NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The digital health-monitoring market is the latest variation on a much-heard tune: another area of business where Apple (AAPL) - Get Report , Google (GOOG) - Get Report , Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) and even Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report are turning the status quo on its head.
The market of wearable bands, sensors and platforms is saturating quickly, so what are these companies doing to get it right? And where might there be opportunities for the investor to participate?
In terms of Apple, Google and Samsung, by moving health monitoring out of the hands of health care professionals and into the hands of the consumer, a market is being created by making the devices mobile, making them speak to smartphones and collecting enough information to move from diagnostic to predictive.
The big consumer technology companies are not only creating mass appeal by using their customer savviness to create sexy, non-invasive sensors for the monitoring of chronic conditions, they are also using their awesome IT muscle and social-media dominance to bring devices such as the Apple Watch, Google Fit and Simband down to a grassroots level of preventive care and peer-to-peer sharing. And this is just the beginning.
The potential for growth in these consumer tech-driven devices is sizeable, as they offer something for everyone.
Consumers get control of the device and what it shows, along with miniaturization, portability, its wireless component, noninvasive body sensors, integration with their smartphone, something so intelligent that in many cases, they don't even have to go a doctor's office for routine testing. Pharmaceutical and insurance companies will want access to the data picked up by the sensors so that they can either remind consumers to take their pills or urge them to adopt more healthful behaviors and merit lower premiums.
For companies that have been manufacturing monitoring devices for decades, on the other hand, the big issue is reinventing their base of earnings: Who will pay for devices intended for home use that are doing the work of the health care provider? The threat to these traditional companies is their middleman-heavy business models, where, in a medical setting, the machine bought by the physician or medical group and paid for over time by the patients is used a test that is sent somewhere else to be read and then the patient has to come in for a reading and diagnosis.
What is really game-changing about the consumer-oriented approach is the consumer tech companies' ability to make the collection and interpretation of health data so effortless as to be practically invisible. They do this first by making the wearable device so non-threatening and user friendly, giving it enough capacity to collect mountains of health data, and supporting both the data and the customer interface with what the best programmers and designers have to offer.
Apple, Google and Samsung's entry into this market could have a dramatic effect on its dynamics, so dramatic that the medical device side of their businesses could conceivably overtake some of their other popular offerings.
In addition, all three of these technology companies are proposing ways to include entrepreneurs, large and small, in the data collection bonanza, allowing them access to a global audience that could mean a new, universal, consumer-driven, "virtual" health care system throughout the world.
What will Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung, Google need to communicate about their individual solutions to be of interest to investors? And what will it take to get to adoption?
The main areas of health care that can be money-makers are prevention, diagnosis, treatment and monitoring. These new high-tech players are moving right into three of those four areas, only for the moment excluding diagnosis.
Then it is a question of getting all those participants to actually use the software and getting their buy-in on tracking the results over the period of a year or so, long enough to get insurance companies to sit up and notice. The domino effect of people taking more responsibility for their health, reductions in insurance premiums and possible tax breaks down the line could all lead to that Holy Grail of doing good while doing well.
And the investment opportunities, both in start-ups and established companies, are ripe to be shaken out of the trees.
Rajeev Kapoor is a partner in the Health practice of A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm. He can be reached at Rajeev.Kapoor@atkearney.com