Tech geeks around the world are using connected devices to measure everything from their daily activity and heart rates to their sleep patterns and blood glucose levels. But ask the average American about this so-called Quantified Self movement and you’ll likely get a blank face.
WebMD and Qualcomm Life, however, believe they can bring the latest wave of digital health technology to millions more. On Monday, the two companies announced a partnership to provide a “connected personal health hub” to consumers by combining the power of WebMD’s brand with the Qualcomm’s FDA-approved technology.
“We think there’s a real opportunity to give users insights around what their data means,” said Bill Pence, WebMD’s CTO. “[It’s like] bringing wireless health to consumers on a mass scale.”
Launched in 2011, Qualcomm Life’s 2net platform provides a secure, universally-interoperable network for collecting and sharing data from connected fitness and health devices, like blood glucose meters, health monitors and other gadgets. The platform currently integrates with about 250 device partners, including AliveCor and BodyMedia, but WebMD says it is the first major brand to partner with the platform.
The “health hub,” Pence said, is “a cloud-based system for the problem of having to integrate with different devices.” Through a WebMD app, for example, users would be able purchase devices from a curated in-app marketplace, and then store and aggregate data from those devices. The app, Pence continued, would be able to generate insights based on that data as well as other information users provide about their health. Instead of just getting generic information from a WebMD search on diabetes, for example, users could get results more specific to their individual needs. (At GigaOM’s upcoming Structure:Data conference, I’ll be speaking with Aetna’s head of innovation about other ways big data can improve health care.)
For WebMD, the partnership highlights the company’s shift from offering “trusted content to [being] a full-service engagement platform for patients,” said Pence. Even though the company is known for its consumer information sites and apps, like WebMD.com and its various mobile apps, the company says it’s grown a strong physician audience through its registration-based Medscape medical news site. It also offers employers a subscription-based patient-engagement platform and provides consumers with Personal Health Records software. As digital health tools proliferate, Pence said, consumers will increasingly have opportunities to connect with their physician and care providers, more closely monitor their own health and interact with the health care system in new ways. WebMD, he said, sees a role for itself in being a one stop shop for digital health services and helping to guide consumers through the growing new landscape.
Down the road, he said, the company will begin to integrate the various parts of its business, giving consumers the opportunity to securely interact with doctors on Medscape or helping consumers analyze their medical records, for example.
Other startups, like Tictrac, also aim to aggregate an individual’s personal health data and help them derive meaning from it. But, given WebMD’s name recognition, it could certainly help introduce connected health technology to a new swath of consumers. Still, it will be interesting to see the kinds of insights the new “hub” will be able to generate. Some could see a novelty in storing and tracking their data but, if the app doesn’t generate meaningful enough insights, they may not see a reason to stick around.
Also, even though WebMD’s brand is strong, consumers see it as a health information company, not a health services company prepared to handle potentially sensitive personal information. And it may take time for the company to earn consumer trust and awareness on that front.