Looking for the Facebook of mobile medical platforms

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With 26 million people – more than 8% of the population – in the U.S. suffering from diabetes, a device that wirelessly tracks blood glucose levels will find a ready market. Which is what iHealth is targeting with a new, networked glucose monitor that was previewed at Pepcom’s Holiday Spectacular in San Francisco last week. Piece by piece, this consumer oriented medical device maker is also building an online health and wellness management platform.

The monitor costs $80 and connects to an iOS or Android device via Bluetooth. You prick your finger with a disposable test strip, the device then automatically analyses it and uploads the data to your account on iHealth’s website via your smart phone. You can log on and see your data, and share it with your doctor. Or, it seems, pretty much anybody you want.

There’s a nascent social networking function on the platform, and there are hooks to Twitter and Facebook. Although publicly broadcasting health stats seems more relevant to people who buy iHealth’s fitness related products, like its activity and sleep tracker, with the proper privacy controls it could be a valuable way to, say, keep tabs on diabetic children. Or elderly parents. There is a market and a purpose for consumer-focused, real time tracking of blood pressure, weight and blood glucose levels, as iHealth’s products do.

The online service is free, sorta. The proprietary test strips can only be used once and cost a buck apiece, so there’s recurring revenue in the business model. There’s also the potential for paid upgrades – online evaluation by medical professionals, for example.

Smart phone-enabled and M2M medical devices tied to cloud services are a growth market – hundreds of companies have adopted Qualcomm’s mobile health technology – and iHealth has a nicely diverse product range supported by an integrated and simple to use website, that’s extensible to a wide range of third-party service providers. The experience with social networks is that many jump into a market opening but, usually, one emerges as the dominant player for a given purpose – LinkedIn for professional networking, for example.

There’s no default online health platform yet, but given the history of social media, there’s every reason to think that it’ll emerge from a small start-up like iHealth.

About Steve Blum

Steve Blum is president of Tellus Venture Associates, a management, planning and business development consultancy for municipal and community broadband initiatives. He is a 30-year industry veteran and an expert in developing new broadband infrastructure and services, including wireless, fiber optic and satellite systems. His career includes playing key roles in the launch and growth of DirecTv in the U.S., as well as other satellite broadcasting platforms around the world. For the past ten years, he has helped build municipal wireless and fiber optic broadband systems. His client list includes many California cities, such as San Leandro, Palo Alto, Oakland, Los Angeles, Lompoc and Folsom. He’s a member of the executive team for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and has worked with other regional consortia in California. Steve is the author of seven books on the Internet and satellite broadcasting and is a frequent contributor to professional journals and industry events. He holds an A.B. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in East Asia Studies from the University of Washington, and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas. He is a triathlete and multiple Ironman finisher, and is currently ranked in the top 100 of the Challenge Triathlon world rankings, out of more than 30,000 athletes.