Bay Area digital health startups raised $1 billion in venture capital in 2014, a 125 percent increase from the previous year. The sector promises better management and treatment of diseases like diabetes and improved access to health data. But health care is a notoriously challenging business and the rapid growth of this industry raises serious questions of privacy and efficacy. We’ll take the pulse of the digital health industry. What new products and therapies offer real hope? And which are merely hype?

Christina Farr, editor of KQED's "Future of You" blog, which explores how new technology is revolutionizing medicine
Sean Duffy, co-founder and CEO of Omada Health, a digital health platform
Anya Schiess, founder of Healthy Ventures, a seed stage fund focused on digital health technologies
Stephanie Tilenius, founder of VIDA Health, a health-coaching app

  • erictremont

    I find it weird that the creators of most of the new digital consumer applications in the health care space apparently believe that there is no need to connect providers (physicians, hospitals, pharmacies, etc.) to the consumers who are expected to use these apps.


    Do they consider themselves medical device companies? ISO 13485 compliance etc.

    • Robert Thomas

      Exactly. Where are these obvious questions?

  • Robert Thomas

    Even setting aside data integrity questions, how about the simple medical safety implications of using these personal systems?

    How are their calibration regimes evaluated and implemented?

    Two former co-workers of mine, both about the same time, went into the medical technology business some time ago.

    One of these firms was ALZA, subsequently part of Johnson & Johnson and the other was Acuson, later acquired by Siemens Medical Engineering.

    Their both having been employees of CRAY Research, neither of these guys were any stranger to electrical, mechanical and telemetrical system control engineering that was very careful and very cutting-edge.

    Both of these engineers reported to me similar experiences: as project managers, the level of extra care, precision, internal review, federal agency approval and insurer-driven testing required for even the slightest change in design, component choice or firmware adjustment or technical documentation change that the programs encountered – and no less, the care expected for design and implementation of calibration regimes required – to bring these programs to marketable product was STAGGERING.

    From what I hear, many,many people long employed at these and other industry developers such as Medtronic find themselves with dropped jaws at the spectacle of the untrained and cavalier way in which systems and software are being touted and proposed to direct activity such as dose control, without any expertise and without any training such as these other companies have long taken for granted.

  • Scott A

    Who owns the data?
    Who has access to the data?
    How do I know that’s true?
    What are the ramifications for you (and me) if I find out that is not true?

    You say you de-identify the data before you share it. Do you realize how meaningless that statement is once statistical analysis is applied?

    I have to assume you do. You can’t claim de-identified meta data doesn’t have meaningful information while simultaneously sharing/selling that data because it has useful insights to be mined by others.

    If you know when somebody has slept, excercised, and is generally suffering from decision fatigue/ego depletion, you can manipulate populations very easily. You can sell a hamburger or sway an election with nothing more than “meta data”.

    • Bill Adams

      Good questions, Scott A. If you have a legitimate complaint about a breach of your medical history information there are federal penalties that can be imposed under the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) of 1996. Contact the Office for Civil Rights under the Dept. of Health & Human Services to initiate the investigation of the breach of trust.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Good grief save your money, and stop buying these high tech toys and simply develop some self discipline and healthier lifestyle habits and you will save money. These are nothing more than high tech nanny toys.

  • Klono Pain

    None of this stuff gets to the core. These things will end up much like diet fads and gym memberships. The intentions are always good, but the lack of true knowledge on health, including addiction, among those in healthcare and the tech companies will eventually waste more of people’s time. Health is all about lifestyle change. Why is it that nearly every healthcare provider I’ve had is obese? Wouldn’t that be like a drug and alcohol counselor in a treatment home who’s not sober? If my mobile or wearable device tells me to stop my sugar intake for the day, I’ll accidentally lose or shut off my phone OR delete the app so I can engage in my treats. More nonsense.

  • Noelle

    Big reason for lack of interoperability of electronic medical records is that we have EMRs dominated by proprietary software companies . Making money is the issue, rather than having real sharing of information. Open source would solve the problem but that’s not going to happen in this country.

  • Robert Thomas

    The panel apparently consists of three commercial product representatives and a journalist who seems only distantly familiar with obvious aspects of the technical challenges of building systems such as these in such a way so as to not kill anyone.

  • Kevin

    HIPPA has killed universal medical records.

    HIPPA has done nothing to improve security of health records but it has destroyed the ability to share medical records amongst providers.

    I as a medical consumer cannot get my medical records and my doctors have difficulty transferring them among each other. Meanwhile I am a security professional and I understand the challenges HIPPA is trying to address but as the recent breaches at Anthem show this is not a panacea.

    HIPPA needs to be replaced with something more workable and universal healthcare records need to be a focus of energy of all providers and of regulators.

    • Robert Thomas

      I’m unfamiliar with the details of HIPAA.

      With respect to technical problems, as TEEN FAN! notes here elsewhere, we do also have such international standards as ISO 13485 and ISO 14971 for medical devices and ISO 690 for bibliographic formality and so forth.

      Development of an international standard for medical document control and security that would also be compliant with HIPAA strictures seems a not impossible task.

      ISO jurisdiction is no panacea either, but the mechanism has proved useful and just as importantly, reasonably malleable and expandable enough to accommodate novel technologies as they arrive.

  • Nikki

    All the new Heath and fitness gadgets are a hype and overkill. one health app is enough and just need one to find that works best for you. I use my iPhone to track distance and that’s plenty. Why are people in tech industry trying to take over our personal information?

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