Tiny Tech — Exploring the children’s health tech market
When it comes to children and tech, more often than not the conversation centers around screen time and the potential for addictions to our devices. On the other hand, for the first time, children can have their entire lives digitally documented.
In the context of health technology, this provides incredible possibilities in terms of understanding factors that affect our health from an early age. Never before have we had the ability to have such insight into our habits, potential ways in which we can improve our health, and make informed decisions based on this information.
Major industry players like Philips and Johnson & Johnson have carved out stakes in the game. This is perhaps unsurprising, especially since gathering data in this market will enable tailored product development, helping parents care for their children.
What does the children’s health tech market look like?
Equipment and Devices
When it comes to devices, GoCheck Kids is an FDA approved vision assessment aimed at identifying vision disorders (e.g. amblyopia, strabismus, significant refractive error) early-on, when treatment is most effective and prognoses are most promising. The company ships smartphones with the GoCheck Kids app pre-loaded onto the devices. The device’s effectiveness has been bolstered by recently published findings. In terms of wearables (of which the fitness variety we touch on below), products like Neebo, that offers a way for parents to track their baby’s and small children’s health through metrics like heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and temperature tracking, are becoming increasingly popular.
Rhode Island-based Sproutel, provides children with a companion managing the same challenges they are facing. Their debut product, Jerry the Bear, is intended for children with Type 1 diabetes. Children can track the bear’s blood sugar levels, administer insulin shots, and keep track of his nutrient intake. Parents and their children can use a related educational app containing information on managing diabetes. Emotional resilience and a sense of control that can be hard to establish among young children with serious condition for whom much of their lives are carefully managed by their parents and caregivers, are among the intended positive outcomes of the tech-enhanced stuffed animals. The company just released their second product, My Special Aflac Duck, aimed at children fighting cancer.
Other researchers are working on cutting-edge clinical-grade equipment, including printable electronics, are helping to make hospital visits less disruptive and intimidating for children. Ana Claudia Arias at the University of California, Berkeley, has invented some thin, flexible electronic devices, like a pulse oximeter the size of a conventional Band-Aid. Her and her team are also working on MRI equipment to replace current tools which are clunky and often too heavy (and so potentially inhibiting image quality) in small children.
10,000 steps for children, too?
Market research giant, Gartner Inc., forecasts that 30% of total (worldwide) smartwatch shipments in 2021 will be attributable to devices aimed at children between the ages of 2 and 13 years old. Fitbit has just released the “Fitbit Ace,” specifically designed for children ages 8 and older, incorporating features enabling high durability and water-resistance. Whether or not the tracker is effective in maintaining healthy levels of exercise in children remains to be seen. The product is now available for preorders at US$99.95. The tracker can be used to monitor progress towards daily fitness and sleep goals, issuing notifications and reminders along the way — as in the traditional Fitbit models. Family accounts that display information from all family members’ devices can be created by parents. Last Fall, Garmin launched a similar product, its vivofit jr. 2. The wearable is tailored towards children and features Disney, Star Wars, or Marvel characters on the watchband.
While it may not be immediately clear whether tracking children’s activity is beneficial, there are certainly considerations that should be made and that are worth discussing. For instance, though the products have recommended age ranges, at what age should parents let kids ‘start to do their own thing’? Does tracking exercise take some of the joy away from athletic participation many of us enjoyed as kids? Is it possible that intensive data tracking could lead to unhealthy obsessiveness? As with many questions we’re struggling to address in terms of personal health data collection more generally, there are no clear answers; time and experience will certainly provide us with a clearer understanding of the impact on our lives, and the relative importance of gathering these types of data points.
As we mentioned above, the potential use cases in collecting an unprecedented amount of longitudinal data are vast and may offer significant value to the greater medical community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the Milestone Tracker app, designed for parents allowing them to track the first five years of their child’s growth and development. Checklists paired with related information (e.g. activities or tips) and provided content and benchmarks can help monitor progress around developmental milestones. Based on general guidelines, prompts to schedule medical appointments and screenings are also included. The app is targeted for use in children aged ranging from 18 months to seven years of age and is available for free on Android and iOS devices. A similar product, Cognoa, instructs parents upload videos of a child’s behaviour and related information. The app applies machine learning to evaluate whether a child within normal expectations.
Last month, several children’s digital health initiatives were announced by the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA). Among the initiatives set forth is a national child health record and the digitisation of child health check data to enable more seamless electronic sharing between patients and providers. The aim of the initiative which is spearheaded by the National Children’s Digital Health Collaborative, is to eventually establish a comprehensive digital health record for every child in Australia, from birth, through infancy, childhood and into adolescence.
Tech for Parents
There are a range of children’s health tech products designed to be used by parents. KidsMD, for instance, leverages Alexa’s voice capabilities, enabling parents to ask Alexa about topics like medication dosages and common symptoms, such as those associated with the flu or ear infections. In return, parents receive personalized care instructions or guidance to seek further care, from Boston Children’s Hospital. Parents and caregivers can also seek help from Tinyhood, a text-based platform that connects parents with experts dependent on their topic of inquiry.
Bridge the Distance with Tech
To this extent, there is a growing body of evidence that pediatric telemedicine saves, both patients and health systems, money and time. Care from a distance has shown to be effective in terms of glucose control and improving quality of life for children and teenagers with Type 1 diabetes. A recent study showed that a six-month remote therapy pilot circumvented the need for the conventional amount of in-person visits while yielding improved outcomes. Further, consider Kinsa, a company that initially launched a smart thermometer and companion app. It has since integrated with Teladoc, a leading telehealth provider in the US and Kinsa has noted its particular application in helping support parents with sick children. A similar product is offered by TempTraq, a continuous monitoring thermometer that can send notifications about temperature changes to a linked mobile device.
As an example of a condition-specific innovation, Tueo Health, an asthma management solution, leverages sensors and self-reported data to help parents make informed decisions on their child’s care. To complement the data, parents also have access to certified asthma coaches. Another product, Nod, is an app for babies and younger children, co-developed by Johnson & Johnson. Parents can report various sleep metrics (e.g. waking time, length of rest) which are integrated with data collected using Johnson’s Bedtime Baby Sleep app.
As we’ve acknowledged throughout this article, gathering vasts amount of information on our health can help us uncover patterns and relationships that were not previously possible — in that sense, data is power. But, it is worth noting that too much data can make someone (especially a doting parent) feel, to an extent, powerless. Information overload can occur when we’re faced with too much data, and unsure how to manage or gain actionable insight from it. In an time where helicopter parenting is perhaps more prevalent than we’d like to admit, the use of technology is an added layer of supervision and expectations.
That being said, technology is helping children’s health care progress by leaps and bounds — not only by making interactions with the health care system less intimidating for children but also allowing for improved quality in data collection by designing products tailored specifically for smaller frames, for example. Ultimately, however, technology should serve to enhance or sense-check the most valuable parenting tool, intuition.