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FITBIT SHIPMENTS CLIMB BACK BUT DOWN FOR THE YEAR: Fitbit shipped nearly 33% fewer devices in Q3 2017 than it did in the same quarter last year, according to the fitness tracker manufacturer’s Q3 earnings report. The company continues to attempt to revitalize it’s fitness tracker business while also pivoting to the potentially more lucrative smartwatch space with a new product launch. Nevertheless, revenues fell 22% year over year (YoY) during the quarter. 

Fitbit’s business is being squeezed from multiple sides:

  • Chinese manufacturers continue their international expansion. Many of these devices are more competitively priced than Fitbit’s, such as Xiaomi’s Mi Band 2 costs around $17, compared to Fitbit’s Flex 2 at $60.
  • Smartwatches continue to eat into the fitness tracker market. Smartwatches offer many of the same fitness features as fitness trackers, and with the falling price of the former, it’s not much of a jump for consumers to upgrade to a feature-rich smartwatch.

Fitbit is likely hoping that its foray into the smartwatch market will help its business recover. As more emphasis is placed on health care services being built into health and fitness devices, fitness band sales will likely decline further. Smartwatches, which can run third-party apps, are much better equipped to provide these services and offer a better experience than basic wearables.

Enjoy reading this briefing?  Sign up and receive Digital Health Briefing to your inbox.Fitbit Q3 2017AUGMENTED REALITY IS TRANSFORMING HEALTHCARE: While augmented reality (AR) attempts to find its footing in the consumer market, healthcare physicians and practitioners are welcoming the technology. Healthcare organizations like the Sutter Health Network are using AR head-mounted wearables, such as Google Glass, to improve doctors’ efficiency and accuracy, while also enabling a more favorable experience for the patient, according to TechRepublic. Over the past three years, more than 175,000 patient visits with a Sutter Health physician have taken place with Google Glass. Doctors, wearing the headsets, transmit a live-stream of the visit to a remote scribe, who takes notes in real-time and can communicate with the doctor through text, which appears in the glass display. The scribe can remind a doctor if they missed something the patient said, and can save up to two hours of note-taking each day for physicians. That’s a substantial amount considering that Sutter Health’s 5,000 doctors see roughly 3 million patients each year. This potential for cost reduction will help drive up usage of AR/VR tech in healthcare — the market is forecast to reach more than $5 billion globally by 2025, according to Goldman Sachs. 

TELADOC REPORTS ACCELERATED REVENUE GROWTH: US telehealth company, Teladoc, doubled its year-over-year (YoY) revenue growth during Q3 2017, highlighting strong enrollment growth as the main driver. Total revenue for the quarter was $69 million, up 112% YoY, compared to 62% YoY growth and $32 million in revenue reported in the same period last year. Enrollment increased 33% YoY to 22.6 million customers, putting the company in a solid standing to reach its target of 23 million customers by year-end. Similarly, visits to its platform grew 51% YoY — the company logged 306,000 virtual visits during the third quarter. Teladoc provides patients with 24-hour remote access to certified physicians for non-emergency ailments like allergies, diagnoses, and sinus problems. Teladoc’s next steps will be global expansion and launching its virtual care delivery system to market as it attempts to ride the rapidly advancing telehealth market. The global telehealth market is poised to grow at a CAGR of 27% between 2016 and 2021 to reach $9.4 billion, according to Markets and Markets. Much of this growth is being driven by improvements in smartphones and tablets, which provide an improved user experience. Advanced network connectivity and improvements to camera quality mean that video-conferencing is vastly more beneficial for both doctors and patients, for example. In 2017, 71% of healthcare providers are using the technology to connect with patients in the US, up from 54% of healthcare providers in 2014, according to HIMSS Analytics. Developments in augmented and virtual reality and 5G could also help growth accelerate.bii share of providers deploying telehealth solutionsHEALTHCARE INDUSTRY SEES PROMISE IN VOICE ASSISTANTS: Voice assistants in healthcare was a hot topic at the Connected Health Conference in Boston last week with panels and keynote speakers touting the potential of the technology, according to MedCityNews and MobiHealthNews. The main promise of voice assistants is in performing the role of personal assistant — checking in on patients with chronic illnesses and senior citizens, for example. In the US, chronic diseases and the health risk behaviors that cause them account for most health care costs, according to the CDC. By 2025, US healthcare spending will account for nearly 25% of GDP.

Although the nascent technology is only just beginning to come to the fore through intelligent assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, on smart speakers and smartphones, a select few companies are already making moves to corner off voice in the healthcare market. Here are two examples:

  • Healthcare systems developer Wellpepper, created its Alexa-compatible Sugarpod voice assistant to help patients who have been newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The intelligent assistant, which won the Alexa Diabetes Challenge, reminds users to check their blood sugar levels via the Alexa voice assistant.
  • Orbita, which provides digital services for home health, is exploring the use of voice through connected speakers, for things like medication reminders. This can make it easier for seniors and those with chronic diseases to monitor their ailments, which can help reduce the strain of chronic illness on the health industry.  

It will be some time before voice assistants become commonplace in healthcare. Trouble spots such as inaccuracies in language processing, privacy concerns, HIPAA compliance, and a general lack of awareness will likely inhibit growth. However, we expect the use of voice in the healthcare industry will gain traction in line with the overall growth of voice as a primary interface. By 2020, voice searches will account for 50% of all Google searches, according to comScore.

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