn more about themselves. They haven't had this power and access to the tools and services to make it possible before," he explains. So don't be surprised if, in a few years, your (virtual) doctor's visit ends with a prescription for both pills and apps.