Beware: Silicon Valley Has the Medical Device Industry In its Sights

Silicon Valley is interested in developing medical devices and while it will redefine medtech, this might not be great news for traditional device makers.

If you don’t believe that companies from other industries want a piece of the healthcare pie, take a look at this slideshow of non-healthcare companies are innovating in healthcare.

But, more specifically, it looks like futurist Jim Carroll’s declaration that “Silicon Valley has the medical device industry” in its sights is indeed panning out. And while this is great for consumer and even providers, unless the device industry shapes up, they could be sidelined at some point in the future.

Mobihealthnews, and other media sites are reporting that Apple has hired a handful of medical device experts to work on the rumored iWatch wearable device as well as other unknown projects.

Here are the people that Apple has recently hired, according to Mobihealthnews:

Nancy Dougherty — Dougherty was the hardware lead at transdermal medication delivery startup Sano before taking the job at Apple. Before Sano she was a senior electrical engineer and key hardware designer of Proteus Digital Health’s Bluetooth-enabled, peel-and-stick vital signs monitoring patch. Dougherty spent more than two years at Proteus from October 2010 to late 2012.

Ravi Narasimhan — He served as the VP of research and development at health sensor company Vital Connect before recently joining Apple. In 2012 MobiHealthNews reported that Vital Connect inked a deal with SecuraTrac to develop a mobile personal emergency response (mPERS) offering called SecuraFone Health, which would detect falls, changes in heart and breathing rate and other vital signs, thanks to a sensor worn on the chest or back. He also holds dozen of patents related to health sensors.

Ueyn Block, the former Director of Optics & Systems Engineering at C8 MediSensors, joined Apple last year as a technical lead of optical sensing.

Todd Whitehurst, the former Vice President of Product Development at Senseonics, joined Apple as director of hardware development. Both Whitehurst and Block’s previous experience was in glucose sensing.

While Apple is a bit fuzzy on details about its interest in healthcare and medical devices, Google is a bit more transparent.

In a blog post, earlier this month, the search giant revealed that it is developing a smart contact lens that can tell diabetes patients about blood glucose levels thereby freeing them from the painful and inconvenient task of regular finger pricking. The Google(x) project will use a wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor embedded between two layers of soft contact lenses to measure glucose in tears.

The company has completed clinical trials and has a working prototype, albeit it needs refining. But Google says it is not going at it alone and is looking for partners.

Maybe that would include experts from the ophthalmic industry. Bausch & Lomb be aware of Google poaching employees.

But aside from the prospect of losing talented employees to Silicon Valley, the medical device industry could be faced with other problems with Silicon Valley’s interest in healthcare and devices, especially if these projects are successful.

All these tech companies not only understand the consumer better, they also create and to an extent control the mobile experience. And doctors have gravitated to mobile devices in droves in recent years.

If the likes of Apple, Google and others can tackle the cost conundrum in healthcare, the device industry will faced a triple threat from Silicon Valley.

Maybe it’s time for the device industry to do some poaching of its own to bring in new blood from outside the industry. Not to mention a wholesale rejiggering of how it conducts innovation.

— By Arundhati Parmar, Senior Editor, MD+DI