August 31, 2020 Read Advisory Board's take: Amazon spotlights Halo's interoperability, privacy

Amazon on Thursday announced its first wellness wearable: a wristband device called Halo, which the company says will help users track their exercise, body fat, and even their emotional state.

Halo's features

The Halo device doesn't have a screen, but it features LED lights—a design that's similar to some Fitbit trackers. According to Melissa Cha, VP of Halo, the device is meant to be worn all the time. It's water-resistant and shouldn't get caught on clothes or bedsheets, she said.

The device tracks a user's motion, heart rate, sleep, and skin temperature while they sleep. The device syncs with an app, which displays users sleep scores out of 100 and their baseline sleep temperatures.

Halo can also provide users with a 3D rendering of their body and an estimated body fat percentage, according to Amazon. In addition, Halo features a points system aimed at encouraging users to exercise. Users are given a baseline goal of 150 points each week, and they can receive different point values depending on the intensity of their exercise. Users also can lose points for remaining sedentary for a long time, aside from when they're sleeping.

Halo also features two microphones and comes with an optional feature called Tone, which listens to a user's tone of voice during the day and analyzes those tones to determine the user's emotional state. For example, Tone may determine that "a difficult work call leads to less positivity in communication with a customer's family," according to a release. Amazon said the device does not store its voice recordings within the company's cloud. The recordings are analyzed locally on the user's phone and deleted once they're processed, according to Amazon.

Halo also can be integrated into Cerner's EHR, meaning any Halo users who opt in can share their health data directly into their EHR if their providers use Cerner. Sharp Healthcare—which has plans to provide the device to some Sharp Health Plan members in October—is the first client of Cerner's to offer this feature, according to a release. Sharp said it eventually could offer the device to additional patients.

Further, Amazon said Halo users will be able to integrate data collected by the device with so-called "Halo Labs," or challenges focused on helping users reach specific goals, such as losing weight, lowering caffeine consumption, or sleeping better. Amazon is partnering with other organizations—including the American Heart Association, Headspace, Mayo Clinic, and WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) —on those challenges.

Amazon pledged that it will not use any of the health-related data Halo gathers to sell health products to users. Halo is currently available for $64.99, with a six-month membership to the device's app included at no cost, through an early access period that launched Thursday. That price eventually will increase to $99.99, and membership to the app will cost $3.99 per month after the first six months, CNBC reports.

Comments

Maulik Majmudar, a cardiologist and principal medical officer for Halo, said users can utilize Halo data to guide them towards healthier behaviors. "Lots of devices give you information, but very few give you actions you can take to help you improve your health," Majmudar said.

Cerner CEO Brent Shafer said Halo's integration of users' body fat measurements directly into their EHRs "provides physicians an actionable and previously hard to obtain health metric without the need for a doctor's visit or costly technology." Shafer added that he believes Cerner's partnership with Amazon "has the potential to improve the health of individuals and populations, reduce health care costs, and increase satisfaction for consumers and clinicians alike."

Michael Reagin, chief information and innovation officer at Sharp Healthcare, said connecting Halo to an EHR will give providers new ways to engage with their patients about their health.

"With more relevant information at their fingertips, our populations will be empowered to make more informed decisions about the health and well-being of themselves and the communities they serve," he said.

However, Modern Healthcare reports that's physicians "to date" have offered "mixed views on whether" data collected from wearables "is helpful, with some expressing concern they'll become overwhelmed with activity and sleep data that's often not actionable."

Amazon may be able to overcome that disconnect, though, if the company eventually integrates Halo into is broader health care business, according to Lisa Suennen, an investor who leads Manatt's venture capital fund and digital and technology businesses. "What they have that's interesting on top of [Halo] are these bigger pieces of the puzzle—medication management and delivery, primary care, and other things that can be used to complete the circle. While Apple and Google have some of these things, they don't have as broad a health care toolset as Amazon," Suennen said (Farr, CNBC, 8/27; Brodwin, STAT+ [subscription required], 8/27; Drees, Becker's Health IT, 8/27; Kim Cohen, Modern Healthcare, 8/27; Amazon/Halo release, accessed 8/28).

Advisory Board's take

Amazon spotlights Halo's interoperability, privacy

John League, Senior Consultant

Amazon's move into the wearable health care device market would be notable simply because Amazon is Amazon—one of a handful of gigantic companies shaping both consumer experience and technology. An Amazon wearable with merely basic functionality and features would have gotten attention simply because of its provenance. But Halo's introduction is also noteworthy for the way Amazon has highlighted two specific features:  

  1. Interoperability

    Amazon is positioning the Halo device not only as a way for consumers to more easily capture data about their everyday health, but also to connect that data to the decisions providers and plans make about their care. Specifically, the device offers integration of data with Cerner's suite of wellness apps and EHR. This feature aligns with consistent consumer interest in sharing their health data with appropriate stakeholders in their care. In fact, according to a recent Deloitte survey, more than 70% of consumers were willing to share data with both payers and local providers.

  2. Privacy

    That same Deloitte survey found that only 18% of consumers were willing to share their health care data with technology companies—and it seems as if Amazon has designed Halo to address some privacy concerns. For instance, all of the voice processing for the Halo is done on the consumer's phone and then deleted. Amazon does not collect or analyze that data. This move may be intended to head off comparisons to Amazon's home connectivity device, Echo, which responds to commands through the Alexa voice assistant. Alexa's potential for surveillance worries many industry observers, but Halo appears to take a more sensitive approach to consumer health care data.

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