October 2005

Healthcare isn’t working in this country and it’s getting worse. Costs are rising at 10 to 20 percent per year and as a nation, we’re actually getting sicker by most standards. At the rate we’re going, this will bankrupt all our major corporations, the bulk of the U.S. workforce and the federal and state governments in the next 10 to 20 years. Worse yet, this situation is the same in most of the first world - to say nothing of the dismal lack of health resources in developing countries.

This is conservatively a several-trillion-dollar problem looking for solutions. And while the current healthcare system is not set up to embrace the fundamental solution, the keystone solution to this global problem is to arm individuals with personal health tools so they can take a much more active and proactive role in managing their own health.

Fortunately there is an industry emerging in personalized healthcare and continuous, biometric monitoring to help indviduals do just this. Smaller, innovative companies — like my company, BodyMedia — are teaming up with established health and wellness companies around the world and leading the way to find solutions to these problems.

The future of healthcare can be seen in products like (but certainly not limited to) our wearable body monitors that give individuals information about their health and lifestyle that previously could only be monitored for short periods of time in a clinical setting. Armed with this information 24/7, indviduals and caregivers can now make more informed decisions on how adjustments to daily routines can promote healthier lifestyle and ultimately avoid the myriad of health problems that stem from unhealthy habits.

I’m often asked, “If healthcare is such a global issue, why is your company based in Pittsburgh?” On the surface, this is a good question. More than 50 percent of the $27 million BodyMedia has taken in investments has come from outside of Pennsylvania. All of our channel partners are based outside of Pennsylvania and virtually all of their customers to which they sell our products are outside of Pennsylvania. The reason BodyMedia has chosen Pittsburgh as its home lies not in access to capital, nor in access to market, but in access to expertise.

BodyMedia is a technology innovation company and the arena which we work is right at the intersection of a wide range of specialized technical domains. Most obvious perhaps is the life sciences, including physiology, biomedical sensing and medical devices. But BodyMedia is, if anything, more so focused on computer science, particularly machine learning, data mining and software engineering. The physical devices we make require us to have expertise in the full range of electrical engineering disciplines.

And our focus on making our products consumer-centric means that product design and interaction design expertise are equally critical to our success. While it is not widely acknowledged even in town, Pittsburgh is one of the few places in the country, indeed in the world, that has world-class people and institutions in all of these areas. Led by Carnegie Mellon and UPMC/Pitt (one of Bodymedia’s larger investors), this region has bred a workforce with a key set of skills for solving one of the world’s largest and most complex problems: the reinvention of health and wellness through health support technologies.

Pittsburgh is the civic equivalent of a small company fighting for attention and resources against companies many times its size. It needs to think like one by recognizing its strengths and playing to them. Pittsburgh can and should capitalize on its unique position in this emerging industry. By investing in and promoting health-related projects and organizations that combine these key intersecting domains of excellence, Pittsburgh can create a pre-eminent niche in this emerging market that it can come to be known for throughout the rest of the world.