Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Esther Dyson on health and the quantified self...

by Karen Coppock

Esther Dyson spoke at the Commonwealth Club at the Microsoft campus in Mountain View last night on Homebrew Healthcare or the "quantified self."  Esther has been active in the health space with investments in Keas, and patientslikeme and board seats with Voxiva and 23andme (which has been in the news quite a bit lately and was a hot topic in the Q&A session).

Esther believes that there are three health-related markets:
  1. traditional healthcare market - includes current healthcare system (hospitals, insurance companies, pharma...). Is an enormous market, very advertising-centric and full of big businesses
  2. bad health market - producers of things that distract you from good health (i.e., potato chip and tobacco producers, fast food...) Is also an enormous market, extremely advertising-centric and full of big businesses
  3. wellness market (Esther actually called this third category the health market, but I will call this the wellness market for clarity) - promotes good health behavior and self-denial. Is a new market, there hasn't been a commercial benefit from this market in the past, so is not developed, but several trends are converging, which is changing this:
    • data collection is getting easier
    • game dynamics being used outside of gaming
    • mobile phones are on hand 24x7 enabling the easy data collection in bullet point #1
Many of the firms with which Esther is involved are in this third category, the wellness market. Interestingly, the idea of parallel health and wellness markets also surged at the Mobile Health 2010 conference - seems to be a common theme when discussing new technologies and health.

A recurring topic throughout the discussion was data privacy. Esther commented several times that people do not want privacy or to share, what they want is control. They want to determine who gets to see what data. She polled the audience - almost everyone said that they would be comfortable providing fitness-related data to a close group of friends so that they could help motivate you with your fitness goals. Conversely, almost NO one said they would feel comfortable providing fitness or health-related data to their employers. Lastly, Esther noted that patients with terminal diseases (several of those on patientslikeme) may be willing to share everything with pharmaceutical companies if it would help accelerate the discovery of a cure (likely for other patients and not themselves).

Reflecting on the discussion with my emerging-markets hat on, I wondered if the model of parallel markets (the traditional healthcare market and the wellness market) will be followed in emerging markets.  Given that the traditional healthcare market in these countries is relatively undeveloped, I believe that these countries may actually have an opportunity to merge the traditional healthcare market with the newer wellness market and evolve these two into a  single, unified market for the benefit of all.  Unfortunately bad health markets are strong and growing in emerging markets, so there will be at least two parallel markets - health/wellness and bad health - in developing countries.

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