By: Tim Bajarin, Consumer Tech Contributor
I mentioned in my last column that when I attended CES 2020, it would be the 50th show I have attended. After that many years of attending CES, I have developed a very targeted approach to what I want to see and experience in the four days I am there.
While much of my time is taken up in meetings and seeing things behind the scenes, I do try and get on the show floor for at least several hours. To make that time effective I need to determine what I want to see in person. Of course, I always enjoy seeing what’s new in TV’s and audio and was stunned by Samsung’s 292″ Wall TV and LG’s Rollable TV, but this year I wanted to check out the digital health solutions area and all of these products were in the Sands Expo.
I have been a Type 2 diabetic for 20 years and in 2012, I had a triple bypass operation. In medical circles, I am known as a heart patient as well as a diabetic patient and am required to monitor many of my vitals daily. For example, I need to take my blood pressure every other day and I use a continuous glucose monitor from Dexcom so that I know what my blood sugar readings are at all times. This is especially important to me since I use that data to determine how much insulin I need to take at a mealtime.
The idea that technology can help people monitor their health and even treat it, has been around for decades. Blood pressure testing devices sold over the counter are used by millions daily, but only recently have digital systems tied to a compression cuff been on the market. Last year, Omron introduced their Blood Pressure watch, the first of its kind in a wearable called the Heart Guide. I also saw a couple of similar products at CES in the form of wearable blood pressure wrist bands.
We have had blood glucose test kits to get blood sugar readings using pinpricks and testing strips for years but now have digital readouts and some that can be used with an iPhone or Android phone like the one from Dario. We even have digital thermometers and digital scales that can determine your body mass index.
The newest class of health monitoring devices is coming out in wearable form and these were the ones I was most interested in while at CES.
I am already familiar with health monitoring on wearables since the Dexcom Continuous Blood Glucose monitor I wear lets me get my blood sugar reading on my Apple Watch. At any given time I can glance at my Apple Watch and I know exactly what my blood sugar readings are. I also monitor heart rate on this watch and I use the ECG feature on the Apple Watch model 5 to get an accurate read of heart rate fluctuations and monitor for any signs of AFib, (atrial fibrillation).
Some of the newer smartwatches or dedicated wearables have matched what Apple does in the way of ECG and beats per minute, but the folks from Withing added another new health monitoring feature that looks for signs of Sleep Apnea. Their new Scan Watch uses an advanced sleep tracking system to monitor for sleep apnea. Twenty-two million Americans have sleep apnea, according to sleepapenea.org and finding out that one has this health issue is critical to their health and longevity.
According to Market Research Engine, the digital health monitoring market is projected to grow to $245.5 billion by 2024, and that will be driven by a lot of new advances in health monitoring devices that are wearable.
There is still one holy grail in blood sugar self-monitoring that alludes the scientific community so far and that is finding a way to determine blood glucose levels that are completely non-invasive delivered via some type of wearable. While the Dexcom sensor I wear is considered non-invasive, it uses extremely tiny sensor “needles” that are implanted into the skin to reach the interstitial fluid that is between the skin and muscle.
Continuous Glucose Monitors tap into that fluid and can determine one’s glucose levels. The other way that medical scientists are trying to get glucose readings delivered in a wearable is through some form of ultraviolet light or pulsing light waves implemented in a wrist wearable.
My sources tell me that Apple is very interested in this type of approach for reading blood glucose levels, using some form of light waves delivered through the back of an Apple Watch.
One product I saw at CES was from ADD Care LTD, based in Hong Kong, called the Glutrac. They claim that they use sensors to read blood glucose levels. The person I talked to said it uses some type of light waves but I could never confirm how these sensors work. That said, the demo I got, which was completely non-invasive, was very impressive. If it is true that they have come up with a way to use lightwave sensors to read blood sugars, this would be considered a breakthrough in non-invasive means to get blood sugar readings.
They have not yet submitted it for FDA approval so if it does work, it may still be well into the future before it is available in the US.
The other area of interest to me is in self-treatment solutions and two products at CES got my attention. The first one from Tivic Health, ClearUP, won an Innovation Award from CES and was showcased in the Innovations Award center at the Sands. It also was one of the products in the last gadget standing competition.
Tivic’s technology emits low-level electric stimulation called microcurrent to underlying sinus nerve fibers. It provides sinus pain relief with no drugs or chemicals and has proven to be an effective way to treat sinus pain from allergies. It fits into a new class of medical products called Bio-Electronics.
One other self-treatment product that I came across is one from Relief Heat. It is a heating pad that can be worn and placed on the back for warming pain relief. It connects to a smartphone app via Bluetooth and you can turn it on and control the heat level on demand. This one I got to test at the end of the first day of CES when my back was hurting from all of the day’s walking. I wore it for about 15 minutes and was truly surprised by how good it felt on my back, and how it completely alleviated the back pain from my stressful day.
I admit that my interest in health monitoring and self-treatment is very different from mainstream consumers, yet these types of products are getting a lot of interest from people in all age groups, especially over 25.
Technology-based health monitoring and self-treatments will become a solid segment within the world of technology and are ones to watch closely in the future.