How Your Smartphone Is Becoming Your Doctor

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4 min read

This story appears in the June 2014 issue of . Subscribe »

Health and Fitness

Wellness through innovation

Think you can't survive without your mobile phone? It may not be an exaggeration.

Ninety-five million Americans used their phones to access health care information or applications in 2013, up 27 percent year-over-year, and researchers forecast that the worldwide mobile-health apps and solutions market will explode from $6.3 billion a year ago to $20.7 billion by 2018.

"Mobile devices are becoming more relevant to the way we relate to health care," says Cédric Hutchings, CEO of French consumer electronics startup Withings. "More and more, we're all at the center of our own health management."

Withings is at the center of the connected-health revolution. Beginning with the 2009 launch of its Wi-Fi Body Scale, an internet-enabled bathroom scale that lets users track and visualize their weight, body mass index and fat readings via iOS and Android apps, Withings has created a series of cutting-edge health-care devices ranging from blood pressure monitors to baby monitors, each built to integrate seamlessly with more than 100 partner apps and products that leverage the company's open API.

"A scale can benefit from connectivity because it's a device that every one of us has at home, but it's very underused," Hutchings explains. "As soon as the data is generated, it disappears. It doesn't help you manage and take charge of your health. By connecting devices to the internet, you can bring a lot of things, like processing power, storage capacity, access to real-time information and a great [user interface]."

Withings Smart Body Analyzer

Withings Smart Body Analyzer
Image courtesy of Withings

Hutchings and Eric Carreel, Withings' chairman, started the company in 2008 after previously teaming at Inventel, a French electronics and communications systems manufacturer that sells residential gateways to telecom providers. The Withings team spent roughly a year developing the Wi-Fi Body Scale, tailoring the product to operate in conjunction with the then-new iPhone. Withings' sleek, sophisticated aesthetic mirrors Apple's approach to product design, and its minimalist elegance has earned laurels including the iF Gold Product Design Award and the Éoiles de l'Observeur.

"Nobody wants a piece of the hospital at home," Hutchings asserts. "They want cool and sexy devices."

In mid-2013 Withings raised $30 million in venture funding from Bpifrance, Idinvest Partners, 360 Capital Partners and Ventech. Up next: Aura, a bedside sleep system that records a user's body movements, breathing cycles and heart rate, and environmental factors like noise pollution, room temperature and light levels, generating light and sound programs that are customized to the user's personal body clock. "Users have told us [Withings products] have changed their daily habits and how they manage their lives," Hutchings says. "Now doctors are starting to integrate our devices into their services. That convergence is our future."

More Health and Fitness Brilliance

Sherpaa provides employees with 24/7 doctor access via e-mail and phone, as well as reports on health-care usage and budget.

Dubbed "Fitbit for dogs," the Whistle activity monitor attaches to a collar and works with a mobile app to offer data on the animal's health.

The rechargeable, waterproof Blaze Laserlight mounts to handlebars and projects a green image of a bike onto the road, alerting drivers to the cyclist's presence.

The Hello Doctor mobile app collects and manages medical records from multiple sources for easy access during appointments or when conducting research; it also allows patients to take notes and organize questions so they can get the most out of their time with the doctor.

Fitmob brings together independent personal trainers to offer classes in city neighborhoods; unlike gyms, it's pay as you go, and the more you work out, the lower the per-class price.

Users of the Pact app earn cash for working out and eating well, with money gathered from other users who don't stick to their goals.

Want to run a marathon? Download your heart rate and GPS data after one short run into TrainingPeaks software, and it'll spit out your finish time with 99 percent accuracy.

Helmet hair be gone--safely. Upon impact, Hövding's inflatable airbag bike helmet busts out of its collar enclosure for soft but tough protection.

CrowdMed uses patented prediction market technology to crowdsource opinions from individuals with unique medical backgrounds and to solve real-world medical cases, diagnosing rare conditions that individual doctors may have missed, or providing a second opinion on a medical diagnosis.

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