Top 5 digital health trends for 2013

Editor's note: The author of this post, Melissa Thompson, left a burgeoning Wall Street career as a trader with Goldman Sachs to become a female pioneer in the world of technology. She is currently the CEO and co-founder of TalkSession, Inc., an online counseling platform. Read on for her views on how digital media is changing healthcare.

1) Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3…Self-monitoring devices take the stage.
This year for the holidays I got myself three gifts – unintentionally, all digital health-related devices. I bought a pattern-monitoring bracelet (Up by Jawbone), an iPhone-enabled lego-like system that detects electromagnetic field radiation as well as the “organic-ness” of my fruits and veggies (MyLapka), and a scale that graphs my weight on an accompanying iPhone app.  In 2012, the Nike Fuelband put self-monitoring devices on the radar of the mainstream consumer and the field is getting bigger.

The efficacy of these devices is still evolving. There is clear room in this space for innovation, aggregation and higher efficiency. 2013 will be a year of competition amongst many new products, and we will undoubtedly see incredible technological advances passed on to the consumer in the form of novel “toys” that, if used with intention, will better our interactions with our own healthcare management.

2) Tap, swipe and shake: Success driven by user experience.
I have ulcerative colitis –a chronic, autoimmune disease that is affected by the types of food I consume, the time of day I eat, the amount of sleep I get, and the medications I take.  The site PatientsJustLikeMe allowed me to compare my symptoms with 1,000 other people and might have provided useful insight. However, my data entry took so much time that I could not reach the end nor a meaningful result. New apps, such as Thryve for nutrition, are geared toward making the user experience engaging, the data entry simple and the information meaningful, while also being beautifully presented. Expect design to be a differentiator this coming year.

3) Big data: More practical, more relevant.
I have observed excitement about the sheer breadth of the data we have been able to collect. In the past year we saw single apps dedicated to collecting data on one’s heart rate. While cool to show friends, the novelty of a new data-collecting app wears off quickly. It would be much more interesting to observe one’s heart rate that is cross-referenced with sleep patterns, life events, emotions or food intake. And it would be even more awesome yet, if that application took my patterns and made meaningful recommendations for improvement. 

Recently companies have been applying data in smart, relevant ways, as the end user now demands an answer to the question, “how does this help me?” And companies are responding. 2013 will surely have notable big data plays that have practical applications to our everyday lives. Startups I have seen lead this movement: Lumoback (measures users’ posture, and makes recommendations for improvement), OvaScience (aims to improve the success rate of in vitro fertilization through technology and user data) and the Hapilabs’ HapiFork, which tracks the rate at which one eats and then advises the diner to slow down. 

I predict that this year we will see companies create platforms and applications that make our desire to use monitoring devices and voluntary data-sharing actually beneficial to one’s health. Check out this cool infographic on big data from Neolane.

4) Dude, who stole my benefits?
As healthcare costs continue to rise, benefit attrition will continue, particularly in the mental health space.  Mental health coverage is costly.  Treatment efficacy is more difficult to measure than for most physical ailments, and it is often the first arena of coverage dropped after vision and dental. I predict that we will see wide-ranging effects from decreases in mental healthcare benefits.  Recently my state’s low-income health insurance stopped offering prescription benefits in the psychiatric medicine category. I believe that there will be a backlash against these policy changes as insurance companies realize it is more costly to deprive certain benefits to those in need than to offer them.

5) Move toward collaborative and voluntary healthcare data sharing.
HIPAA regulations dictate that our health-related data be kept private. Increasingly we see grassroots efforts to voluntarily collaborate on healthcare data sharing.  In 2012 we saw private insurance companies, such as Aetna and United, dip their toes into the Blue Button movement – which allows users of personal health records to download their personal health records.  With users in control of their own information, organizations such as and the Mayo Clinic’s data sharing lab have been facilitating the voluntary participation of data sharing in order to better understand medical conditions, improve care and promote innovation.

The healthcare space is rapidly changing; its flux can be seen in headlines daily.  As entrepreneurs and investors move toward the appreciation of shared value and collaboration, I believe 2013 will bring a higher form of capitalism in healthcare.  Companies and consumers are realizing the value of working together to discover solutions to address some of the most complex problems we face today.  I am excited to be a part of that process and a witness to the creativity and innovation of a difficult market.

Melissa Thompson is CEO and co-founder of TalkSession, Inc., an online counseling platform (in beta mode) that will connect users with credible professionals for on-demand, mobile therapy and counseling sessions using proprietary algorithm matching and artificial intelligence. Before launching her technology career, she traded emerging market and commodity derivatives for Goldman Sachs for nearly four years. She holds a BA from Barnard College in economics and studied Chinese and global business strategy at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, China. She earned her MBA from Columbia Business School, with a focus on new media, management and social entrepreneurship.