From meditation to lab testing, can consumer digital health promote 'biohacking'?

Representatives from Oura Ring, Arc Fusion, FitnessGenes, Everlywell and Headspace will take the stage at Health 2.0 to demo products and discuss the future of consumer-focused digital health.
By Jonah Comstock
03:34 pm
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Consumer healthcare businesses can describe their work a lot of ways: as wellness, as disease prevention or as healthcare outside the traditional health system. Or there's biohacking, a term that has emerged to describe all kinds of ways individuals can optimize their own health in the same way that tech-saavy folks optimize their computers. 

At the annual Health 2.0 Fall Conference this month in Santa Clara, California, representatives from Oura Ring, Arc Fusion, FitnessGenes, Everlywell and Headspace will demo their products and discuss how they fit into the increasingly mainstream world of biohacking.

In a sense, biohacking takes self-monitoring and self-tracking to the next level, because it has a goal of not only making people more aware of their health, but of helping them to take action on that awareness and information.

"If you’re going to help people make meaningful long-term behavior changes you need to help them develop that sense of self-efficacy and the ability to do this themselves, which really is about having self-compassion, acceptance that change is a slow process, and it’s a balance of how do you give people a sense of immediate impact and relief while guiding them toward more long-term, robust changes," Megan Jones Bell, chief science officer at Headspace and one of the speakers on the panel, told Luisbrandao.

One of the first and most widely used meditation apps, Headspace has been moving further into the healthcare space over the last few years, expanding its offerings and making them available both through and to physicians. 

"It’s kind of an adjunctive treatment within behavioral health," Bell explained. "It is reimbursed by a couple of insurance companies today, it is already recommended by physicians, and we actually decided to make the Headspace consumer product freely available to healthcare professionals themselves because of the high rates of job-related burnout and mental health issues in that population."

Bell says that Headspace's focus on training users with skills is a bit counterintuitive in a business sense, since it isn't geared toward stickiness or retention. But it works with the mission of the company. 

"You can’t constantly be in intervention mode. You need to transition to generalized and applied skills to your life and really internalize this capability that we are teaching you," Bell said. "Of course, ongoing practice is very reinforcing. I think for us it’s more about people looking to Headspace as a way to add something new to the practice they’ve already established and to have a sense of support and guidance through that experience, meaning that while they can do it themselves it’s helpful to have someone guiding you, the support of learning how to apply it to other areas. .... The value proposition is get something novel, feel like you’re part of a community and continue to build on that foundation that you’ve established."

Frank Ong, chief medical and science officer at Everlywell, believes that his company's home order lab tests also have a value that starts with improving a user's self-understanding, but eventually helps to build skills.

"I think it’s all about the ownership of one’s health and one’s data," Ong said. "And from Everlywell’s perspective, it’s about turning this complex issue of laboratory testing, with all the different types of tests all the different values of traditional testing from your doctor’s office, to all the information in an easy to understand platform in the palm of your hand, whether it be your iPhone or your iPad, and knowing what those values mean and what you can do with that to better your health."

By testing more conveniently and more regularly, patients who are working on managing cholesterol levels or HbA1c levels can more easily figure out what lifestyle changes help them to stay in their ranges. They can create a behavior feedback loop that's hard to do when one has to go to the doctor every few weeks in order to get tested, Ong said.

He said the company is excited about working with consumer genetic companies like Helix to explore the biohacking potential lab and genetic testing have together.

"We will eventually be able to get to a holistic view of precision medicine, of personalized medicine by actually having not only the clinical test that you regularly go to the doctor for, doing that at home at your convenience, [but also] how you couple that with the genomic piece that will inform in terms of predisposition, whether for particular conditions, or even how your body reacts to certain medications," he said. "So I think the ultimate goal of biohacking is we’re able to provide a very holistic view of the patient from a genotypic and phenotypic perspective."

Biohacking Goes Mainstream will be on stage at Health 2.0 on September 17th at 1:50 p.m.

Health 2.0

The Santa Clara conference will showcase cutting-edge innovation transforming healthcare Sept. 16-18.