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Brainstorm Health: IBM Meetings Exercise Patent, AT&T-Time Warner’s Effect, Drugs and Depression

I confess: I like to read patents. It’s a great way to see what’s around the corner—to get an early gander at those big, crazy ideas that often morph into big, not-so-crazy ideas. And in the area of digital health, that seems to be especially true.

To be sure, some of those ideas look radically new and aren’t. Consider the buzz of late about Apple’s rumored potential-ish introduction-maybe of a wrist-worn blood-pressure-monitoring device—which was covered pretty much everywhere, with many outlets pointing to a recently published patent application as an aha moment. In truth, Apple engineers have been dreamscaping this one for a while (see their 2014 application for “Blood pressure monitoring using a multi-function wrist-worn device”). And the patent office is filled to the proverbial gills with filings for similarly conceived wrist-wearable sphygmomanometers—like I wasn’t going to use that term—some of which date back several decades. Note, for example, this 1993 patent grant for a “wrist mount apparatus for use in blood pressure tonometry” (U.S. Patent No. 5,271,405).

But then, some ideas are genuinely new. And well, fanciful. And well, maybe even not so crazy after all. Take this IBM patent application published last month, entitled: “Machine learned optimizing of health activity for participants during meeting times.”

The idea, write IBM Technical Leader Paul R. Bastide and colleagues, is to prompt participants in a lengthy conference call to exercise—presumably with the mute button on. “Based on the predicted engagement level, the sensor data and the participant’s fitness goal,” write the IBM team in their initial November 2016 filing, “an exercise for the participant to perform during the conference call may be determined. A notification signal may be transmitted to the participant to perform the exercise.”

There are, indeed, quite a few “may be’s” in this proffered invention: “An engagement level of the participant that is to participate in the conference call may be predicted based on the received data and the location data. Sensor data associated with the participant may be received…A user’s wearable fitness device may be interfaced with the smartphone, and together they detect in real-time the user’s participation in the conference call. This may be achieved explicitly by detecting whether the user is moving or not during the meeting, and/or implicitly via the app in the smartphone that analyzes the phone’s usage pattern (e.g., how often the user is engaged in the meeting using the phone’s audio sensors).”

Such hypotheticals aside, though, one has to admire the instinct of these imaginative IBM’ers to see a critical unmet need and try to fill it. The mere thought of my next endless meeting makes my back ache. My knees creak. My eyelids droop. If it takes another eavesdropping smartphone app to come up with a few standing reps or seat-borne shake-outs to subdue the scourge, so be it.

The news is below.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE
@CliftonLeaf
clifton.leaf@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

The public perception dilemma of disrupting health care. Everyone agrees that American health care needs significant “disruption” if it’s going to be a better deal for consumers. But the wide-scale changes requisite for such a shift may not be the most appealing prospect for everyday people, a new survey indicates. HealthEdge surveyed some 2,500 health insurance plan holders and found that they are largely skeptical of both government-centric efforts like “Medicare for All” or single payer systems and more private-sector focused initiatives like the (still-mysterious) Amazon-JPMorgan-Berkshire Hathaway health venture. “Consumers overwhelmingly said they hold more trust in the current insurance market (69%) over possible government-sponsored care (19%) or partnerships led by retailers like Amazon, Walmart or CVS (12%),” reports FierceHealthcare. (FierceHealthcare)

INDICATIONS

200 common drugs may be contributing to depression. A new study published in JAMA finds that more than one in three Americans takes a prescription drug that includes depression as a possible side effect. All told, 200 of these common medications (including therapies for blood pressure, birth control, and even strong anti-inflammatory pills) can potentially cause depression or suicidal thoughts as an adverse event. (New York Times)

THE BIG PICTURE

CVS, Aetna, Express Scripts shares spike on AT&T-Time Warner ruling. A court ruling delivered Tuesday has paved the way for the AT&T-Time Warner mega-merger—and it’s sending health care stocks soaring. Why? The telecom M&A case was largely seen as a proxy battle for “vertical” mergers across business sectors, wherein companies buy up firms up and down their industry supply chains. Sound familiar? Shares of CVS Health, Aetna, and Express Scripts all shot up between 2.5% and 3.6% in Wednesday trading. Those happen to be companies proposing major cross-sector consolidations.

Medical costs projected to rise 6% in 2019. PricewaterhouseCoopers has released its 2019 Medical Cost Trend report. The topline result: U.S. medical costs are expected to rise 6% in 2019, more or less in line with the past five years of health care inflation (which still outpaces overall inflation). But here’s a key takeaway from PwC: “To drive medical cost trend down, employers should tackle prices. These efforts should address more than just drug prices, which have been the focus of attention in the last several years.” (PwC)

REQUIRED READING

Major Insurer Harvard Pilgrim’s CEO Just Abruptly Resigned Over Unspecified ‘Behavior’by Sy Mukherjee

Volkswagen Agrees to $1.2 Billion Diesel Fineby Bloomberg

Here’s a New Way to Trick Facial Recognitionby Jeff John Roberts

We Still Don’t Fully Understand Suicide. But We Do Know What Reduces Itby Jonathan B. Singer

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

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