The news has been rough of late in the wearables world. Earlier this month, Fitbit CEO James Park said the company was “starting to see some headwinds” in the business, including “some softening of demand.” Fitbit is now forecasting revenue growth of 2-5% for the fourth quarter, down from a scorching full-year pace of around 25%.
Meanwhile, sales and shipments of the Apple Watch, the category giant, are down sharply from last year—at least according to research analysts. (The company is coy when it comes to breaking out sales of the device in its earnings reports, posting the numbers under the heading, “Other Products.”) And Intel may or may not be “stepping back” from its wearables business, as TechCrunch reported on Friday, citing “sources close to the company.” On Saturday, sources within the company rebutted the claim.
All of these data points (and data rumors) seem to reflect what has long been considered a truism of health and fitness trackers: that consumers utterly adore them . . . until they utterly lose interest. That often takes six months or less. The phenomenon has big implications for workplace wellness programs. Nearly one in three large employers offered their workers physical-activity trackers in 2016, according to global advisory Willis Towers Watson.
But does this “perk” even make sense anymore if the devices just end up in a sock drawer?
Well, a report released today suggests there may be hope for the beleaguered industry—and for workplace health programs in general. Jiff—a firm that partners with large self-insured companies to connect their employees to the right health and wellness benefits (and hopefully lower the companies’ healthcare costs in the process)—evaluated data from nearly 250,000 employees at more than a dozen of its client companies over a 22-month span. What it found was that the wearables are wearing out their welcome for a reason: Employees are given the devices, but too often not given a context for using them.
In contrast, at companies where there is a “culture of health”—where employers offer things like “step challenges” (everyone is encouraged to walk a certain number of steps, say, over a given two-week period) and have frequent conversations about employee well-being—workers are far more likely to keep using their trackers, says Mary Cain, Sr. Director for Clinical Strategy at Jiff. And that, says Cain, holds true even after the official challenge periods end. “People might drop their level of activity a bit, but it remains higher than it was before the challenge.”
Not only that, but Jiff’s data suggests that corporate step challenges and the like also tend to increase employee use of wellness offerings that have little to do with fitness trackers, from pre-diabetes nutritional counseling to programs that focus on back pain.
Perhaps the biggest surprise? “When we looked at the data on a weekly basis, we found these little dips at the end of the week,” says Cain, who holds a master’s degree in public health from U.C. Berkeley and who has been doing disease management work for the past 15 years. Many people, it seems, were coming home from their job and taking off their trackers. “People have a work identity and they have a home-life identity,” she says. “And it may just be, in some cases, that it’s their work identity that’s encouraging them to be healthy. We need to translate that into their whole identity.”
More news below.
The Internet of Things is a huge threat to health IT. In our ever-connected world, having everyday items connected to the web seems like a no-brainer. But it also comes with its own special problems—particularly from a security perspective. And Scott Borg, chief economist at the nonprofit U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit, tells Healthcare IT News that health executives need to reshape their thinking when addressing this particular threat, particularly given the reality of more medical devices that are linked to the Internet. "The Internet of Things is the big new worry, but healthcare executives need to think about why someone would want to attack these devices in a clinic or hospital," Borg said. "One of the new reasons is that cyber-attackers are beginning to discover they can make more money in financial markets than they can by credit card fraud. And in cybersecurity that is a big new development, just as big as the Internet of Things." (Healthcare IT News)
Donald Trump's first biopharma meeting is with billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. Soon-Shiong, the Los Angeles billionaire who's launched a line of biotech and diagnostics startups (and advised Vice President Joe Biden on the Obama administration's Cancer Moonshot initiative), dined with President-elect Trump over the weekend to discuss the way forward in biotech and medicine. "From Trump's transition team: "Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong joined President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence for dinner this evening. The renowned doctor has appeared on the cover of Forbes for his advances in finding a cure for cancer. They discussed innovation in the area of medicine and national medical priorities that need to be addressed in our country." In other Soon-Shiong related news: He's being sued by MD Anderson over the use of his own, separate "Moon Shot" cancer initiative.
Novartis snaps up Selexys for $665 million. Swiss pharma giant Novartis announced this morning that it will snag Selexys Pharmaceuticals, a blood disease-focused biotech, in a move that's in line with CEO Joe Jimenez's stated plans to drive growth through a combination of research into new therapeutic areas and acquisitions that will bolster Novartis' portfolio. This particular deal for Selexys' sickle cell disease drug has been at least four years in the making. But the firm may have been convinced to move on it given troubles in its existing franchises, including the slower-than-expected growth of its heart disease drug Entresto. (Reuters)
THE BIG PICTURE
The Anthem-Cigna legal drama is "extraordinary." The Justice Department has a pair of high-profile challenges to proposed insurance giant mergers: Anthem-Cigna and Aetna-Humana. The proceedings for the former launch today, and it appears there will be no shortage of drama. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reports that tensions between Cigna and its prospective acquirer Anthem are running high—so high that a lawyer for Cigna actually asked a judge handling the case whether or not the insurer's attorneys would be allowed to object to Anthem attorneys' questions during trial. Part of the reasoning may have to do with the fact that Cigna, which has often been portrayed as a reluctant partner in the acquisition, would reap a substantial breakup fee if the deal were to fall apart. (Wall Street Journal)
Pharma reps will have to shell out $750 to hawk products in Chicago. Chicago lawmakers have given their blessing to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposal that pharmaceutical sales reps obtain a license in order to sell medicines in the city. The ordinance, according to Emanuel, is meant to help fight the opioid epidemic, which some critics have said is in some way attributable to pharma's aggressive marketing practices. Pharmaceutical companies are calling the new regulations burdensome and unnecessary, amounting to a tax increase on their products. (Chicago Tribune)
Alibaba's Cloud Services Are About to Get a Lot Bigger Outside China, by Reuters
Tech Industry Could Be "First to Suffer" Under Trump Immigration Stance, by David Z. Morris
Donald Trump Keeps Cabinet Picks Under Wrap, by Associated Press
Trump Picks Staunch Opponents of Net Neutrality to Oversee FCC, by Aaron Pressman