The future of healthcare is headed towards digital. Most of Kaiser Permanente’s patient visits are now virtual, and 97% of large employers will offer telehealth services to their employees by 2019. Healthcare tech venture funding deals increased 200% between 2010 and 2014, pointing to the sector’s rapid growth.
Wearables will play a significant role in that industry, and I got a glimpse into how that future could look by spending a week with the Lumo Lift, a $79 device that promises to fix bad posture. The Lumo Lift is basically just 21st-century Pavlovian conditioning. You clip the magnetic tab to your shirt near your collarbone, sit up straight, and press the button; the Lift then provides “gentle vibrations” when you deviate from that posture. During my first afternoon with it, the “gentle vibrations” interrupted several meetings, although my coworkers’ annoyed stares quickly faded to looks of amusement and pity after I explained the Lift’s purpose.
The device’s frequent nagging might appeal most to those nostalgic for parental nagging. In fact, the Lift can even be set to “Mom mode,” vibrating after one to three minutes of slouching. This pacing is intended to evoke “your mother reminding you to straighten up throughout the day,” according to the brand blog.
But sometimes a wearable is no substitute for the real thing. After a few days using the Lift, I wasn’t sure if I’d even achieved anything. What if I’d initially set my target posture to the wrong position?
The original Lift had a default setting, Charles Wang, Lumo Bodytech’s COO and co-founder, told me. But users complained that it didn’t feel right, or that their therapist told them to sit in a different position.
“There are a lot of debates about what defines good posture,” Wang said. “It’s better to vary your spinal movement frequently. We wouldn’t want you to be in one position all day, just sitting there perfectly upright and not moving.”
A physician by training, Wang has long been interested in the growing field of health tech. He attended Stanford Business School and worked at other companies in the space before launching Lumo in 2011 with two other Stanford-educated entrepreneurs, Monisha Perkash and Andrew Chang.
The concept of a posture wearable occurred to them because Chang suffered constant back pain. “He tried a lot of things – doctors, physical therapy, chiropractors, acupuncture. Nothing helped,” Wang said. But Perkesh’s husband mentioned a posture class he’d taken where he learned to focus on spinal alignment, a method that he found helped him decrease his pain. So the team wondered: could they leverage technology to help others do the same thing?
The earliest iteration of Lumo Lift was a band worn around the waist. But the team quickly realized that the appeal of the product extended far beyond the patients with back problems who would be willing to wear such an obtrusive device, so they created a lighter and less conspicuous version. The company has since branched out to other movement-related products including the Lumo Run, which measures running form and provides real-time audio coaching.
“We’re really pushing towards Wearable 2.0, where it’s not just about the steps you’ve taken, but more about granular movement and what actionable feedback that can give you,” Wang said.
After a few days, I still wasn’t sure if I was sitting up straight, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it – even when I wasn’t wearing the Lift. That means the device succeeded, according to Wang.
“A person starts to build their own habits,” he said. “Even on days when they’re not using it, they become conscious of it.”