Connected health devices and personalized RPM programs play a key role in today’s at-home and inpatient health spectrum of care by increasingly improving personalized chronic disease management and population health outcomes. In a candid conversation with Antoine Pivron, Head of Health Solutions EMEA of Withings, one of the global leaders in at-home connected health, we talked about the company’s footprint in RPM space, dived into their business model transformation and some very interesting B2B partnerships and use cases that highlight how company’s connected health devices are being used by Pharma and Health Insurers to reduce chronic illnesses and improve health outcomes, as well as we looked at market trends.
Worldwide hundreds of millions of patients use connected health devices to receive personalized care from the comfort of their own homes. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) technology allows for continuous collection and analysis of patients’ data, such as vital signs, symptoms, medication adherence, and biomarkers, which can be used to not only create tailored care plans, but also modify them accordingly in real-time. The need for emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and in-person visits is significantly decreased and healthcare costs reduced. Hence, RPM programs have become popular among health insurers due to their potential to improve chronic disease management and population health outcomes.
RPM plays an important role for pharmaceutical companies too as it can improve patient engagement and disease management, provide valuable data for clinical trials, present real-world data for drug development and post-market observation.
Smart devices also help people to take a more proactive approach to their health, provide reminders, for example, to take medication or engage in healthy behaviors and overall facilitate better communication between patients and healthcare providers.
Today, various healthcare stakeholders revamp or expand their digital service offerings via partnerships with digital health innovators.
According to R2G’s latest whitepaper “Partnerships in Digital Health 2023” based on views and insights of 790 digital health decision-makers across the globe Partnering (55%) is the most preferred approach for managing digital health activities by healthcare corporates. 44% of healthcare partnerships in the digital health industry are focused on Telehealth and Telemedicine, 40% on RPM, and 39% on Data Analytics and AI services. (To get your free copy click here)
What makes a successful partnership? When acquisition is the preferred form of partnership? And how can a company ensure its commercial success?
Recently, we talked with Antoine Pivron, Head of Health Solutions EMEA of Withings, about the role the company plays in the connected health space, their notable product lineup including U-Scan, the first hands-free home urine lab, Withings’s value proposition to different healthcare stakeholders and their partnership success factors, as well as their engagement and retention strategy and future plans.
Enjoy the interview!
Research2Guidance: Can you briefly introduce Withings
Antoine Pivron: Withings is a French, Paris – based company that has revolutionized connected health by launching the world’s first Wi-Fi scales in 2009.
The company was founded in 2008 and since then it has built an award-winning ecosystem of connected clinically validated smart health devices and apps that empower people to make the right decisions for their health.
Our team makes a range of elegantly designed smart scales – connected health stations, sleep tracking mat and activity trackers to help one achieve, for example, fitness and weight goals.
Withings ScanWatch is the world’s first analog watch with built-in electrocardiogram technology.
For our B2B clients we have medically accurate devices for easy and effective blood pressure, temperature monitoring, etc. The devices sync automatically with our free Withings app, where one can track progress from the comfort of their home, get advice, and share data with their doctors.
Withings is a global company with a subsidiary in Boston for the American market and two offices in Hong Kong and Shenzhen for the production part.
Research2Guidance: Very impressive product lineup. What is your business model?
Antoine Pivron: The first decade of our business model was only B2C. You could purchase a device and connect it to our app Withings, and you get a digital companion that motivates you to build better habits to master your long-term wellness goals.
Four years ago, we realized that there are more and more demands from the medical world. Different medical teams, research institutes and universities, health insurance companies, and remote patient monitoring programs were contacting us. To address this important target group, we built the Withings Health Solution business unit.
Today, all our devices are available to the public, but we also work on a more medical approach to address the needs of the B2B market and ultimately include our connected devices to remote patient programs. We have acquired companies, such as 8fit, a German company, that offers customized workouts, recipes, and meditation sessions via an app to develop additional services with our devices. We also acquired Impeto Medical, inventor of early detection and follow-up of autonomic neuropathy technology, to use it in our existing products.
At present our business model is both direct to consumers with products and services and B2B.
Research2Guidance: Your last innovative product U-Scan, the first hands-free home urine lab, has taken the digital health space by storm. What makes it so special?
Antoine Pivron: We announced U-Scan at the CES 2023 in January and indeed, it became a huge hit. It is designed to provide an immediate snapshot of the body’s balance by monitoring and detecting a large variety of biomarkers found in urine while also offering actionable advice for health improvements. This product is the result of 4 years of research and development and we had to bring a lot of new competencies as well as clinical processes to invent the first hands-free home urine lab and the world’s first urinalysis device that you can use in an autonomous way.
Just 90 mm in diameter, this home health lab sits within any toilet bowl. What makes it so special is that U-Scan is designed to be a versatile platform consisting of a technologically advanced pebble-shaped reader and changeable analysis cartridges designed to assess specific biomarkers without the need for external sample capture or strips. Then, with seamless sync to our Withings app, it will provide a wealth of actionable insights based on daily readings and all from the comfort of your home. Worth noting, the user can switch different cartridges to analyze specific biomarkers.
Our device has already been recognized by the Consumer Technology Association as a CES 2023 Innovation Award honoree in three categories: Smart Home, Fitness & Sports, and Digital Health and our team is very proud of that.
Research2Guidance: It sounds like a game-changer in home health especially since it can distinguish between various users and perform personalized daily analyses. How will you ensure your commercial success?
Antoine Pivron: At Withings, our strategy is to always release the direct-to-consumer version first, so we can learn a lot from our millions of users and loyal customers around the world. Their feedback is very valuable to us.
The common KPI for the whole company is the retention rate of our users, so we actively engage with them, we listen to them, and we act, and this helps us to be the pioneer in connected health.
The first version of U-Scan will debut in Europe by end of the year with two consumer health cartridges: U-Scan Cycle Sync for women’s monthly cycle tracking and syncing and U-Scan Nutri Balance, a detailed metabolic guide to hydration and nutrition.
The beauty of this game-changing device is that it can be adapted to a lot of different use cases, for instance: if one does a lot of sports and needs a better recovery, if one wants to lose weight, and even in a medical setting for a diabetic person. We are currently working on CE marking and FDA clearance to deliver a medical version.
When it comes to the B2B market, we have designed a specific cartridge U-Scan For Professionals. This cartridge is thought for professionals who need a tailored solution with specific biomarkers. We’ve received a lot of requests from a variety of healthcare stakeholders, such as pharmaceutical groups, and research institutes around the world wanting to learn more about the device. The discussions allow us also to learn from them which biomarkers are the most important to detect, and which are contained within the urine to be able to better manage a specific disease or chronic treatment and be used in a prevention program.
Research2Guidance: What is the price of U-Scan?
Antoine Pivron: Today, the price is roughly around 500 EUR. It includes the device and cartridges that need to be changed 4 times a year. One can have a subscription which will cost 30 EUR per month. Of course, the price can change.
Research2Guidance: Having roots in Europe makes it a unique place to first launch your devices. Are you planning to have a different market entry approach for other continents?
Antoine Pivron: We always launch first our devices in Europe as this is our historical market. We usually receive CE Mark class IIa (for our previous products/devices) and then we get FDA clearance.
In Europe, we have built a very good ecosystem with key players and honourable experts in the medical field, especially in France, with whom we want to interact with and learn from their opinions about our devices, get feedback on the user experience, conduct clinical trials, and get certifications. In France, for example, the best hospitals in the country are not that far from our headquarters in Paris, this helps us a lot to have a relationship with their medical teams and to get medical /technical feedback.
We naturally focus on Europe as with CE Mark, we get access to European markets.
The B2B medical device market is different from B2C and it is a matter of quite an investment to release a medical device. Also, the requirements and certifications to get access to a particular market could be quite different, as well as people’s mindsets.
Having said that, it should be clear that the US is our biggest market because of the health system and because of the size of the market itself.
At the end of the day, we constantly assess the different markets (Europe, US, and rest of the world) to adapt our roadmap and see what we can achieve in the short term (next year) and in the long term (next 3-4 years).
Research2Guidance: You have different interesting partnerships, for example, with Medable, provider for patient-centered clinical trials or with Heartbeat Health, where your premium-app users can get their readings evaluated by a real cardiologist from the company. In your opinion what makes a successful partnership? Can you share use cases that showcase the depth of your partnerships?
Antoine Pivron: Four years ago, we looked at the pharmaceutical industry, their business model, and the market’s needs to better understand how we could partner with these global market players and what we could offer them. So, we decided to focus on the decentralized clinical trials as the demand is very clear – there is a timeline, specific data points that need to be tracked, and this is exactly what we needed to move forward and have projects that can become life.
At the same time, we realized that there are companies that address this huge and very specific market. One of these companies is Medable, and we partnered with them with the idea to have the best solution on the market to
For this partnership to be successful, we created a software development kit, so the participants get the Withings user-experience (right tools/devices) through the Medable app. This offered a nice experience to the patients, as there was one app with everything that is needed for this clinical trial and the right data could be collected with ease.
The user experience is at the core of everything we do. We collaborated a lot both with Medable and with the Sponsor to understand what their expectations are and how we can answer them, and the software development kit was one of the answers to this.
Our business also varies depending on the geography. Health insurance space is an interesting example. For example, in the UK and Switzerland, we partner with insurers, and we provide easy access to our connected devices to their members so they can get rewards when they show on a consistent basis good habits. In France, for instance, the insurer has no right to get access to the insuree’s data. It is a very different mindset and so our approach is different.
We also partner with insurance companies on different use cases, be it some prevention programs for their members or tailored programs to manage a particular chronic condition that the insurer wants to address through our devices and app features. Today, insurers still haven’t found a way to evaluate how much they will save if they have certain prevention programs, but we have seen a mindset shift in the US, switching from cure to care.
Research2Guidance: Today, with all the choices that we have and hundreds of solutions that want our attention, engagement and retention are part of the success story. What is your engagement / retention strategy?
Antoine Pivron: I believe there are a few factors that are key to standing out on the market, building relationships with our clients and users, and having loyal fans.
The design of our devices is very important, and I would say key in the sense of whether one feels comfortable using them daily. For example, our smartwatch has CE Marking IIa and is FDA cleared, but it also looks classy and can be worn at a wedding, at the gym, or at the office, and nobody will know that the person who wears it is sick and that they are remotely monitored by a medical team.
Only a few companies in the world are able to provide good looking connected devices because there is a huge part of miniaturization.
Of course, having a nice design is not enough. Then comes the question of how we can motivate people to use our devices. For 14 years we have tried many things and we have learned a lot. To give you an example, on the screen of the weight scale, we have added the weather forecast, so every time you step on the scale the first thing you see is the feedback and your last 10 weights, trends, and other data points that are important to you, and then you have a weather forecast based on where you are. You can activate /deactivate it.
And this element might seem like something little, but it contributed to get tens of thousands of users stepping on their scale every morning, to know what the weather is and how they need to dress. Done regularly, this will become a habit and it will indirectly help them to monitor their health.
Adoption and battery performance
Adoption of the product and the battery performance are important too. Today, the best of the devices on the market have a week of battery life and ours is 30 days. With our cellular connectivity, everything is completely transparent, and you have just to motivate the end user to use the device.
We know that the moment you have to change your device is a very risky moment for churn with two consequences – that could be dramatic for a remote patient monitoring program:
Our aim is to provide as few frictions as possible so the patients are able to use the device.
Customization / Personalization /
Another thing that is very important to our B2B clients is we can adapt the way the device is used – whether using our app or a partner app, as for Medable. To illustrate that, in the last 3-4 years in France, there’s been an RPM experiment to monitor patients with heart failure. People with heart failure are around 70+ years old and are very likely not to be tech-savvy, not to have Wi-Fi at home, or not to own a smartphone compatible with the latest version of the app. In this medical use case, we need a solution that:
Weight was one of the requirements to be monitored in this program, so we developed a specific experience for weight monitoring. When a nurse gives the program’s participant Withings smart scale collecting important data points including water retention to bring to their homes, all they need to do is to take the scale out of the box, put it on the floor, and step on it every morning and evening. Our partners could receive their data and apply their algorithm: if a patient gains more than 3 kg in 3 days, their algorithm would notify the medical team.
This solution has proven to be working even for patients aged 80+ years old who have never used a smartphone.
Research2Guidance: What are the trends that you see in the market that you are excited about?
Antoine Pivron: There is more and more evidence, and more and more people are convinced that telemedicine is a new internet. In the 21st century, I believe it will drive one of the biggest shifts and it will be a big thing that will evolve and change in the next 10 years. For me, it is very exciting, and it is even more exciting when we see the investments made by the governments and the change in the mindset of the traditional medical teams. We see more integration of digital solutions, devices, and tools by traditional institutes and universities to conduct their research and to understand how and what will be the impact of a solution or service to a specific condition. Of course, other key healthcare stakeholders are on board too.
Research2Guidance: What is ahead of the company.
Antoine Pivron: We are on our way to turning Withings into the company with the biggest ecosystem of devices on the market that provides meaningful data and actionable insights to the medical teams in the world.
We have announced U-Scan and one of our top priorities is to launch it and to create different cartridges for a variety of use cases. At the end of last year, we also announced two new smart scales, Body Comp and Body Scan, which are the most advanced devices on the market. What they can provide is beyond just weight and body composition they can also detect neuropathies. Our devices are no more only devices but, with more and more medical features, they have turned into health stations. Our strategy and our tactics, partnerships, and acquisitions are aligned with that.
For example, we acquired Impeto Medical, they have developed a technology for hospitals, which is now the gold standard for Detecting Diabetic Small Fiber Neuropathy and we placed one of their technologies inside our consumer device, so now we are able to understand nerve activities and we can provide valuable data that is normally used to treat diabetic people.
Today, we can show an image of one’s cardiovascular health and age at some point and all of this and more just by stepping on one of our advanced scales.
Our target for 2023 is to scale those products on the market. For next year we have a lot of amazing ideas in our pipeline. We started with 10 biomarkers data points that we offered to our B2B partners 5 years ago and now we have more than 20-25 data points. With U-Scan we aim to reach the biggest variety of data available on the market with one single integration by the end of 2024. What is ahead of us is very exciting.
Research2Guidance: Antoine, thank you very much for this interesting inspiring conversation. We wish you and your team to stay healthy and have a lot of success.
ABOUT Withings Health Solutions
Withings created the first smart scale in 2009 and has been the pioneer in connected health ever since with millions of users across more than 30 countries. Health Solutions is its dedicated division for healthcare professionals, based in Boston and Paris.
Withings Health Solutions takes the complication out of running a digital health program for care teams across chronic disease prevention, remote monitoring, clinical research, and more. Withings Health Solutions gives healthcare professionals the confidence to make better health decisions. It provides continuous access to more consistent patient data through a remote patient monitoring solution and a portfolio of beautifully designed and easy-to-use devices including blood pressure monitors, connected scales, an advanced sleep system, a smart temporal thermometer, and hybrid smartwatches. We help both care teams and patients to achieve higher-quality care. For more information, visit: www.withingshealthsolutions.com