Clutch spoke with Sean Mehra, Head of Product at HealthTap, as part of a series of interviews about wearable technology.
Learn more about HealthTap at Healthtap.com.
Could you describe your company and your role there?
I am the Head of Product at HealthTap.
HealthTap is a platform for consumers to get end-to-end virtual care. What this means is that HealthTap is both the first and last place to manage your health. There are three main components to the HealthTap platform.
1. Information Module
The first component is the information module, which entails learning about what you have. HealthTap has the world’s largest repository of doctor-created and -curated content. Today, on HealthTap, you can ask any health question and get an answer from a doctor. We have over 72,000 U.S. doctors on HealthTap. To date, we've served more than 3.5 billion answers to more than a 100 million people.
When users receive an answer, they get an opportunity to thank the doctor, which is a huge motivating factor for the doctors to keep participating. We’ve received almost 22,000 thank-you notes from our users to our doctors, saying thank you for saving my life or the life of a loved one.
These actions really support our mission, which is measurably to prolong the life expectancy of humankind and to help billions of people worldwide live happier, healthier, longer lives.
Doctors are creating answers, giving tips, ranking and reviewing apps in the fitness and medical space, and sharing news, all to provide trustworthy information to the users because we all know how confusing and worrying it can be to try to self-diagnose through a search engine or some random health reference website.
The second component is the consultation piece. HealthTap can help you learn what you need to know, but sometimes you need to speak with a doctor to get advice, prescriptions, and treatments and be told specifically what you need to do.
HealthTap has several services:
- HealthTap Prime - You can get 24-7 immediate access to a primary care doctor by video, voice, or text chat.
- HealthTap Concierge - You can connect with your doctor or find a specialist across 137 specialties.
3. Take action
The third piece of the HealthTap platform is taking action. We give you the information you need to know, and we get you help by allowing you to consult a doctor. Now, it’s time for you to take action.
Instead of the long, scribbled doctor's note, our doctors create easy-to-understand SOAP [Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan] notes that are short, actionable checklists. We then send you notifications to remind you to take action as per your doctor's recommendations.
Could you describe HealthTap’s wearable application?
Wearables were a new form factor, and, as a thought leader, HealthTap felt responsible for contributing to how these new devices would fit into the use cases for managing health. There’s always an early-mover advantage to be on a platform sooner rather than later, in order to have more time to figure the platforms out and really get it right.
We were privileged to be one of the few developers invited by Apple and Google to start experimenting and developing our apps before the devices were released.
Doctor Tips - Physicians are creating tips to address more than 350 health goals: from managing a condition, to living healthier, to parenting and pregnancies, to aging gracefully, you name it. Tips are perfect, bite-sized pieces of information that you may not solicit but can help you make better decisions during your day or your life in general.
Voice-controlled Health Search - We’ve made a voice-controlled health search, where you can speak your question into your wrist, tap into the wisdom of 72,000 doctors, pull from our database of millions of answers, and immediately have the watch return a personalized health answer based on questions doctors have already answered that are similar to yours.
That’s pretty cool, because imagine the busy soccer mom juggling kids and groceries, and the kid starts crying. She's looking for her phone, but by glancing at her wrist, she can figure out what’s going on quickly and ask what doctors think about the child’s symptoms.
What business challenge or opportunity were you trying to address with the development of a wearable application?
In healthcare, one of the biggest problems is people not complying with the doctor’s advice. Usually, you get this two-page discharge note with the instructions in med-speak. Patients usually throw them out: they don’t read them or pay attention to them.
On HealthTap, doctors distill their plans in very short, actionable checklists that HealthTap supplements with automated reminders to make sure that the things you need to do to feel better, stay on top of your mind.
Benefits of Wearables
One of the specific use cases that was very compelling to us was the fact that the watch and these wearables are built for very quick, short interactions. The other thing that’s to their advantage is that they are touching your skin. While it may be very easy to ignore a buzzing phone that’s separated from your thigh by cotton in your pocket, it’s very hard to do that with a buzzing metal watch touching your wrist.
Now, why does this matter? It really helps in the case of notifications and reminders. Notifications become much harder to ignore when they’re tactile, and they’re touching your skin. When it comes to that last piece about engagement and compliance – saying, ‘Hey, did you remember to take your medication yet?’ or ‘Did you go for your run this morning that the doctor told you to do?’ or ‘You’re about to go to bed: remember to avoid eating spicy food’ – all of these things are incredibly valuable, timely pieces of information for you to be getting, and they are much more conducive to being displayed on the wrist, without you having to take your phone out of your pocket.
Unique Role and Responsibility in Wearables Space
HealthTap, as a company in the health space, actually has a very unique opportunity and position with wearables. We were one of the first health app developers who were invited to create apps for Android Wear, Apple Watch, and a few others that we haven’t announced to the market yet but are up-and-coming. These were fantastic opportunities to be first-movers and really understand, very quickly, new technology paradigms that consumers are going to be using.
HealthTap, at the end of the day, is a health platform. It’s a consumer-facing, one-stop shop for managing your health.
One of the things it provides is all of the ingredients needed to give wearables meaning. What do I mean by that? Well, the biggest challenge facing wearables today, and app developers who make apps for wearables, is retention and meaning. You buy a wearable, it collects all these biometrics about you, and it’s really cool; it’s sexy. You wear it for two or three months and look at your graph: ‘Oh, that’s so cool. I can see how many calories I’m burning or what my heart-rate is.’ But, after two or three months, you stop caring because you suddenly realize the novelty is gone, and the data has no meaning.
So what if my sleep quality graph looks like this jagged graph? How does this inform what I do? App developers in wearables are fairly limited, partially by FDA regulation, but also by the fact that a lot of the medicine around this stuff is an art, not a science, and it can’t be programmed by a computer algorithm. So where can the data start becoming useful?
At HealthTap we joke that while there’s some people working on AI [Artificial Intelligence], and of course we’re doing some AI work as well, we’re really specialized in AAI, which is artificial Artificial Intelligence, which at the end of the day is just a human being.
There are doctors in our network, 72,000 of them, who have gone through sometimes 20 or 30 years of schooling, just to know what they know and practice this knowledge in clinical settings. When they look at data about your health, they can tell you how that informs your treatment or how that explains your symptoms. All of a sudden, the data becomes useful.
Now, for the first time ever, you can bring your wearables data into HealthTap, where we’re already keeping track of what we call your Health Graph – your patient health records – as well as the data points collected through your use of HealthTap, and we present your Health Graph and health record to the doctor at the time of a virtual consult.
All of a sudden, the data becomes useful because the doctor can tell you, ‘Hey, because your graph looks like this, I think this is the treatment that you should be taking on,' or, ‘Your symptoms are flaring up again because it seems like you haven’t been doing this thing that these wearables are telling me and tracking.’
This capability is really cool for a couple of reasons. All the niche wearable apps are collecting different aspects about us. I have a calorie counter and a glucose monitor, and they’re sitting on my phone. When I go to the doctor’s office, I’m not going to take my phone out and say, ‘Hey doc, I know we have seven minutes to speak, but let me show you six apps on my phone. Tell me what they mean.’ No one is going to do that.
On HealthTap, you’re getting virtual care. You’re on a digital medium, so the doctor is looking at your patient chart anyway. HealthTap is automatically connected to wearables and third-party developer apps. All of a sudden, these graphs and data points are being shown to the doctor in a specific context. It’s valuable to the consumer and to the doctor, so that’s pretty incredible.
HealthTap already is integrated with Apple HealthKit and Google Fit, and soon it will be integrated with Samsung S Health as well. It already started aggregating third-party data points about you through these apps. Because of this role as the aggregator of data, HealthTap enables doctors to do cross-data analysis. We call it baking data cakes. This means you can take different data ingredients and create something new out of it.
For example, if a single metric that you’re measuring – let’s say your heart rate – goes up and down naturally throughout the day, it doesn’t provide any meaning to you or the doctor. But, if you are tracking your heart rate in the context of your activity, all of a sudden, a doctor can see that your heart rate increases a lot, even while you’re sedentary. This suddenly becomes meaningful because an elevated heart rate on a jog or run is natural and expected. But, if your heart rate increases every time you go to sleep at night, when you’re just lying down, it could be a sign of bigger issues.
Because we can present multiple data points across multiple data sources and situate them contextually in front of someone who can interpret their meaning, we will see a big change in the way medicine is practiced and in the value wearables create for people.
Could you describe the process of developing HealthTap’s wearable application?
The development process is unique to us because we were developing it pre-market, so this was before the platforms had official documentation and support. As platforms mature, so do the documentation and developer support, so it gets easier and easier to create turnkey applications.
Despite the fact that we were developing pre-market, because we had hands-on collaboration with the device makers, we were able to partner with them to crank out some pretty compelling use cases and applications fairly quickly, in an order of weeks.
Duration and Timeline
Obviously the planning, specing, designing, and process of thinking through use cases took some time that goes beyond a few weeks. But, we do this sort of stuff in the background all the time as a technology company: talking to users, understanding their needs, and mocking prototypes.
Watches were something that was on our roadmap for months, if not years, and, when it came down to getting started on the project, we were able to turn around some pretty great apps in an order of weeks, with a couple of engineers and one or two designers. That’s really all you need – one developer and one designer – to make it happen. I think that it’s going to continue to get easier and easier to do, as the watch OS on both Android and iOS get more mature.
In-house v. External Development
HealthTap is a technology company, so we have the majority of our company being engineers and the next biggest group being product designers. I would compare the DNA of our team to Facebook or Google, which don’t outsource anything but rather just build the technology in-house.
What challenges did you face during the project’s rollout, and what steps did you take to overcome these challenges?
Given the timing of our involvement with the development process, our challenges may be unique. We were developing for devices pre-market, when the documentation support was thin and the devices were unavailable for testing prototypes. Essentially, we were developing for something we couldn’t even touch or hold.
Developing Pre-market - One of our obvious key challenges was developing a product on a simulator and having no clue how it was going to work on the actual device. The devices are released to you last minute, right before they go into the market, which leaves you with very little time to say, ‘Oh crap, it doesn’t work like it does in the simulator.’ You can only simulate so much. When it actually comes to how it’s going to look and feel on a tiny screen and not on your computer monitor or how hard or easy it’s going to be to touch or tap certain buttons – usability stuff – you only can see these outcomes on the actual hardware.
Ensure Quick, Flexible Use Cases - I think another challenge, from a product design standpoint, is making sure whatever use cases you enable are really use cases that can be completed within seconds. Smartwatches are not information consumption devices but rather quick data point consumption devices. It’s like, ‘What’s the weather? How are my stocks doing?’ instead of, ‘Let me go read my eBook right now.’
What was your marketing strategy surrounding the release of HealthTap’s wearable apps?
In terms of marketing our apps, we already have a large user base of millions of people to whom we were able to promote our new watch apps and encourage adoption of the watch.
We had a huge presence in the media and the press through some press releases, which informed people of the novelty of what we were doing and how it’s different from all other wearable apps.
In what ways did your initial conceptualization of the application change throughout the development process?
Our original conceptualization had to be simplified for a couple of reasons:
- You have a small screen, so you can’t fit that much on it.
- It has a tiny CPU [central processing unit], so it can’t do too many complex tasks yet. It will eventually, but right now, the interactions need to be simple.
- The Internet connection on the devices is not 100 percent foolproof, so you have to make sure it is following simple commands.
- The use cases for smartwatches allow for only one task at a time.
Overall, it evolved because we had an initial vision for all the things our wearable app would do – we were dreaming large – but when it came to the actual device, you had to cut back on a lot of functionalities: simplify, simplify, simplify.
What lessons did you learn, and where are you going next?
I think wearables are still in their infancy in what they can do. That was true even in the first versions of the Android operating system and the iPhone. These devices didn’t have simple functions, like copy-paste, even though this feature seems so obvious to include now.
I think wearables are in a similar stage in their lifecycle. There’s a ways to go for the watches and wearables to improve their performance, battery life, and sensor capabilities.
If you talk to a bunch of doctors, they’ll tell you that clinical relevance of the data these sensors track is little to none. The kinds of things that they’re tracking aren’t always entirely useful when informing a treatment plan. Getting these devices to start tracking things that would be more helpful for doctors, rather than just general lifestyle and movement metrics, would be beneficial. Taking this step will increase these devices’ utility.
Regarding the future of HealthTap with wearables – HealthTap is responsible for creating the ecosystem, or platform, that brings together the data infrastructure, the mass of consumers, and the mass of doctors, all in one place, with the core interaction being the exchange of care and information.
Future of Wearables
What role do you see wearable technology playing in the next 6-12 months?
It’s so early, and right now, the wearables are doing nothing more than proving that they’re possible and inspiring the world of manufacturers and software developers to think about what the future holds for humanity.
As of today, wearables provide a lot of functionality, but they’re just scratching the surface of what they’re going to be able to do for us, whether that’s being in tune with the chemicals in our blood, knowing our mood, sending alerts, or connecting to our Internet of Things. Whatever it is, there’s so much that wearables have yet to touch on.
In the next six to 12 months, I think their main role will be inspiration. They will compell a new generation of entrepreneurs and investors to say, ‘There’s something here that we need to continue investing in and creating.’ They aren’t there yet, but they will be, and it’s going to change the world.