Looking for the Facebook of mobile medical platforms

26 October 2013 by Steve Blum
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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.