September 27, 2018

Tech titans and AI to disrupt healthcare

Health and wellbeing looks set to be the next battleground for consumer tech companies. On the acquisition front, Amazon acquired PillPack and Alphabet/Nest acquired health-monitoring start-up Senosis, while Alphabet’s venture capital arm, GV, has shown a lot of interest in healthcare investments, which now make up roughly a third of GV’s deals (compared to 6% in 2013). And a few weeks ago Apple has added an FDA-approved electrocardiogram feature to its new watch.

It’s not hard to see why the tech titans are interested in a space ripe for disruption. Governments and healthcare providers alike are struggling to keep up with increasing costs of, and demands on, healthcare. Life expectancy has gone up and infant mortality is down. There are more older people and we are facing a future where we’ll be managing long-term conditions like asthma, COPD, diabetes, dementia, etc. If we can help people live healthy lives to prevent poor health, or if we can help those with medical needs look after themselves at home, then the theory is that we can deliver innovative new services and reduce the overall costs of healthcare (or at least reduce its growth).

There is appetite among consumers too. The wide-ranging ‘wellness’ industry is reportedly worth $3.7tn globally and between 2014 and 2017 usage of health and fitness apps grew by 330%. App engagement is high with 25% of users using apps more than 10 times a week. Yes, that is made up of calorie counting, fitness tracker apps and yoga instructional apps, but the important takeaway is that a growing proportion of us care about our health and are prepared to spend money and use technology to help achieve our goals.

So, more people, more serious conditions and more people trying to actively manage their own health. This has a big impact on healthcare provision but it also creates opportunities for health insurance, medical device, consumer tech and pharmaceutical companies to help consumers avoid poor health and help patients manage their conditions. For example, US insurer John Hancock announced a week ago that it was only going to sell interactive life insurance policies that track a customer’s fitness and health data and offer discounts and incentives if customers hit healthy living targets.

The explosion in health and wellness tracking also creates opportunities for new and existing tech brands who are, or want to be, synonymous with health and fitness to tap into the desire to live a healthy lifestyle. Often called the ‘worried well’ this group can normally be categorised as affluent and early adopters (or at least early majority) of new technology.

To understand consumer attitudes to AI, and in particular its role in helping us manage health and wellbeing, we recently surveyed 6,000 consumers in the UK and US. We asked them to consider whether they’d want their smart home devices (such as smart speakers, etc) to let them know if it heard indicators of poor health. The result was 63% of those with children at home were positive, and this increased to 76% if they’d already placed a smart speaker in a child’s bedroom.

Artificial intelligence offers a significant opportunity to better help people. Always on and always at our side (in one form or another) AI gives consumers a nursemaid in their pocket, kitchen worktop, car or in their ear. Empowering the personal assistant to track health indicators and offer advice, order medicine, schedule HCP appointments or recommend new products removes the cognitive burden on consumers. The worried well are cash rich and time poor so if you can make life a bit easier whilst helping them achieve their goals, you are on to a winner.

So how can AI (particularly sound recognition) help?

Chronic condition management

Certain conditions, such as asthma and COPD have sounds associated with them, such as coughing and wheezing. Smart home devices, whether existing products (smart speakers, for example) or new categories of devices can alert patients, healthcare professionals (HCPs) or carers to poor health. Health applications can also record activity, to provide patients and HCPs with key health indicators around quality of life, allowing for virtual doctors or healthcare providers to intervene earlier and improve adherence.

According to CB Insights, Amazon was recently recruiting a HIPAA lead for Alexa. HIPAA certification would allow Alexa-based products like the Echo range of speakers to handle sensitive patient medical records and even allow for patients and doctors to talk over a smart speaker or via a terminal with a camera. Patients could then talk to their doctor or carer while examining their live health data.

The growth of connected, smart home devices, such as smart speakers increases the opportunity for patients and HCPs to interact remotely and more quickly. If those devices can also be given the ability to intelligently hear what is happening around them then they can be even more effective in helping diagnosis.

Wellness management

There are a growing number of people interested in managing their health and the health of their families. This includes fitness trackers that manage physical activity and sleep, apps that track food and water consumption, and air purifiers/air conditioning units that react to the quality of the air around us. As part of an active lifestyle, devices that are able to hear – whether in the home, car or out and about – can detect the onset of irritating but not too serious conditions like hay fever, the common cold, flu, etc. In turn, personal assistants can offer remedies, over-the-counter medicines, directions to the nearest pharmacy or advice. Advice could range from immune-boosting superfoods to add to shopping lists but could also include changes to exercise regimens or sleep patterns.

The ability to recognise coughing, sneezing, yawning and snoring (among others) will provide an opportunity to alert people, track activity and instruct other connected devices to react accordingly. For example, an air purifier, whether detecting itself or being instructed by a smart speaker or an in-car personal assistant, could take steps to improve the quality of the air in a home if it detects excessive sneezing and knows that the pollen count is high. Snoring data could be combined with other sleep tracking sensors to provide more information.

There are clear benefits for consumers and patients and strong demand. Plus, healthy product and services revenues for companies that can help keep us living well into old age.

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About Audio Analytic

Audio Analytic is the pioneer of AI sound recognition software. The company is on a mission to map the world of sounds, offering our sense of hearing to consumer technology. By transferring our sense of hearing to consumer products and digital personal assistants we give them the ability to react to the world around us, helping satisfy our entertainment, safety, security, wellbeing and communication needs.

Audio Analytic’s ai3™ sound recognition software enables device manufacturers and chip companies to equip products with Artificial Audio Intelligence, recognizing and automatically responding to our growing list of sound profiles.

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