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Transforming Healthcare: Withings’ New Smart Scales

Transforming Healthcare: Withings’ New Smart Scales
According to Withings, the vast amount of data collected for each individual patient through its smart scales in real-life conditions, very frequently and over long periods of time opens up an entirely new field of medicine. (Credit: iStock)

Inventor of the first connected scales, Withings is launching new ranges of smart scales with innovative features such as neuropathy measurement or pulse wave velocity. According to the company, the vast amount of data collected for each individual patient through its scales in real-life conditions, very frequently and over long periods of time opens up an entirely new field of medicine. The consumer electronics company aims to position itself as an engaged player initiating a profound and necessary transformation in the world of healthcare, facing the “pandemic” represented by chronic diseases. We interviewed the president and co-founder of Withings, Eric Carreel. Here’s Part I of this interview.

MedicalExpo e-magazine: What are the major challenges in transforming the world of healthcare today?

Eric Carreel: Over the past few years, we have been witnessing a true pandemic, with an increasing incidence rate, although it is neither a virus nor a transmissible disease. This pandemic, which is now recognized by many healthcare stakeholders, even if it is not the most talked about on the news, is the pandemic of chronic diseases

These chronic diseases include diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more. They are experiencing a drastic increase, particularly in countries like the United States, India and Brazil.

Let me share some alarming figures: today, in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 7 out of 10 deaths are related to chronic diseases and 75% of healthcare expenses are spent on chronic diseases. If we look specifically at cardiovascular diseases, they account for 16% of deaths according to the WHO. 

(Credit: iStock)
(Credit: iStock)

The worst part is that these figures are not stabilized but are increasing. And the worst part is that 24% of 12-18-year-olds are in a pre-chronic disease state, as well as 44% of 20-40-year-olds. It’s absolutely massive. 

What is also alarming in the United States is that an increasingly large percentage of the population is classified as multichronic because once you suffer from obesity and develop diabetes, you are also at risk of cardiovascular problems, kidney issues, joint problems and so on. It’s a vicious circle.

(Credit: Science Photo Library)
(Credit: Science Photo Library)

These diseases are not only terrible for individuals, but they also put healthcare systems at risk. More and more in international conferences, we are hearing the word “collapse” of the healthcare system in the coming years because the cost increase associated with the rise in chronic diseases will not be sustainable, in a context of an aging population and worsening lifestyle. If we extend the curve, it won’t hold.

MedicalExpo e-magazine: Is there a way to take action?

Eric Carreel: Absolutely, there is a way to take action because, in fact, 60 to 80% of these diseases are preventable through lifestyle modifications. How can we achieve this? Through prevention, personalized support and early management of these diseases.

But while this consensus is roughly agreed upon, the means implemented so far remain extremely limited. According to the OECD, only 3% of global healthcare expenses are dedicated to prevention.

(Credit: AdobeStock)
(Credit: AdobeStock)

So, we cannot continue like this; we really need to work on changing behaviors and making prevention much more effective. Changing behaviors is fundamentally the key issue, but the challenge is to find ways to engage with these individuals and support them in their lives in a sustainable manner, including during periods of setbacks or relapses.

This is the problem with the current healthcare system: there is no long-term connection with the patient. Therefore, something new needs to be invented to create this connection.

MedicalExpo e-magazine: There are already thousands of applications that people can use to manage their weight, eat better, exercise, etc.… Is this a way to create a long-term connection with the patient?

Eric Carreel: Most of these applications fail to establish a long-term connection with users because they are simply content pushers. They provide digital support without creating a real relationship. As for human assistance, whether in-person or remotely, it is often limited in duration due to financial reasons.

In this new paradigm that we need to invent, and in which Withings aims to stand out, it is necessary to personalize the relationship using both digital means and human support. These two elements require input from the individual, which can be obtained through routines that easily integrate into their life and provide data.

"With an act as simple as stepping on a scale, we are able to gather measurements that provide much more information than just weight. We can obtain profound medical measurements in real-life conditions over an extended period." (Credit: Withings)
“With an act as simple as stepping on a scale, we are able to gather measurements that provide much more information than just weight. We can obtain profound medical measurements in real-life conditions over an extended period.” (Credit: Withings)
(Credit: Withings)
(Credit: Withings)
(Credit: Withings)

MedicalExpo e-magazine: Is this what Withings is trying to achieve with its connected scales in particular?

Eric Carreel: Yes. What Withings is trying to do within this Copernican revolution is to harness new technologies to create innovative products that enable prevention and monitoring of individuals in real-life conditions and over the long term. This real-life, long-term tracking is important because it takes healthcare out of medical offices and hospitals. Technology then opens up incredible possibilities.

For the past 15 years at Withings, we have been creating devices that allow for simple and repetitive measurements over many years. An average Withings connected scale user weighs themselves about  2  times a week for years. That is probably what we are most proud of: products we sold to users ten years ago are still being used by 50% of those users, and this number increases to 72% if we look at users who made a purchase over three years ago. I honestly believe that’s unique in this industry.

Eric Carreel (Credit: Withings)
Eric Carreel (Credit: Withings)

What’s interesting is that with an act as simple as stepping on a scale, we are able to gather measurements that provide much more information than just weight. We can obtain profound medical measurements in real-life conditions over an extended period. 

This combination of deep medical measurements in real-life conditions over years opens up an entirely new field of medicine. Thanks to machine learning, we will be able to provide precise and personalized guidance to individuals, motivating them, while also raising alerts when necessary.

This motivational aspect, coupled with a discreet guardian angel, is truly the guiding principle of Withings and what we can offer to the users of tomorrow.

MedicalExpo e-magazine: Can you provide details about the new range of scales that has just been released?

Eric Carreel: Among all our connected devices, the scale holds a special place at Withings because it is an object found in almost every household, and everyone knows how to use it. We have a completely revamped range of scales that incorporate entirely new measurements.

On the Body Comp models (€199.95) and Body Scan models (€399.95), we have introduced two very interesting new measurements: arterial stiffness and electrodermal activity score (US) or Nerve health score (EU).

Body Scan
Body Scan (Credit: Withings)
Body Scan (Credit: Withings)

Arterial stiffness is measured through a marker called pulse wave velocity. Pulse wave velocity is the speed at which the wave generated by each heartbeat propagates along the arteries. The lower this velocity, the healthier your heart is. We know that factors such as excessive salt intake, smoking, lack of physical activity, or high stress levels can affect the stiffness of our arteries, which in turn has consequences for our cardiovascular health. However, if we pay attention to these factors, the pulse wave velocity decreases.

Body Comp (Credit: Withings)
Body Comp (Credit: Withings)
Body Comp (Credit: Withings)

The scale provides a range indicating the age of your arteries. Some people are shocked when the scale tells them that their arterial age is much older than their biological age.

The other new measurement on our scales is neuropathy. It is a disorder that affects the small nerves of the autonomic nervous system, especially in diabetics. It can lead to foot ulcers and even amputations. If we address the issue early enough, we can support individuals in restoring the full function of their autonomic nervous system.

To incorporate this measurement into our scales, we acquired the company Impeto Medical, which had been developing this measurement for almost 15 years and turned it into a product called SUDOSCAN, sold to neuropathy and diabetology specialists in the US, in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. These are professional devices designed for doctors.

By acquiring Impeto Medical, we have integrated this neuropathy measurement into our scales, bringing it into real-life scenarios to obtain repetitive measurements over a longer period.

The new range of scales also includes an increased level of precision for traditional measurements such as body fat and muscle mass. We have added the calculation of visceral fat (including in the first model, Body Smart, priced at €99.95), as well as a color screen.

The Body Scan model also features a six-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) and segmental body composition. By placing their hands on a handle while weighing themselves, individuals can assess different parts of their body to see where there is more fat, muscle, etc.

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