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CES Recap: Does Consumer Tech Have Value in Healthcare?

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   January 10, 2023

Healthcare executives showed up to CES to talk about the unique value of digital health and look for diamonds in the rough.

Jason Swoboda came to CES 2023 eager to see the newest in consumer technologies. But while others were wowed by the color-changing cars, mega-screen TVs, and interactive games, the director of innovation at Tampa General Hospital had his sights set on digital health.

"I'm thinking about the patient room of the future," he said.

Swoboda was one of a growing number of healthcare executives to brave the crowds in Las Vegas and attend an event that healthcare had for many years kept at arm's length. Where health systems once regarded consumer-facing technology as a fashionable fad without clinical relevance, they're now taking a closer look at tools and platforms that could add value to the patient experience.

And CES has taken notice as well. What once was contained in a tiny corner of one conference hall now has its own dedicated digital health section, where Abbott was showing off the latest in testing tech, Withings had a collection of wearables on display, MedWand was demonstrating its home-based digital health tool, and Vivoo was offering up a smart toilet and home urine-testing platform. Other examples could be found at the nearby Venetian resort and conference center, where healthcare played an integral role in Parks Associates' Connections Summit.

Rene Quashie, vice president of digital health for the Consumer Technology Association, which produces the CES show, said the CTA's VIP tour for healthcare executives was a busy affair, and executives from healthcare organizations took part in several digital health panels, including a digital health keynote that focused on the evolution of hybrid care.

In short, healthcare organizations are interested in consumer-facing digital health as they maneuver the long, slow path from fee-for-service to value-based healthcare. They're interested in technologies that can engage the patient and develop a rapport that affects not only clinical care, but the patient's entire healthcare journey.

For Swoboda, this means finding the innovative new devices and platforms that can improve care at the bedside as he looks to redesign the inpatient experience. It also means checking out the fast-growing smart home technologies that could play a part in Tampa General's remote patient monitoring and hospital at home programs, both existing and in the future.

"Connecting to the home," he says, will be a key element of Tampa General's value-based care strategy, as more non-acute care shifts from the inpatient setting to virtual care platforms. That means finding the right technologies and channels to gather and analyze data from other settings, such as the home or office, and collaborate with patients on care management.

CES offers a glimpse of those technologies, including sensor arrays that integrate with beds, toilets, even refrigerators, and digital health platforms that can facilitate behavioral healthcare, test for viruses, scan blood or urine for certain chemicals, or even help men with their, ahem, sexual needs.

To be sure, CES is filled with technology that has nothing to be with healthcare, but it represents the latest in innovative ideas. Augmented and virtual reality first saw the light of day at this show, along with smart home products, drones, 3D printing, avatars, AI, and robots. Alongside the aforementioned smart toilets (for cats as well as humans), some relatively new ideas getting the spotlight this year included digital twin technology, light-based treatments, sensor-embedded jewelry and shoes, and smart strollers and car seats.

Most of these technologies won’t be found at the traditional healthcare conferences hosted by HIMSS, HLTH, ViVE, or the American Telemedicine Association, and that's fine with Swoboda. Just as healthcare has been pushed to "think outside the box" in terms of innovation, he says he's interested in ideas that haven't yet reached the mainstream but offer new approaches to old problems.

"We have a strategic imperative [that focuses on] consumerism," he says. And that means looking at the healthcare system from the consumer's perspective.

That sentiment extends to the vendors as well. It's what brought Teladoc Health, one of the biggest names in the telehealth field, to CES, where they announced the launch of a new digital health app aimed at "enabling personalized whole-person care to individuals." That includes access to primary care, mental health, and chronic care management services in both English and Spanish.

Shayan Vyas, MD, MBA, Teladoc Health's senior vice president and chief medical officer, said health systems are certainly interested in the consumer health space, but they want one single point of entry, rather than a collection of disparate apps, tools, or platforms. Many are looking for help managing that connected health approach.

"The hospital itself is not the most efficient place right now," he said, watching attendees surge into the CES events at the Venetian on a Thursday morning. "They're focusing on maximizing the investment in their EMRs and they need help" creating a unified platform that incorporates digital health, one that can be scaled outwards.

Indeed, health systems are plagued by plunging operating margins and growing staff and provider shortages, and they need all the help they can get. At the same time, they're not going to spend a lot of money on new or unproven technologies. They're looking for solutions that not only ease their pain but are sustainable either through ROI or growth.

"It's all about maximizing investments," Vyas reiterated.

And that's what Swoboda is looking for as well. Amid all the booths offering nice-to-have solutions or conveniences, he's looking for technology that will make a difference in the patient experience and push Tampa General closer to value-based care.

"That's where we're going," he says.

“I'm thinking about the patient room of the future.”

Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

CES 2023 offered an expanded digital health section and featured several healthcare leaders in panels and keynotes.

Those executives braving the crowds and wandering through the Las Vegas Convention Center and Venetian Resort were in search of innovative technology that could improve the consumer experience.

The challenge lies in finding the right tools or platforms that will appeal to patients and providers while proving scalability and sustainability.


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