Why iPhone connected blood pressure cuffs featured at CES are over hyped

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I love mobile technology — it’s just one of the reasons I started iMedicalApps. There are so many ways mobile technology can be used for patient care, and we’ve highlighted this on a weekly basis.

You can use mobile technology for real time medical data gathering, to explain complex pathology with easy to understand multimedia for patients, to transmit EKG data to an emergency room while en route to the hospital, and a litany of other things.

But there are obvious limitations to mobile medical technology as well, especially in regards to changing lifestyle and behavior, something that has plagued medical professionals since the dawn of preventive medicine.

Last week at CES (Consumer electronic show), two blood pressure peripherals for the iPhone from competing companies received significant attention. CNN even listed the devices as a “top 10″ buzz worthy device that was unveiled at CES.

One of the devices is from a start-up in California, iHealth Labs, and they unveiled the iHealth Blood Pressure Dock. The company touts the product being used for daily blood pressure measurements, and a physician spokesman for the company states how patients will measure their blood pressure more frequently now since the device is tethered to their phone — a device that gets frequently.

To be clear, this is a interesting and fascinating technology.  You can plug a blood pressure cuff into your phone, an app opens up, automatically recording and tracking your blood pressure, and also giving you the option to Twitter or Facebook out your recordings — the thought being you can use social networking “peer pressure” as an incentive to lower your readings.  More importantly, you can e-mail the results directly to your physician.

So this means patients surely will check their blood pressure more frequently — not necessarily, and more than likely no.

First of all, if you have a patient that can afford an iPhone and the accompanying data plan, plus the more expensive blood pressure cuff, approximately $100 — you already have a patient that is more likely to be empowered.  Lets look at the actual research data behind this to make more sense of why this would have minimal impact on compliance.

Data shows that just over 30% of iPhone users are above the age of 45.  So out of the total iPhone population, you are looking at approximately 30% of users who would actually be in the age range to use the device — and that’s giving a favorable age bracket.  In reality, the 55 or over age group would be the real target age group, only 14% of the iPhone demographic.

Now lets look at more data about the iPhone and affluence.  iPhone users as a whole are more affluent than not only the normal population, but in comparison to other smart phone owners — with an average household income of $100,000.  There is data that shows compliance to physician recommendations, such as medications and blood pressure checks is less in lower income households.  Some of the reasons being access to health care and expensive of medications.

So basically, those who would be in a position to buy these iPhone blood pressure peripherals are more likely to be compliant patients anyways, and would most likely be checking their blood pressure as prescribed.  Obviously, there will be anecdotal examples that will counter this, but from a populations approach — you most likely wouldn’t see any significant change.

So from a preliminary standpoint, these blood pressure cuffs are very interesting and a very niche product — but certainly not the game changers they are being touted as by many news sites.

iPhone blood pressure peripheral details from company websites:

iHealth

Withings

Sources: (Please refer to links provided in story for sources of data, hyperlinks are also given below)

http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2010/02/25/6-ways-iphone-and-android-users-differ/

http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=132409

http://www.jstor.org/pss/3592905

Discussion ( 27 comments ) Post a Comment
  • Agreed, this gadget is more about creating a “need” rather than fulfilling one.

  • very interesting points. but i believe that innovative change is the starting point for re-molding the current norm. as more fanfare and data is covered, more patients will be aware of the possibilities for controlling their health, and patient empowerment will increase. it all starts out small with the early adopters and eventually the late majority will come around. i agree, not soon like you said, but one day. im hopeful. :)

  • I agree with Thuc–innovative change is possible because nothing is static–everything’s dynamic. iPhone users will age, already-old people will adopt iPhones in greater numbers, and iPhones will likely continue to be available at a variety of pricepoints. Already, the iPhone 3GS is availalble for $50 for a 2-year contract.

    Additionally, early adopters can demonstrate the value of new innovations and open up “down-market” opportunities. Maybe 60 year olds living with heart failure won’t have a Withings blood pressure cuff and an iPhone, but they may have something similar that connects to the micro-USB port on their talk-and-text phone. Or maybe providers and payers will see the value of easy and enjoyable blood pressure monitoring products such as the Withings/iPhone solution and will subsidize the cost to their patients.

    A classic example of an innovation that in its early stages could have been called a solution for rich people that didn’t really serve an existing need is Twitter. But after early adopters demonstrated its utility, Twitter began being used as a tool for political organization in Iran and other parts of the world. And in the US, according to this Pew study (http://pewinternet.org/Reports… “minority internet users are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as are white internet users,” bucking the “digital divide” trend that has been around since the advent of the world wide web.

    I’m not expecting an instant revolution, but I do think that iPhone-connected peripherals will accelerate improvements in the quality and cost-effectiveness of healthcare.

    • Thank you all for a insightful and lively discussion. That by itself is an encouraging sign for the future !

      • you’re definitely right. we need research and data to properly interpret whether the peripherals will increase compliance and any other effect that is important.

        cant say it does until its proven. right?

        but, cant get the data unless more people use it. cant get more people to use it if they dont know about it. i dont think its overhype, its just press releases and social media doing its thing. the more people that know about it, the more will try it, the more data you’ll get, and then we’ll eventually know if it’s good or not.

        in the meantime, i hope production hurries up so i can give it a try. :)

  • One more thing to consider (for the record, I completely agree with the analysis here)…the real interesting thing for me is a totally different trend. More and more electronics are being produced that are “dumb”. That is, they don’t have any processing power or even digital components themselves, but rather rely on another device for this. In this case, the blood pressure monitor is useless without the electronics of the iPhone, which handles all the computing. There were a number of devices at CES that used this concept. The idea being that you always have your main computer (which happens to also be your phone) with you and you plug it into “dumb” devices and terminals.

      • i hope it’s going to make things less expensive. i think it already has.

        whats your value for cheaper cost?

        currently, the blood pressure device used at our residency clinic is the kind that costs about 700 on amazon. the Withings blood pressure cuff is 130 and the iHealth is 99.

        • yea thats true. but there isnt a current blood pressure cuff cheaper on amazon that also offers recording, graphing, & patient education in one device.

          but its true, there are cheaper cuffs out there. why my clinic doesnt use the cheap stuff is beyond me. it would help overhead to stay low.

        • oops didnt see this till after i posted that last comment.

          thats true, you are right, that would be a problem if your cell breaks. 3G doctor did say that he thinks this beginning will make companies create ways to work on the other smartphone OS’s.

        • its pretty bulky. requires a PC instead. requires usb connection. equaling more steps. health management software given by product is not web-based = less accessible. took a look at images of the software in action and didn’t see any patient education section. let me know if you see different.

          the Omron blood pressure cuff you listed is $120 on the actual company website. so it will be interesting to see how low the iHealth and Withings cuff will become on Amazon.

    • i haven’t thought about it from that point of view. but from a house-call standpoint, i would appreciate having one device to accept many peripherals. it would make my medical bag lighter and cut some of the steps out of my workflow.

  • Hi Iltifat,

    Thanks for starting some great dialogue. A client of ours wrote to me on reading your post and I offered my advice which is in sharp contrast to your opinions. I thought I’d share these on my blog and thought you’d be interested in considering them: http://t.co/yIiHu2C

    PS Hope you don’t mind me posting a link but it’s a bit too long winded to add as a comment ;)

      • nice, well thought out reply. you two make good points.

        Iltifat, you remind a little bit of dr. gordon moore and dr. jay parkinson with their research-centric, data interpretative attitudes. :) jay has an MPH too, go figure! nice.

      • Ahem to this! This stuff is nice, but we need to live in reality also. Will be exciting to see these new BP cuffs in action.

        At the same time, because of the fact that it can only connect to one phone makes it very unlikely I’d actually recommend it to my patients.

    • Wow, completely disagree with this article from a business angle. I don’t see how viable this would be. I feel glucose meters might be a really interesting business model due to the importance of the tight glucose regulation and how much it fluctuates. My patients do a far better job with their glucose logs then their blood pressure ones, and such few of my patients who use home blood pressure monitors actually have a smart phone.

    • Android please. never likely to own a iphone as I would need to be on 100k to be that thoughtless about money. Android can do what Iphone can’t because it doesn’t target the elite and puts function over form.

  • I am often shocked and amazed that pt’s and nurses will spend 19.99 on a sethoscope or 29.99 for a electronic B/P cuff think there is thay they are no different the the more expensive and reputable equipment.

  • I have a stupid question…how accurate are the electronic BP cuffs compared to manual cuffs? Would it be worth getting this if you already have a manual cuff (and you know how to use it)?

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