CHPA Chat - Digital Health and the Future of Consumer Medical Devices

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Episode Summary

During the latest episode of CHPA Chat, we’re talking about the explosion in digital health! Join René Quashie, Vice President, Policy & Regulatory Affairs, Digital Health, Consumer Technology Association, and CHPA's Marcia D. Howard Ph.D., CAE, Vice President, Regulatory & Scientific Affairs, as they explore the realm of digital health — what it means for the self-care industry and what the future holds for this rapidly growing sector.



Episode Transcript

Anita Brikman: Coming up on this episode of CHPA Chat, we're talking about the explosion in digital health and what's coming down the pike. Not just the watch you may be wearing on your wrist right now, but technology that could enable healthcare, and very importantly self-care. And what that does for the consumer healthcare products industry. Stay tuned.

Speaker 2: Welcome to CHPA Chat, conversations in the consumer healthcare industry with Anita Brikman.

Anita Brikman: Your toothbrush. Yep, I just said your toothbrush and dental floss, tampons, adult incontinence pads, adhesive bandages, thermometers, face masks and at-home COVID testing kits. All right. What do all of these things have in common? They are all consumer medical devices, personal healthcare products you can buy and use directly without the need of a prescription and without the help of a physician.

But what about health apps on your phone, digital watches? I know I love mine. Or any of the many other devices that are capitalizing on the digital health revolution. Today, we're going to talk about digital health, what it means for the healthcare industry, and what the future holds for this rapidly growing sector.

My guests are René Quashie, Vice President for Policy and Regulatory Affairs in Digital Health at the Consumer Technology Association, CTA. And Dr. Marcia Howard, Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, my colleague here at CHPA. A warm welcome to you both, Rene and Marcia.

René Quashie: Thank you for having me.

Anita Brikman: All right. So let's talk about your association, Rene. How does CTA define digital health, and has it changed from when you first started down this path? And then more importantly, as we go through this trajectory, what do you see three to five year years from now?

René Quashie: Yeah, that's a great question. And for us, for our association, we have a broad definition of digital health. When we use the term, we really mean the use of technology and electronic communication tools, services, and processes to deliver healthcare services, or to facilitate better health. So it encompasses a whole slew of sort of products and solutions.

And I think what has changed is not so much the definition, but the other kinds of tools and services that come on come under the rubric of digital health. So I think if we were talking seven, eight, 10 years ago, and you had used the word digital health at that time, we used health e-health, you probably would've been referring to telehealth and maybe remote patient monitoring.

Today, you're not only talking about those two particular services and tools, but talking about artificial intelligence and machine learning tools. You're talking about digital therapeutics, you're talking about next-grade wearables, hearables, augmented reality, apps. And I could go on, and on, and on. So the definition hasn't changed, but we've got so many new developments that are part of the digital health ecosystem.

Now, in terms of what's going to occur over the next three to five years, that is very hard to say. A lot of, I think, what's going to impact digital health adoption for me is going to really depend on policy reimbursement and coverage policy in particular. And how much the healthcare ecosystem is able to integrate these technologies into current practice. I think that's sort of where we are really seeing some difficulties, in terms of the tech sector meeting the health sector.

So it's an interesting time. I am very hopeful about where we're going in the next three to five years, but I think there're going to be some pain points along the way.

Anita Brikman: So Marcia, I'm listening to Rene and some of the stuff he's describing, truly, to a novice like me, sounds like science fiction. But it's not. This is reality. But I'm wondering how does CHPA fit into this, into this new world of digital health, and how does it intersect with the consumer healthcare products that we know traditionally?

Marcia Howard: Well, after about a two-year pilot program, a few years ago, CHPA officially moved to represent our members who have self-care products that fit into the consumer medical device space. So we consider those to be devices that can be purchased over-the-counter. They are purchased alongside OTC medicines and dietary supplements.

And it made perfectly good sense for the association to move into this space because when consumers are shopping, they're buying their toothbrush, or they're buying their pain reliever, and they're multivitamin mineral supplement, and their digital health thermometer all in that same shopping experience. They're not thinking about whether they just purchase a drug, or a dietary supplement, or a medical device that's regulated by FDA. They just think they're buying products to take care of their self-care.

And so for us, it only made sense to continue our representation in that area. And the pandemic has actually exposed how important self-care is. If you think about the use of the digital thermometer, everyone is looking for whether or not they have a fever due to COVID or the flu, the OTC pulse oximeter. And of course, now everyone's looking for an in-house or in-home OTC COVID test kit. So those things are all part of the self-care spectrum, and so it only makes sense for us to move into that space.

Anita Brikman: It certainly does. Let's look at both of these organizations. Rene, where is there synergy between the interests of CHPA members who have OTC devices like what Marcia just talked about, pregnancy tests, toothbrushes, et cetera, the things you might find in any shopping experience. How does that intersect with CTA members who not only have these same devices, but could be tech firms, have things that are further along in the digital health trajectory? Where is the synergy?

René Quashie: I think all of it is part of the same big pot of stew, right? I think healthcare is complicated. I think there are various aspects of healthcare and health, and we're all trying to address various parts of the problem, right? Access, chronic disease management, consumers being empowered to manage their own health, health inequities. And so I think every organization stakeholder group has a role to play in this sort of very complex, huge ecosystem. So to me, the synergies are natural, right?

And I think one of the problems that I see in healthcare and one of the real problems in healthcare and why we are having so many issues, so many outcomes that are not favorable, particularly when you compare it to the healthcare sphere in the United States, is there's a lot of segmentation in the healthcare ecosystem. There are a lot of silos, people doing discrete activities and not really being part of a coherent whole. And I think that's where the problem lies.

So to me, this is a continuum. The more players, the better, particularly if they have expertise in particular areas so long as we're all talking to each other, we're all communicating, and we're all ensuring that we're playing our role in this sort of bigger ecosystem.

Anita Brikman: So Marcia, you really are leading this effort for CHPA. What are the areas of focus right now for our members, because I'm not as familiar with those as I am, honestly, with OTCs and dietary supplements. So this is new for me, as well.

Marcia Howard: Well, that's a great question, Anita. So in 2021, we actually embarked upon an arrangement with PA Consulting to help CHPA develop our first digital health strategic plan. We see this plan as setting the foundation for the work that CHPA members and staff will do in the area of digital health. And we are currently working with PA Consulting to help develop position statements around five different thematic areas.

So we're going to be looking at what CHPA should be focusing on related to real world evidence. Looking at how to engage with consumers as far as communicating with them at the retail level, packaging, innovation, device technologies, such as the companion apps, the wearables, the digital diagnostics and such. And then finally the one of probably the most important one, because it covers all digital health platforms, is the data privacy and security issue, and making sure that we understand what that means for self-care products and operating in the digital space.

Anita Brikman: Privacy is a huge buzzword right now as we go into this. Renee, I'm also thinking about what you said earlier about telemedicine. Now, clearly that has also seen a huge growth during the pandemic. Doctors that I would never have been able to see, or healthcare providers are now available to me via Zoom or some secure link.

But what about rural or underserved communities where internet access isn't as prevalent as we would like? Clearly, technology helps move society forward, but could we be unintentionally exacerbating healthcare divides in those communities as we become more reliant on technology? I know many people have that smartphone and rely upon it, but really strong internet access and the computer system to access telehealth, etcetera. What do you think about the disparities that come with that whole picture?

René Quashie: Yeah, it's a great question. And we actually looked at the issue very closely. Right in the middle of the pandemic we created a huge coalition that we call the Health Equity and Access Leadership Coalition, or HEAL Coalition, with the Connected Health and Initiative. We brought together about almost 40 organizations to look at these very issues.

We've got tremendous potential of technology to transform our healthcare system, but we also have a significant portion of the population that may not have access to those particular technologies. And broadband is certainly a big issue. So it's not only access to broadband, but access to affordable broadband. We've all seen how broadband bills at the end of the month, so even if you have access to broadband some people may not be able to even afford the monthly fees that are associated with it. So that's one issue.

I think the federal government in the last year in particular has made great strides in trying to address the short gap, particularly for rural communities when it comes to broadband. So I think we're on our way to at least addressing the issue in a meaningful way, but there are two other issues I'd like to bring up in addition to broadband that I think affect the kind of disparities that your question raises.

One is what we call digital health literacy. So even if you have a smartphone, assuming you have access to broadband, you still have to be able to use the technology in a way that's meaningful. You need to be able to use the technology to get the information you need to manage your own health, and you need to understand the information that's being conveyed. And I think that part of it sometimes is missing. So one of the things the HEAL Coalition did is we produced this white paper. And one of the things we address is digital health literacy and ways in which we can address that because along with broadband, we think that's a particularly important issue if we really want to address inequities in a meaningful way.

And the third thing I'll bring up is sort of this huge sort of rubric that I'll call trust. There are communities in this country for whole hosts of reasons who don't trust the healthcare system, who are not engaged with the healthcare system, who need to be engaged with the healthcare system. Part of it is the privacy issue that was raised earlier, but there are other issues as well. And until we understand that piece, I think we're not going to be able to really have technology realize it's potential to address a lot of the incredibly complex healthcare problems that exist in very many underserved communities.

Anita Brikman: Excellent points. Okay, Marcia. Now I'm going to switch gears to the CES trade show, mega trade show in Las Vegas. I wanted to go. One of us got to go one of us didn't, I'm just saying. But no, in all seriousness, what did you see there and what did you bring back to CHPA from that trade show that is really on the cutting edge of technology?

Marcia Howard: Right? And I have to tip my hats to CTA for being able but to host such a large event and doing it in, I won't say in the middle of a pandemic, hopefully on the tail end of a pandemic, and doing it in such an excellent way.

So my first time attending CES was in January 2020, and a lot of the talk there was about health in the home. And of course this is pre-pandemic times. I think it was a couple of months before the world went into to lockdown mode. And so if we fast forward to January 2022, I'm sitting in the audience and in several other sessions, I heard "hospital in the home."

And so if you think about self-care, I wanted to see are we limiting our thoughts to what we think as traditional self-care products, so maybe the digital diagnostic test kit or the thermometer that we talked about. We know they have EKGs that can now be used with the smartphone, but in thinking about the hospital in the home, are there other areas for innovation that maybe pre-pandemic we hadn't considered being appropriate for consumers to manage in their home that might be areas of opportunity and innovation that our membership may be thinking about as they're developing their long range, digital health and their overall R&D program.

So for me, that was the biggest takeaway is to not think small, but to maybe think bigger than just the traditional way of incremental developments in health.

Anita Brikman: So let's really push the envelope about what's possible. Rene, I understand that one of the CEES speakers mentioned using door sensors to tell if there's movement for seniors who live alone, which might offer reassurance to a caregiver or family member who isn't there. Were there other insights from the automotive or gaming industry, using virtual reality? I mean, as I mentioned at the beginning, some of this is mind blowing, but it's here, it's happening. What can our members in consumer healthcare products learn from these advances?

René Quashie: Yeah, that's a great question. There was so much mind blowing technology that I saw. And just to touch on a few, one of them was the so-called digital twin, which is technology that believe it or not allows us to create a virtual representation of a physical object or system. And what this is being used for, potentially could be used for, is really expand our capacity to do research, expand our capacity to really make personalized medicine much more sophisticated, to be used for hospital management.

And there were several companies there that had digital twin solutions that really were mind blowing. And you could see how that could impact the healthcare system in ways that I talked about. And then there's all the sort of the sensor technology, which it's being used in cars, in electric vehicles, in drones, and other places that are now being brought to bear in the healthcare system.

René Quashie: And one particular sensor that I saw was one that could be placed under a mattress. And it's able to collect data overnight about breathing patterns, heart rate, body movements and positioning, and flag things like heart instability. I saw the demonstration and it was quite the demonstration because if you were to think back five, eight years ago, you wouldn't even have thought these kinds of things were possible.

And the next thing I saw, and this one is particularly healthcare related, is sort of what I would call the next gen wearables, where we're taking wearables that used to be crude and only kind of used for fitness purposes, but now they're being used in a very sophisticated ways. So one of the companies there had developed this disposable, wearable device that actually just sticks to your skin like a bandaid. And it's has the ability to record information like temperature, and respiratory rate, and body position.

So think about all the wonderful things technology is able to do in the demonstration at CEES was incredible. Having said all that, I think one of the things we need to be cognizant of is how is all of that technology going to be integrated into the existing healthcare system? That's where I think the rubber's going to meet the road.

Anita Brikman: Wow. I'm certainly blown away. So taking us back before we wrap this episode up from what's happening in the future and what's possible, to right now. What is your favorite digital health assist device? What are you obsessed with in the digital space? Marcia, go.

Marcia Howard: Oh, Anita, you know I'm not a technology person. I'm one of the late or no adopters. So I guess for me, my latest is I actually bought a new iPhone. So I guess that's got to be my latest digital technology.

Anita Brikman: What, what level are you at now? iPhone what?

Marcia Howard: I just moved up to the iPhone 13 from my iPhone 7. So I am now in the 21st century, as my friends tell me.

Anita Brikman: That's excellent. I actually have one, too, and the picture quality is blowing me away. The photos that you can take with this phone. It's rather large, I know, but I absolutely love it. Renee, what about you?

René Quashie: I obsessed with these ring wearables. I didn't know if you guys have seen theses?

Anita Brikman: Yes.

René Quashie: They're phenomenal. You put them on, they're like a piece of jewelry. Some of them are incredibly well designed, and they're great, particularly for sleep purposes and the ability to monitor your sleep, heart rate, and other things as well. But it sort of jewelry technology, and beautifully designed but also incredibly useful and productive in helping consumers manage their health. So that's my latest obsession.

Anita Brikman: I'm still with my Apple Watch, which reminds me when I'm not moving enough because I've been working for CHPA all day, and it tells me to get up and start moving around. But I have seen that jewelry and wow, it is amazing.

Anita Brikman: Marcia, Rene, thank you for this insightful episode of what's happening in digital health and why it matters in such a big way to CHPA members. Thank you for joining us on CHPA Chat.

Speaker 2: Thank you for joining us here at CHPA Chat. For more information and to hear our entire catalog of shows, please visit


Marcia Howard Headshot
Vice President, Regulatory & Scientific Affairs
René Quashie Headshot in grey suit
René Quashie
Vice President, Policy & Regulatory Affairs, Digital Health, Consumer Technology Association

The views expressed in this podcast are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.

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