Four Implications of the Self-care Movement

What if the next time you step into your doctor’s office for an examination, she reaches into her white coat and pulls out an iPhone instead of a stethoscope? That’s the idea behind smartphone healthcare, an evolution of the physical exam using only smartphones and a few devices that connect to them. This trend is not just creating Internet-connected doctors, it’s spawning a whole new breed of tools that help connect patients to their health and even allows them to manage their care on their own terms.

Patients can now measure their blood pressure, glucose levels and other vital statistics at home and transmit them to the cloud. With these tools, and an increased drive towards integrated healthcare, we are seeing a self-care ecosystem emerging. It is one that directly offers patients valuable and accessible healthcare while indirectly offering the healthcare system a connection to the end user. Due to this new connection, the self-care movement offers four key benefits to those working in the healthcare industry.

1. Care Providers Can Better Monitor Patients

In England, The National Health Service (NHS) Flo Program has pioneered a user-friendly text messaging service that’s helping patients to remotely manage their care. This is an important step towards integrated and technology enabled self-care.

This particular telehealth tool isn’t even especially high tech, but its success has been due to widespread adoption. According to Paul Midgley of the Rushcliffe Clinical Commissioning Group & East Midlands Mental Health Commissioning Network who leads the implementation of Flo, one of the reasons so many people use it is because it is so simple. Flo is fundamentally a texting service that allows patients to input data regarding their health into a web-based app. It is also highly accessible because the tool works on any mobile phone—not just smartphones.

“The aim of Flo was always to be really simple and cheap,” says Midgley. “It empowers patients to take their own vital signs, allowing for self-monitoring; secondly, it informs their HCPs about their current state of health. It’s a fantastic device that helps to spot early warning signs and intervene if necessary, which can help reduce unplanned admissions. There are a lot of great products similar to this out there, but I think this excels due to its simplicity and HCP adoption.”

This type of value-added service is also something that pharma or med device companies could help develop. However, Midgley has some advice for any healthcare company considering approaching an organization like NHS about a partnership to work on something similar to Flo.

“Understand [the organization’s] issues, and present relevant and innovative solutions that improve quality of care to patients, while reducing the cost of the whole pathway of care where their drug is to be used,” explains Midgley. “Value-added services wrapped around the product are great, but please bring data to prove the value. I see the future of healthcare to be integrated, where we [NHS] contract with prime providers to share the risk. And subcontractors deliver high-quality services at lower price per transaction.”

2. Access To Useful New Tools

The “Internet of Things” is almost a movement of its own as companies work to connect any and every device—even home appliances—to the web, so they can be controlled and monitored from anywhere. However, a medical world built around connected mobile medical devices and the Internet of Things will be revolutionary. Cloud data via connected devices will turn the system of healthcare data recording into a system of healthcare engagement, not only allowing self-care, but also driving user engagement in their personal health. Some of the tools paving the way include:


Kinsa: A thermometer that plugs into your iPhone or Android smartphone. The device and corresponding app takes your temperature and can also track changes over time enabling you to build a record of your personal health. Currently Kinsa’s plug-in device is on the market for $15, but eventually the company may be able to give them away for free—selling the data will provide revenue.

Muscle Trigger Points: Another useful app for researching muscle trigger points and tight places in the body that cause pain. The app includes more than 100 trigger points for over 70 muscles. Once you identify a trigger point through a specific muscle or zone search, the app recommends the best course of action to take.

Cardiac Designs’ ECG Check: An iPhone case that connects to the device and allows users to obtain an instantaneous electrocardiogram (ECG) in the palm of their hands. The device has two electrodes on the case where users places their index fingers in order to conduct the electrical rhythms to the onboard smartphone app. The device can also be held up directly to the chest in order to obtain an ECG. While this seems like just another piece of gadgetry hitting the blogospheres, this particular innovation paves the way to a whole new line of at-home medical products.

The implications of this device are twofold: One, it is a device that can allow patients with cardiac issues to have an instantaneous visual communication with their care provider, and two, it is a way for individuals to be more aware of their own health concerns.

3. More Efficient Medical Research

A third benefit of the self-care movement is the chance to deliver more efficient medical research. The study, Why Most Published Research Findings Are False, published by epidemiologist John P. A. Ioannidis in the journal PLoS Medicine in 2005, exposed ways that science has over-interpreted the significance of findings from research with small sample sizes.

Meanwhile, a series of five papers about clinical research published by The Lancet revealed that in 2010 about $200 billion (an astonishing 85% of the world’s spending on medical research) was squandered on studies that were flawed in their design, redundant, never published or poorly reported. That’s hugely wasteful.

With a deluge of data from self-care tools, we might see a step change in the way that medical research is conducted. The researcher’s dream is a clear longitudinal record of patient experience and outcomes that offers a real-world detail on the actual and relative effectiveness of a health product or service. Currently EMR or claims data struggle to deliver this. What sets self-care data apart is its continuity. A self-managed record can be truly longitudinal as patients take their care data with them when they move between insurers or providers. Engagement in one’s health drives health data collection and with that, it can direct self-care and long-term health management.

4. Better Understanding Of Customers

Finally, the area that has the potential to be the most powerful: The opportunities that the self-care movement will afford in terms of integrated health and customer insight.

With more customer data coming from the self-care movement, brand teams and marketers have a greater chance of understanding customer needs to more accurately predict and deliver valuable services. Thanks to this integrated approach to care, pharma is in a position to provide help as well as profit. Sounds good, but to do it well pharma’s approach to customer understanding has to be refined.

The old model of understanding and communicating need to the provider or healthcare professional will be overtaken by a need to understand what all healthcare consumers respond to along the whole continuum of care—right through to patients and caregivers.

The first step will be using data to understand the needs of consumers. It’s easy to obtain patient insight. An abundance of market research and social listening tools provide lots of interesting data. But reading about climbing Everest isn’t the same as doing it. To truly understand people, their motivations and feelings about their illness and medications, you need to create a strong two-way dialogue.

So the next step will be connecting with consumers along the care continuum to ideate and test solutions that meet their needs. Think of it as user-centered design in healthcare. A smartphone enabled way to do this is through open collaboration.

For example, in upstream R&D, pharma companies are increasingly pooling resources to attack complex issues. For instance, Enlight Biosciences is a venture backed by AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novo Nordisk and Pfizer to find new drug technologies, in part through pre-competitive collaboration. One of its first initiatives is to develop an oral delivery technology for peptides.

Service delivery won’t be about closed door testing and validation in the same way as a new drug would be in a clinical trial. The integrated healthcare providers will test, develop and launch ideas into the real world. The reach and insight that self-care tools provide will facilitate this open dialogue, spawning detailed healthcare analytics and healthcare consumer understanding.

As companies become more comfortable with collecting insight from consumers—both on an analytic and a collaborative level—and the need to be customer centric moves higher up the agenda, expect to see smartphone health and self-care tools used with increasing frequency to find surprising customer-led ideas and insights.

  • Theo Fellgett

    Theo Fellgett heads up the U.S. Operations for, a digital agency that specializes in healthcare market insight and collaboration, and its global partnerships. In his dual role, Theo focuses on building out the formal partnerships that launch the offering globally and growing the U.S. footprint.


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