The Tech Disruption Series: HealthTech

By Lee Bell

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If you were to ask someone what they think the term “health tech” means, their first train of thought would probably be something along the lines of smartwatches, fitness trackers, or some wearable of some kind.

And while they’re not at all wrong, the wearables currently available in the electronics stores don’t represent a true reflection of how technology is truly shaking up the health industry, or better still, how it will in the coming years.

Right now, smartwatches and the like have become known for doing one thing well: tracking our vitals. You cannot argue that they don’t do a good job of measuring your heart rate, steps walked, lengths swam, and so on.

But of late, many health experts have argued that the average wearable is only comparing your BPM to the average rate of someone your age, sex and height in order to calculate how many calories you’re burning, and so it’s not a truly accurate measurement. And more importantly, it doesn’t take into consideration the state of your personal inner workings, or your DNA.

Everyone is different. Each of our bodies functions in different ways, and has different needs to operate at its full potential. So in order for future heath tech to give us truly valuable feedback, they need to be more personalised. And this – the arrival of true personalisation in health thanks to the increasing integration of technology – is where the industry is heading next.

IT’S ALL IN THE DNA

Don’t just take our word for it.

We invited some of the healthtech sphere’s biggest innovators to attend a panel event hosted as part of our Tech Disruption Series, in a bid to give us the low down on the industry’s future, and you know what? They’re all saying the same thing.

Take South African entrepreneur and lifestyle genetics pioneer, Avi Lasarow, who is working within the field of wellness DNA testing as the CEO and founder of DNAFit. Lasarow believes DNA tests are the way people are tackling personalisation, taking ownership of their data to make better healthier habits as a result.

Since 2014, his startup has conducted more than 50,000 tests and given advice on fitness and nutrition genetics, and in 2016 it published the world’s first peer-reviewed and published clinical trial using both genetics and exercise interventions.

The idea behind DNAFit is that it can identify people’s correct macro nutrition. But we’ll let him explain why this matters: “We put you in a ‘diet type’ after determining your DNA type. Our app calculates your macros based on your genetics, and ideal diet type, helping you to prepare grocery lists off your macro nutrient calculation.”

It then goes one step further, allowing you to go and order your foods and products based on those macros, which are matched to reflect the best foods for you based on your actual genetics.

Lasarow insists that this ongoing desire to learn more about our genetics is an accelerating field for the health industry.

“15 years ago it would cost approximately $40,000 to get a full genome sequence done, now it’s under $1,000,” he said. “What that means is that research is becoming more accessible, accelerating at a fast pace. Cancer genomics for example, has now become a defacto standard for determining an individual’s cancer risk or likelihood compared to the general population.”

When it comes to fitness and nutrition in the future, Lasarow has “absolutely no doubt” that when you go sign up for the gym, the first thing they’ll do with you is take a DNA test as a starting point.

“We’re [also] speaking to a number of major restaurant chains that are looking at adding nutrient lists to their menus, and we think this ‘nutri-genomics’, and ‘fitness genomics’ in the space of health and fitness will become the next big thing.”

FITNESS IN YOUR HANDS

While DNA tests will give people the power to put their health in their own hands, it’s not the only way technology is helping to personalise this industry, as we heard from Ian McCaig, who joined Lasarow as a guest to talk up his company Fiit.

Fiit is a “FitTech” startup that takes advantage of smart technology to make home fitness addictive and effortless for those disillusioned with the gym and existing products in the market.

And according to McCaig, it’s this idea people taking their health in their own hands, and building their own bespoke exercise regimes thanks to the accessibility of “fitness in your pocket” that will change the health industry.

“Gyms haven’t really changed for the last two decades,” he said. “But I think what we are going to see over the next three-to-five years is more innovation and more change than we’ve seen in the last 20 years, and that’s going to be driven by technology, and by data.

For Fiit, the firm is very excited about the theory of being “the very first personal trainer in your pocket that understands what you need to do and when you need to do it, and take you on that journey”, against the typical fad diets or “get fit for summer” workout regimes.

“It’s got to be a lifestyle change that happens over time,” he added. “And turning fitness from a chore to a habit or a healthy addiction, I think, is what will happen in the future, driven a lot by tech.”

McCaig’s points were backed up by the third and final “disruptor”, Nickie Hursthouse, who is a registered dietician, health coach, and the Clinical Lead at LiveSmart.

LiveSmart is a digital health monitoring and optimisation platform focused on preventative health, with a mission to deliver a more effective behavioural change platform that improves people’s health using science, technology, and human support.

“The future will be us living a healthy balanced lifestyle as a societal norm,” Nickie concluded.

“I think it will help through technology for people to have access to credible information, and have more confidence in knowing where things are coming from and also what’s best for them, as well.”