The new era of mobile health tech has a big gotcha

New platforms from Samsung and Apple hold great promise, but they also feed into unrealistic hopes

This week, Samsung unveiled an innovative hardware architecture called Simband for combining health sensors onto a common wristband, and -- more important -- an open API architecure for handling all that sensor data, called SAMI. The pair of Samsung efforts is due for release in 2015. Next week, Apple is expected to unveil an ecosystem approach to iOS that makes the iPhone and iPad able to act more as central intelligence and conrol units for all sorts of peripheral devices, including health sensors -- an area Apple has been actively hiring for over the last couple years. Apple's technology will likely come to market this summer or fall.

The two biggest mobile hardware providers are both tackling the world of fitness and health, and that's a big deal.

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But a lot of the excitement out there is naive. Not because the ideas that Samsung and Apple have are naive, but because the health industry and people's activities around health are much more complex than most bloggers and technology pundits understand.

First, there's real money in fitness, so it makes sense for Apple and Samsung to venture in. Never mind that most fitness products don't get used for long -- few people stick to it, but instead play with a silver bullet, give up, then try again a while later. Given the money that Americans spend on everything from dieting to treadmills, the fact that our society is overweight isn't because we don't have tools. It's because we're not serious.

That's a great situation for providers to be in, because if people actually achieved their goals, the market for all those fads would dry up. It's brilliant for these vendors to leverage a device you likely have on you, like an iPhone or a Galaxy, and a Web service that's just a click away from whatever you're doing online on a computer or tablet or phone. But the world won't be changed.

Second, there's the actual health industry: monitoring of vital signs such as heart rate, glucose levels, and blood pressure. There's been a lot of activity here, some driven by the medical community seeking to lower costs through remote monitoring and some driven by worried patients and their relatives.

Don't get me wrong: The kind of monitoring, both by yourself and by medical professionals, that Internet-connected sensors can provide will lead to dramatically better care. In fact, many studies have shown that it does, reducing health care costs as a result.

But you have to remember how the U.S. health care system works: Providers are paid to deliver services, not to improve your health. Although the federal government has been trying to change the economics to favor healthy patients over procedures, that's not where we are today. I remember one doctor telling a conference that one pilot saved so much money that the hospital in the trial pulled out because it couldn't afford to lose the income.

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