Let’s first illustrate what a bizarre time we live in: Apple started making face masks for their employees and a Slovenian cyclist won Tour de France last week (by the way, here’s a fascinating podcast with a physiologist and his coach).
Some equally interesting things are happening in the medical and wellness tech sphere. The term “wellness as a service” (or WaaS) came up in an article published by a UK doctor. I decided to look into it.
The name “wellness as a service” comes directly from tech and website apps and services. “Software as a service” or SaaS is a web-based service that charges users a monthly fee for using it. There are tons of examples as SaaS applications are experiencing a boom. My favourite examples are newsletter-sending apps such as ConvertKit or analytics apps such as Plausible. I’m biased towards those, but there are thousands for various purposes. This is not limited to specific areas, but SaaS is coming up in every industry, including healthcare.
Some even consider paid newsletters to be termed “Newsletter as a Service”…an example is obviously Medical Notes.✌️
WaaS is very similar, maybe even a subtype of SaaS. Users pay a monthly fee to access content and apps to improve their well-being and health. This is ever more possible with all the body trackers and smartwatches available today. With this data, an app gives us insight into how we perform and where and how to improve. Let’s dive into a few of these services and new kids on the block in the next couple of paragraphs.
I already wrote about Whoop in issue #26, but I’ll expand on it a little more. They’re a great example of WaaS because they only sell memberships, we can maybe say remote gym memberships. Their straps, which they use to track data about activity and sleep are free of charge. Everything else happens inside their app.
Everything is so integrated that it’s hard to grasp and explain how it works, but this shows how beneficial it may be.
All the data and content within Whoop’s app begins and ends with measuring heart rate variability (HRV), resting heart rate (RHR), sleep and respiratory rate. You can’t use the strap to track specific sports like you would in a Garmin watch. That’s why they collectively call this “strain”, a combination of the above-mentioned parameters. It’s true you can’t measure how you perform in specific sports, but there’s a kind of simplicity to this, which I like and welcome.
On the other side of the equation is recovery, which is once again measured by the strap during rest and sleep. Mostly using RHR and HRV. Based on this the app predicts how recovered you are and how much of it you need. This starts an endless cycle that recommends the amount of strain based on your recovery. For example, it estimates how much sleep you need in terms of quality, efficiency and consistency, compares it with your actual sleep and recommends your daily “strain”. Pretty cool for a simple strap.
The results are significant. Here’s the data:
Would I try it? Sure. Would I wear it long-term? It’s a bit expensive at $30/month. But it’s made more for professional rather than recreational athletes. That’s why it’s endorsed by LeBron James, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Thomas and Kate Courtney (all world-class athletes).
Apple also recently joined the bandwagon of WaaS. It’s a kind of trend they started showing when they first launched the iPhone Upgrade Program. Now they will start offering memberships for most of their services and sell bundles with music, fitness, TV, cloud storage, news and games…a money-making machine. Let’s focus on the Fitness+ part.
The idea of joint online workouts is not new. For example, Beachbody on Demand is one of the better known online services that let you be a part of a group of people that do workouts. You simply watch and do what they do. This is pretty much where it ends.
Fitness+ is very similar, but Apple takes advantage of having an end-to-end ecosystem of devices. It will be based on the Apple Watch, which tracks the data when working out and gives you real-time feedback. This is where the benefit and the difference lies - feedback. But of course, it’s only available on Apple devices and is launching in late 2020.
How about Garmin and the like?
In some regard, companies that sell products and offer their apps and analytics for free are also WaaS, but not in its true meaning. However, a couple are worth mentioning.
Garmin sell well-established fitness trackers and smartwatches to the masses and let them be their coach. It doesn’t offer a huge amount of analysed feedback and recommendations, or they’re less user-friendly and accessible (at least from my use). However, they’re moving more towards this with new sensors and features. Polar is better in this regard with their Polar Flow app.
A startup I mentioned in issue #16 is called Lue and they’re also somewhere in-between products and services. You can buy a year-long stash of test strips and colour cards to analyse your urine at home with their app, which is free. Where they differ from Garmin, is that they’re more focused on health than wellness. Plus, you eventually run out of test strips…so it’s basically a subscription.
“Wellness as a Service” is a super exciting topic for a doctor, patient or athlete (professional and recreational). The same probably goes for tech-geeks or those who follow the WaaS counterpart, namely SaaS. It’s a sector of digital medicine that’s on the rise. Whoop is a disruptor in the field but has a disadvantage because they lack big amounts of data. Garmin and Polar have this in excess, there’s only a question if they’ll follow the trend and adapt in due course.
Links to keep an eye on
Report: Not an academic paper this time (it’s in the next section), but a report on the digital trends in the time of COVID-19 by ORCHA. This is an organisation that promotes the adoption of health apps. In the report, they didn’t only focus on apps, but they also analysed which keywords people searched for. Here’s the PDF of the report and this is the overall conclusion:
We can see from the data across our App Libraries that some of the most popular search terms over the past quarter, have been healthy living (850% increase), healthy eating (385% increase), exercise (354% increase), weight (218% increase) and diabetes (168% increase). While others have also increased, including alcohol cessation, mindfulness, and sleep, these are the themes which have had the most notable increase, with significant numbers to back them up.
Article and paper: A Physician’s Visual Guide To Artificial Intelligence. “News headlines overuse the term to increase their audience engagement for the sake of sensationalism. It has thus become a tricky issue among physicians to separate the hype from the facts around A.I. in healthcare.” That’s the purpose of this article and I find it awesome. Simple, to the point and effective. There’s also an open-access paper in npj Digital Medicine on the same matter by the same author.
Company/product: MuscleSound is co-founded by that same physiologist I mentioned at the beginning, Iñigo San Millán (@doctorinigo on Twitter). They go one step further than the so-called WaaS since they pair a portable ultrasound with a cloud-based application. This allows athletes to assess their muscle fuel and measure their body composition, which in turn helps them in training, rehab and recovery.