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The Digital Skeptic: Health Tech Gets Ready to Be America's Biggest Loser

Going on ehealth-care alert
It doesn't take a complex algo to see what worries Yang. There is a virtual hospital wing filled with ehealth companies looking to turn personal health data into a digital-age experience.

These mostly privately held firms seek to leverage the newly cheap GPS chips, accelerometers and other sensors to capture heart rates, exercise patterns, skin perspiration and other human data. They then present all these gobs of information to consumers, usually on the Web and mobile devices.

"We sell an integrated body-measuring system that sits on the wrist or shoulder starting at $119," says Ivo Stivoric, BodyMedia's CTO. "Users access their data and set goals from the website for $6.95 a month."

I found similar gadgets from makers such as Polar, Scosche, Mio Global and AFrame Digital. There is even an interesting, wearable body-data generating garment from Quebec-based Hexoskin -- $745 gets users a combined smart shirt and reader.

There is serious investor market cap chasing ehealth as well. Sport conglom Nike (NKE) rolled out the FuelBand that for $150 offers training advice as you run. And Canada's Lululemon Athletica (LULU) has made a workout-friendly sports bra with a heart-rate monitor built right in for just $64.

ehealth is ebarrier free
Most of these tools worked in my testing, generating fascinating results for managing weight or changing diet. They clearly have a rightful place in our health care debate. But the fact remains that, just like any other information-based sector, ehealth care can't keep the market organized.

A new generation of free or ultra-low-cost smartphone apps now compete with these pricey, purpose-built devices. This list, which is longer than I can count, includes the AliveCor app, which remotely measures ECG rhythms, Instant Heart Rate Pro and Web-based fitness communities such as Zamzee, SoFit Mobile and LifeKraze. And then there are the direct knockoffs. The Lark wristband imitates Nike's band, but at a fraction of the cost.

You know profits will be tight when a cool Kickstarter campaign is all that is needed to get going in ehealth, which is how the Mio Alpha product got launched.

The falling value of human information
The scary investor lab results go like this for ehealth. The Consumer Electronics Association is estimating that a full one-third of U.S. consumers plan on buying health and fitness gadgets this year. Those numbers make it very tough to focus on the reality here. Once our intimate corporal information goes through the digital information mill it comes out just as devalued as music, books and financial services. Stuff such as HIPAA regulations, secure networks and what employers say they will do with health care data will have no effect at all.

"The difference between the pretenders and the players will be the ones that can actually do something with the information," Yang said.

Meaning if investors don't eat right and generally be as careful as Hannah Curlee as to what they consume in ehealth, they -- not she -- will turn out to be America's "Biggest Loser."

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.
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