FitTech Insider

How do you use data integration to prescribe workouts, Simon Sollberger?

Most of the gym-goers think about getting six packs and not about curing medical issues. PEAR Sports creates solutions, where data leads to prescribable workout-recommendations for patients. Thanks to technology, the merge of fitness and medicine is on the march. But people only profit from the solutions, if they're fun and digestible, says co-founder Simon Sollberger. He'll be our guest at the FitTech Deep Dive "Health Rules!" on June 14.

What is it exactly that PEAR Sports does?
So at the core, we take fitness from kind of a dumb tracking industry into a smart, prescriptive kind of experience. That's really at the core, we have a smart, evidence-based coaching platform.

According to a McKinsey 2021 report, 67% of companies with a digital solution report as a core asset, an app, or a software, 40% have a unique algorithm, 20% a device or data set. So why do you think that is?  How is this trend shaping the fitness or the health market?
The digital experience is going to be the moat for companies. My background is in industrial design and car design. And we see the same thing there. In the past, what you would advertise about a car was how much horsepower and torque and how many cylinders it has. That completely went away. The core selling point now is the digital experience. So that's now because everything else is so commoditized, and  a lot of these cars are actually manufactured by the same contract manufacturing plants. Shouldn’t that be the same for fitness? I think the hardware has been commoditized. And the differentiating aspect is going to be how smart the digital experience is going to be.

What parts of fitness technology are being commoditized exactly? 
I think it's the hardware like a spin bike or a rower.  And I think companies who don't have an envelope of a digital experience are really going to suffer. I think the consumer has expectations now that everything is interactive and smart. And so if you have equipment that doesn't have an envelope of that, then it's going to be broken for the consumer, it's going to be viewed as old and backwards and not interesting.

Patient engagement technology, including fitness and health management, is one of the fastest growing health tech sectors with a revenue of $21.35 billion in 2022. It's expected to reach $59 billion by 2028. Is the future's most underestimated market trend patient engagement?
This is the biggest area that we need to figure out as an industry. And it's funny because probably six years ago we did a prototype with Anthem. It was a kind of a coaching app. I kept hearing that metrics like engagement right were the golden metrics for health insurance and back then I didn't give it as much weight as I probably should have. But it becomes so clear to me that if you can’t engage a client or user, then nothing matters, right? 
Let's say you have all these amazing insights and biometric data  and biometric signals. But if you can make it tangible and you're not front of mind, then it doesn't really matter?  We have to come into kind of an emotional channel with a user, and engage kind of in a fun, delightful, surprising way. There's obviously many mechanisms for this like gamification and reward systems. But I also think it just needs to be kind of digestible.

Can you share an example? 
An app we're working on is for young, female soccer players, where the interface is going to be structured similar to Instagram. It's a functional feed. So instead of you having to go look for metrics inside the app somewhere, it always kind of pops up on top of the feed. And it's relevant to you, what time of the day, or what you just did.  So it needs to be highly contextual. And also bite-sized, right? We cannot give somebody this long article to read, but maybe it's a one or two minute podcast, or something easy that the user can just tap once or twice to give feedback. So I think we are going to see a lot of new kinds of fun, interactive models to get more engagement. That's definitely going to be a big area of innovation.

In which other ways does PEAR Sports make health data and patient engagement more actionable and more digestible?
There's going to be an evidence-based engine that knows who you are, what you have been doing, where you are in your journey, and what you want to do. So we have this really smart engine underneath, but it cannot be a black box. We can't just ingest all this data and then say “Hey, here's what's right for you.” And then the consumer is going to say: “And why should I trust you?” I think it's gonna be really important to let the user participate, and see what's happening, and why they get certain prescriptions, or why they get certain guidance. As you probably heard from previous talks, one of my favorite sayings is, now we use computer vision to see how well you're doing from a musculoskeletal standpoint. You set up your phone, your computer, or a kiosk, and you do a couple of squats. And then we can see by the 3D models of your skeleton where you might have deficiencies or issues. We can see that you're doing really well on mobility but you might have poor posture. 

How does the user benefit from it?
We can show you where you're not well. And therefore, we're going to prescribe some corrective exercises or a plan for you to address those issues. So it's a very clear path from where we assess, you hear the insights, and here's the prescription. So it's a great way for a user to see what's going on. I think when it comes to cardiovascular stuff, it's all the murkier. Because we read things like heart rate variability or the resting heart rate. I think we need to have similar mechanisms where we can really let the user participate in the assessment and the interpretation and the prescription.

What do you think we need to do as the fitness industry to be partnered with the medical industry? How do we get fitness seriously enough to actually partner with us from a health perspective?
I don't even know if that's such a big lift anymore. At this point, at least in my experience. We have several partners that we've started to work with - companies like Dexcom - a hardcore glucose medical company similar to Abbott. They make a smart CGM patch and they're already very interested to come to the lifestyle side of things. So I think that's already well underway. I think the interest is there. And I think we just need to lead with amazing experiences. Just like Peloton. Connected fitness wasn't a thing, but they made it such a compelling experience that you didn't really have to convince people to go sit on it and try it. And then people say, wow, that's amazing. We need to have such a compelling experience that it just speaks for itself.

You are actively at the forefront of taking this data, making it useful from a perspective of health and medicine. For the majority of the fitness industry: What can they be doing now to be setting themselves up for this type of progress in health care engagement in the next decade?
That probably depends highly on who you're talking to. I think people just need to be open to partnerships, not trying to silo themselves off. I think that's going to be really key: to have some kind of open ecosystem. So that data can, it's all cliche, but data needs to kind of flow. I think the best insights come from when you start fusing signals and find context, that's when you get the most powerful insights. At the very basic level, I see your heart rate, but I don't know why your heart rate is elevated - because I'm lacking context. 
If you go into a gym, and all I have is my Apple watch and I see your heart rate is aligned. So I know you're exercising, but I don't know quite how high your output is. And so now if I'm on a machine, I actually can see your reps and your weight and power. Then I can really get a sense of what you're capable of, and how hard you work. So that applies across the board. Context is everything. If you start fusing signals, we get better insights and help guide the person better.