Posted: 02 Mar. 2020 10 min. read

Your toothbrush has some important news! How the lines between consumer products and health are blurring

By Neal Batra, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Make way for wonder is the theme of this year’s TEDMED 2020 conference in Boston, and I’m here with a few of my Deloitte colleagues to talk about some of the wonders we expect to see along the road to the future of health. I’ll be leading a session that will explore how the health sector is likely to change over the next 20 years. During this discussion, we will consider some of the strategic and financial implications of an industry about to be transformed by consumers and data.

In January, I attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas (along with 180,000 other people from around the world). I’m still trying to digest everything I saw, heard, and experienced. As I meandered through the exhibit hall, maybe what struck me most is how consumer products and health are becoming intertwined—from smart toothbrushes that evaluate my brushing technique1 to smart clothing embedded with sensors that monitor my heart rate, breathing, body temperature, movement, and posture.2 There was even a smart bed on display that combines temperature regulation, biometrics, and sleep coaching to ensure a more restful night’s sleep.3 According to the manufacturer, the bed learns the user’s circadian rhythm (the 24-hour internal clock that runs in the background of our brains as we cycle between sleep and consciousness) to bring him or her out of sleep at the most appropriate time. I also saw a pillow that analyzes snoring patterns and automatically inflates or deflates to position the user’s head to stop snoring.4

Health is becoming ubiquitous and no industry is insulated. I’m sure bed, clothing, and toothbrush manufacturers never expected to wind up in the business of technology or health, but there they were at the CES. A health component or data-collecting sensor can now be incorporated into virtually any consumer product. Ten years ago, it was unlikely anyone at an electronics trade show would be talking about health. But this year, health and health data were top of mind. And consumers are becoming accustomed to devices that gather data about their health. According to our 2019 Global Health Care Consumer survey, more than 40 percent of US respondents have used tools to measure fitness or to track health-improvement goals—up significantly from just 17 percent in 2013.

Data, data everywhere

Electronic devices that gather health data are everywhere. One exhibit that caught my eye appeared to be a gorgeous piece of wall-mounted art.5 Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an air-filtration system developed for people who have asthma or allergies. It not only filters out microscopic particles floating in the air, it also collects information about airborne allergens in the home.

If the journey to true consumer-centric health was a baseball game, we’d be in the top of the first inning (the theme of this first inning would be basic data collection). By the second inning, we will have progressed to data-based insight generation, and in inning three, we might be talking about real-time insight that allows consumers to address emerging health issues in the earliest stages. Chronic diseases including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and some types of cancer might be treated more effectively if they are identified early.

A few years from now, that smart toothbrush I saw at CES might be able to analyze the user’s breath and determine the very earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease.6 When I bring up this example during conferences and meetings, I get some pushback…particularly from biopharma executives. After all, Alzheimer’s is untreatable at this point. What good could come from telling someone they might develop an incurable disease? I wholeheartedly disagree. A person who receives this information years or even decades before symptoms surface might be motivated to make lifestyle changes. Although we can’t cure Alzheimer’s disease yet, we are learning how to stall or stunt certain diseases. For example, regular physical exercise can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by up to 50 percent, according to the Alzheimer's Research & Prevention Foundation. A person who knows he or she has the early stages of this disease might decide to exercise more and make other lifestyle changes, based on medical research—maybe this delays the onset of the disease, so symptoms appear at age 85, rather than age 55.

Researchers from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions recently interviewed futurists, venture capitalists, digital health leaders, and academics to find out how they expected the identification, prevention, and treatment of disease would evolve between now and 2040. Through these interviews, we identified opportunities and threats to incumbents in the biopharmaceutical space. (This research will be published soon.)

As we collect more health data from a far deeper pool of consumers, we will likely learn more about the nature of illnesses—and how to detect, treat, or avoid them. The ability to generate proprietary data isn’t complicated. Health plans have generated vast amounts of patient data but haven’t yet figured out how to use that information to improve health or prevent illness. Shifts in how diseases are identified, prevented, treated, or cured could lead to fundamentally different business models for health stakeholders.

The meta theme at CES—and the heart of the welcome-to-wonder theme at TEDMED—is that the empowered consumer is going to drive significant change in the health sector. Empowered consumers can affect all stakeholders from life sciences companies and health systems to smart-clothing designers and toothbrush manufacturers. Any industry that doesn’t respond to that consumer could be left behind. Although 2040 is 20 years away, the forces of change are already in motion. The future of health will likely be managed by companies that assume new roles to create value, which will alter the make-up of the health ecosystem and economics of the industry. Welcome to wonder!







6. Oral bacteria may be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease, Harvard University blog, February 7, 2019

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Neal Batra

Neal Batra

Principal | Deloitte Consulting LLP

Neal Batra is a principal in Deloitte’s Life Sciences and Health Care practice focused on business model and commercial operating model innovation, redesign, and transformation. He heads Deloitte’s Life Sciences Strategy & Analytics practice, leading the way on next-gen enterprise/functional evolution by connecting strategic choice with analytics and technology. Batra has more than 15 years of experience advising health care organizations across the ecosystem on critical strategic challenges, including leading businesses in biotech, medtech, health insurance,  and retail health care. Batra is the coauthor of Deloitte’s provocative Future of health point-of-view, speculating on the health care ecosystem in 2040 and the business models and capabilities that will matter most. Batra lives in the Tribeca neighborhood in New York City. He holds an MBA from London Business School and a BBA from the College of William and Mary.