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Diagnostics help consumers gain control of their health, retailers boost traffic

Convenience is still king — even when it comes to diagnostics. Consumers now want to be able to take diagnostic tests at home or at their local pharmacy, and they want to interpret the results without having to make an appointment at their physician’s office. Innovation has made it easier than ever to test blood glucose, blood pressure, ovulation, hearing loss and other health metrics. Recent innovations also offer retailers the opportunity to play a larger role in helping consumers improve and maintain their health.

Diabetes care is the prime example of consumers being able to take their own tests, as blood glucose monitoring has long been possible at home.

“Certainly, self-care is emerging as a trend, and for people with diabetes that’s always been there,” said Robert Schumm, head of region Americas at the global company Ascensia Diabetes Care. “You need to be managing your condition on a day-to-day basis, so blood glucose monitoring is ahead of that curve because there is an urgent need to have tools to be able to manage your health.”

Switzerland-based Ascensia, which has U.S. operations in Parsippany, N.J., earlier this year launched the latest version of its Contour Diabetes app. The app uses algorithms to analyze blood glucose results received from the Contour Next One meter, and delivers personalized feedback to patients. The meter and app can alert the user of suboptimal trends in blood-sugar levels, so the person can take action. “Our product is designed to give patients the information they need, the motivation and the behavioral skills required to manage their diabetes effectively,” Schumm said. “These are things we can provide with the app.”

Pharmacy retailers are playing a key role by integrating their apps with the Contour app. Doing so helps start a dialog with consumers to remind them to get medications and supplies, and help them better manage their diabetes. That gives consumers more ways to engage with pharmacists and others in-store.

In the future, Schumm said, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things will contribute to more innovation and more feedback related to diagnostics and improved behaviors. “We are able to fine tune the way you provide that feedback,” Schumm said. “I think that the result will be a more personal type of feedback and more effective behavioral changes, and eventually being able to have better glycemic control.”

That has implications for other health categories, too. “The more data you have, the better feedback loop you have, the more able you are to get better results for patients,” he said. “You’ll see in the future more combination of different features being able to support lifestyle changes, medication management and more.”

Others agree that diabetes-related product innovation is one of the drivers of growth in the diagnostics space. “The state of the category is one of rapid innovation designed to empower people with diabetes to manage their condition better than ever before,” said Rick Doubleday, chief commercial officer at San Diego-based Dexcom, which makes continuous glucose monitoring, or CGM, systems. “All of this new technology is delivering improved outcomes and quality of life.”

Insurance coverage also has helped spur growth. “Medicare coverage, in particular, has given much-needed access to the category,” Doubleday said. “We have also seen an increase in demand for our Dexcom G6 from both new customers and those who have trusted our products for years.” The Dexcom G6 is a continuous glucose monitoring system that gives users real-time glucose readings on their smart device.

Reaching Baby Boomers

Though offering solutions to patients with diabetes remains a cornerstone of diagnostics offerings, other areas are seeing growth. In particular, the aging population is driving demand for other diagnostics — especially hearing, which offers a big opportunity for suppliers. “Baby boomers spend the most on self-care and health care,” said John Luna, CEO of San Leandro, Calif.-based iHEAR Medical, which makes the iHEARtest. “They are active, they are fairly young, they like to do things themselves, and they are not averse to new technology.”

The company said the iHEARtest is an FDA-cleared home hearing screener that helps the user profile their hearing ability. The consumer plugs the USB into a personal computer and listens through the calibrated headphones to come up with a hearing number based on the World Health Organization’s grades of hearing impairment. There are five tests per kit, so one person can take five tests over time or five people in the household can take a test.

“They can at least get the screening in the privacy of their own home and move to the next steps, which can be going to the specialist, or it can be over-the-counter,” Luna said. The company also offers the TReO, a hearing amplifier for OTC sales. Both products launched this summer.

Retailers can merchandise the iHEARtest and the TReO amplifier adjacent to batteries for hearing aids, other ear products such as ear wax cleaners or diabetes-related items, Luna said. According to the American Diabetes Association, hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes than people who do not have diabetes.

“The future of the category is growing overall, and this is all consumer-driven,” Luna said. “I think more and more pharmacies and drug stores are seeing how this can build their business.”

Ovulation Test and an App

Younger consumers also are seeking at-home tests. Another consumer-driven segment is the ovulation test category. Last year, Procter & Gamble launched the Clearblue Connected Ovulation Test System, which pairs the accuracy of the Clearblue Ovulation Test with the convenience of an app. With the new product, digital results automatically sync to the user’s smartphone via Bluetooth technology, and the user can set personalized reminders of when to test.

The new test answers certain consumer demands. For example, women want to have all their fertility information with them at all times of the day on their phone, said Fiona Clancy, Clearblue scientific and medical affairs director. “Clearblue now offers tests that measure two hormones to provide twice the number of days to try and conceive, as well as connected technology that transfers the fertility information to an app on the woman’s smartphone,” Clancy said, noting that it allows easy sharing with a partner or healthcare professional.

Clancy said the at-home ovulation test category has grown over the past four years despite a declining birth rate in the United States. More innovation in the category is likely. “Women want more information about their fertility and want it to fit into their lives, so we would expect the connectivity trend in the ovulation category to continue,” Clancy said. “As women continue to plan their pregnancies carefully and have babies later in life, when they are naturally less fertile, they will look to tools like Clearblue Connected Ovulation Test System to help them conceive.”

Diagnostics In Store

Though convenience and the ability to take tests at home are big draws for consumers, there also is a market for in-store self-service diagnostics.

Chicago-based higi provides self-screening stations that measure blood pressure, pulse, weight and other metrics at grocery, drug and club stores. They also allow for easy sharing of h
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