Putting users at the centre of things and supporting them in the long term are the basic requirements for creating disruptive solutions and achieving success in the digital health sector.

Interview with Alexis Normand, Business Development Manager at Withings, a French company which develops and markets Internet-connected devices, on the sidelines of his session entitled ‘Beyond Quantified Self: the Connected Health Revolution’ at the mHealth Summit Europe held in Berlin on 6-8 May

L’Atelier: At Withings do you work in partnership with health practitioners?

Alexis Normand: Yes, we do. We sell products to doctors for use in their work. For example, the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris has a dozen of our tensiometers, which it lends out to patients so that they can take their own readings at home. Then we go a step further with hospitals that equip their patients with devices and create a system which enables data from our platform to be sent to their site so as to provide alerts inside their professional system. For example, we’ve equipped the University Hospital Centre in Toulouse, which has set up a monitoring system for patients suffering from diabetes, and when these patients put on weight quickly, an alert will be sent to a doctor. And the University Hospital of Northern Norway, which is monitoring its chronic heart failure patients using our Smart Bodyscale. In addition, we’re collaborating on data management with institutes doing research into epidemiology at Inserm [the French Institute of Health and Medical Research].

Would you describe your products as ‘wearables’?

Yes and no. We do see ourselves as part of the ‘quantified self’ movement, but not everything we make is worn. The scales for example. Our scales stay at your home and they last much longer than a ‘wearable’ device.  There’s a risk that wearables are becoming something of a fashion, and consequently can go out of fashion just as quickly. Our aim is to have a long-term relationship with our users.  Wearables are certainly part of our business but not the central element.

Would you say that wearables are cool or scary?

We make an effort to make them cool and sexy because that will make people want to use them, so it’s not just a superficial aim. But today, people often voice concerns about how the data is being used. We place a lot of emphasis on protecting user data and data privacy. We have a Data Privacy Officer on our team whose job it is to manage these issues. Users need to be reassured on such questions.

At the moment we’re seeing the media in France very often taking a particular angle – focusing on the risks in what we’re doing, while the English-speaking world tends to take much more of a risk-reward approach. A few years ago the same type of questions were raised when the Carte Bleue [debit card system] first came out. But anyway we soon realised that what we were doing was much more convenient and that it was quite feasible to process data anonymously.

To what extent would you say that Withings is creating disruptive solutions?

Well, we’re disruptive in the sense that we focus on the user. The basic notions of health and medicine is that there is prevention and there is cure. So what we’re providing is new tools for prevention. This is disruptive in that the health system is still centred on the medical side of things, which works very well, but today we’re providing people with tools so that long term they can take responsibility for themselves. This means that we’re not talking about the same financing models – it’s no longer a tele-medicine model because digital technologies have now become so widespread than doctors are having to adjust to them. Which is of course shaking up the traditional medical approach.

By Eliane HONG