What Happens When Consumers Begin to Engage With Their Own Health?

By Motley Fool Staff Markets Fool.com

From wearables to genetic testing, people have access to more information about their own bodies than ever before -- and their interest in this data is growing. At first, devices such as those made by Fitbit (NYSE: FIT) could only count your steps. Now, more biometric information is becoming available in real time outside of a doctor's office. Meanwhile, the market for consumer genetic testing is also expanding as more people satisfy their curiosity about their own DNA makeup.

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In this clip from Industry Focus: Healthcare, the team dives into the implications of consumer engagement in healthcare.

A full transcript follows the video.

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Kristine Harjes: One other thing that I wanted to talk about from what you're seeing at South By Southwest is the consumer side of things and whether or not there's more of an engagement from individuals in their own health.

Simon Erickson: Yeah, I definitely think that's a fair statement. The first example would just be, you see a lot more Fitbits on people's arms today. Today, wearable devices are counting our steps and taking our heart rates, which are kind of limited. But we're seeing that expand in more interesting ways. Fitbit, for one, is working with Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) to develop a glucose monitoring device for diabetics. We're going to start seeing more and more biometric information, more functionality, I think, increasing over time that will keep you out of doing those tests in a doctor's office, but then still sending that information in for your doctor to keep an eye on to prevent conditions from happening. But that's information we're getting in real time any time we want to look down at our Fitbit device.

Harjes: Which is increasingly popular. There's so much more interest now in tracking data, like your steps or your heart rate or whatever else it is, than there was late year, than there was the year before that. This is definitely something that people seem to be taking a more active role in.

Erickson: Yeah, absolutely. And that's real time data, that's something that will change every minute or every hour. Something else that's interesting too is something that a company called 23andMe started a couple years ago, which is, you can get a limited genomic analysis, you can look at your DNA by sending in a saliva sample for $100. Consumers are more and more interested in doing this. They ran a survey of saying, "Why are you doing this? What's interesting to you in our DNA test that we're offering?" And about 60% of the survey responses said they were doing it for hereditary reasons, they wanted, you know, the ancestry.com website, they wanted the Who Do You Think You Are shows, like, "Hey, I'm 23% European," whatever else your mix was. It's more of a curiosity.

Harjes: Right. And 23andMe seems to have kicked off this consumer-side interest in your own genomics.

Erickson: Absolutely. And we're starting to see, initially, the numbers were very small, but they're rising, now it's about 40% of respondents, are saying they're doing it for health reasons. They want to be able to screen for pathogenic variants of genetic diseases that are contained in your genome. It's interesting, really, that about 20% of people have those variants right now. It doesn't mean we have genetic diseases or anything that needs to be treated at the moment, but we are prone to them, we have the risk of that happening, and I think that's something we should all be aware of, to have a conversation with our doctors that could prevent a lot of problems later on in life.

Harjes: Yeah. I was going to ask your opinion on that, whether you personally think it's information that you would want. I'm undecided about whether or not I would want to know some of these risk factors that I had. I guess it all comes down to whether it's actionable, right?

Erickson: Yes, that's exactly right. A lot of people are saying, "Vote me out, that's great that this technology is out there, but I'm going to wait a little longer before I actually volunteer to take this test."

Harjes: Right, especially if there's a skepticism about whether or not it's accurate.

Kristine Harjes has no position in any stocks mentioned. Simon Erickson has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Fitbit. The Motley Fool owns shares of Medtronic. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.