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At CES, health gadgets gave me a detailed accounting of my flaws

At CES, health gadgets gave me a detailed accounting of my flaws

LAS VEGAS — I have 905 pores, 20 wrinkles, and a face that looks 13% fatigued, a smart mirror bluntly informed me this week at the Consumer Electronics Show.

My face is 3% dark spots and 10% rough, though I believe my bangs skewed the scan.

I have a “high” stress level, according to another smart mirror.


I’m only 39% stressed, though, according to my assessment inside a cushy, capsule-like chair with a pulse oximeter attached. “Not bad,” the screen inside the pod tells me, though it still recommends I start its therapy.

I scored 12 out of 100 on an exercise to get my brain to produce a certain kind of wave that would allegedly help me sleep better at night — a big F that is “totally normal on the first try,” I am reassured while wearing a headband tracking my lackluster neural activity.

On the second try, I got a 10.

CES health tech 2020
Not bad! Megan Thielking/STAT

After a few hours in the CES exhibit hall, I’m armed with a laundry list of my flaws and products that claim to fix them — but not necessarily make me any healthier. That tension underscores one of the biggest challenges facing digital health technologies these days: Which products can actually improve outcomes, and which are just flooding users with data?

There are, of course, countless cutting-edge technologies on display that have the potential to make a big impact on people’s health and wellness. There are fall detection sensors for seniors, brain stimulators to curb tremors, and devices that use artificial intelligence to improve hearing aids.

There are also consumer devices designed to help me do something I already do — like brush my teeth — a little bit better.

But there are also products that seemingly point out shortcomings that I didn’t know I had — and which won’t necessarily make me any healthier.

Megan Coder, executive director of the Digital Therapeutics Alliance, said that as the digital health technology field continues to grow, it’s critical that health tech companies and the people who use their products are on the same page.

“If you have something that’s going to tell you how many steps you walked, or how happy you may be, that’s very different than something that says, ‘I’m going to help you treat your depression,’ or ‘I’m going to move the needle on your pain or diabetes,’” Coder said.

“It’s really crucial that patients understand the purpose of the product they’re using and what expectations they have of the outcomes,” she added.

CES health tech 2020
A smartphone camera informed me it “might be time to meditate.” Megan Thielking/STAT

If the lines at CES are any indication, the conference attendees are highly drawn toward products that detail their health-related shortcomings — and give them a way to make their health habits a little bit better.

I waited in line for 25 minutes to have a smart toothbrush analyze my oral hygiene in public, shamefully setting my coffee on the counter and garbling responses as a representative pointed out my brushing pressure levels.

The app attached to the toothbrush awarded me a 76 out of 100, a score which I personally feel good about but which I’m not sure would impress my dentist.

There was an equally long line to have someone videotape me jogging — not a regular habit of mine — while clad in smart shoes. The analysis shows I hinge my elbows past 90 degrees, my less-than-ideal “arm carriage” on full display as a video of my time on a treadmill broadcasts on a big screen.

But the smart sneaker has good news: My ankles aren’t moving too much as I jog. I am an average amount of energy-efficient!

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