Why I’m glad Gwyneth’s Goop is getting its knuckles rapped over its ‘devices’

Hearing the name Gwyneth Paltrow and medical device in the same sentence obviously caught my attention. But to discover she is under fire from a marketing watchdog for misleading product claims really was music to my ears…

I haven’t got anything in particular against Ms Paltrow but knowing that consumer watchdog Truth in Advertising (TINA) had begun to pull up her lifestyle and wellness website Goop, on some of the claims products on her site make, did make me smile.

The stuff, and it is just stuff, on Goop isn’t a threat to Medical Plastics News readers or the market it serves. What riles me about Goop and similar sites is that they have swooped upon a sector of the population that’s interested in health and thrown a bunch of nonsense products at it aimed at making us healthier, improving our bodies and rejuvenating our minds.

The Goop website oozes charm, it hints at medical knowledge (supported by the careful placement of medical professionals on the site) and it reels you in with ‘real life’ quotes of tired and listless people JUST LIKE YOU, that might benefit from one of the (pricey) packs of supplements the site is pushing.

Am I being mean? I don’t think so. Who really buys the Animal Spirit Tarot Bundle that gives you “cosmic insight into your life choices”? Do you know anyone that would part with $38 for a jar of Sex Dust Moon Juice that promises to “ignite and excite sexual energy in and out of the bedroom”? Kids annoying you? Spritz a dash of the Child Kid Calming Mist in their direction and supposedly they’ll float like angels before your eyes. Trouble with vampires? Fear not. Gwyneth’s Psychic Vampire Repellent will “shield you from negative energy and safeguard your aura”. The last time I looked my aura wasn’t in any danger so I guess I’ll pass on that one.

Like I said, I don’t dislike Gwyneth it’s merely that she and Goop represent the premium range of some of the health nonsense we are marketed these days. Healthtech is a great sector. Innovators in the medical device and digital health space are bringing us products that improve our wellbeing, that tackle disease and make the treatment of many illnesses more manageable for both patients and doctors. Smart technology allows healthcare professionals to monitor life-threatening conditions like diabetes much more easily; it means that hospitals can track patient records swiftly and access data more readily, to name just a few of the benefits.

However, I’ve recently noticed increased numbers of products creeping onto the market that you really do have to question. Take the smart condom…First off, as the company website tells us: “i.Con is not an actual condom”. Secondly, what’s the point of it? Here’s what its manufacturer says: “Have you ever wondered how many calories you’re burning during intercourse? How many thrusts? Speed of your thrusts? The duration of your sessions? Frequency? How many different positions you use in the period of a week, month or year? Ever wondered how you stack up to other people from around the world?” I’m guessing the answer for most men is no. Is this a product we really need? If anyone out there has £59.99 spare to spend on a ring that goes around a condom to basically measure all the above, I think most women would give them a wide girth, oops berth.

I’m not sure what I think about the Smart Diaper by Pixie Scientific. I was sceptical but a quick look at the company’s website reveals a valid use for this type of product with the elderly to reduce urinary tract infections. However, back to the babies, these nappies, “are meant for alerting you of developing problems before visible symptoms appear, when you see symptoms and don’t know what they mean, or when you see symptoms and are tempted to ignore them because you don’t see their progress”.

With this product you scan the nappy with your phone when it’s wet, and send it off to the company where its “algorithms will begin to analyse the data, looking for new trends”.  Having a couple of children of my own, I think it’s pretty clear when there’s something wrong with a child. Basics like a temperature and going off their food are pretty good indicators of illness. If you need an algorithm to tell you your child’s in discomfort then I personally feel that’s a bit of a shame.

I’m also undecided on period / fertility tracker-type apps. The market is brimming with these products but even medical professionals urge caution. Last year the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists warned they should not be used as a form of contraception. Recently many of them have come to our attention with the rise of the femtech market  – health technology aimed at women. One of the products that seems to attracting serious attention is the Clue app which has been named as the ‘top menstrual cycle tracking app’ by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. A kind of period-tracking calendar that factors in elements such as mood etc, makes it easier to see why this product might be useful to anyone wanting to get pregnant. It’s other products, such as the one that comes with a whopping price tag – $199 ­– that make me wonder. With recent discussion of how these products can be used as contraception as well, I think we’re right to be wary.

The medtech and healthtech sectors are brimming with highly advanced products that are helping improve global healthcare. Uses for artificial intelligence (AI) are gaining ground – it can now triage a patient faster than a healthcare professional. The UK has world-class hospitals such as the Royal Liverpool Hospital which recently became on the UK’s global digital exemplar Trusts to help deliver first-class digital services and lead the way for other organisations in the UK.

Sensor technology and advances in lab-on-a chip medical devices are seeing companies such as IBM predicting that these products will serve as health detectives for tracing disease on a nanoscale.  And we shouldn’t forget technology such as 3D printing which  is benefitting patients and doctors across a range of medical procedures.

All this technology has to be a good thing but with many of the UK national press loving to pick holes in the National Health Service, the products it buys and the money it spends, are we running the risk of belittling the amazing things medical devices and digital health products really have to offer when it’s Gwyenth Paltrow’s jade eggs that hit the headlines?

I’m aware that none of these products are as far-fetched in their purpose as Ms Paltrow’s offerings – although I have to admit I’m going to take some convincing on the smart condom. My scepticism might well be in the minority and I need to remember that any technology that works to improve our lives and our health, has to be a good thing (I’m right about the condom though).

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