Posted by: adelvecchio
Internet of Things, mHealth, mHealth devices, wearable devices, wearables
Despite obscene amounts of hype, wearable technology has yet to truly turn mainstream. A Nielsen Company report from 2014 found that only about 15% of consumers use wearable technology, though roughly 70% were aware of the electronics.
So what’s the problem? If wearables are truly a revolutionary force for health and wellness change, why are so few people buying in?
It’s safe to rule out innovation. Though the term “wearables” is often thought to refer to fitness trackers, the industry has already moved on to much more sophisticated technology.
For example, Google is currently developing contact lenses that can measure the wearer’s glucose level through the fluid in their eyes. And InteraXon, Inc. developed its Muse headband, which uses EEG technology to measure brain activity during meditation so users can calculate the effectiveness of their session and improve their concentration.
Both of these devices could be described as wearables, but they measure things more sophisticated than heart rate or number of daily steps.
This type of progress rightly inspires awe and excitement, but it’s the practical application of that progress which is hindering wider adoption (and more meaningful results) from wearables.
Minimal impact on populations with chronic conditions
“In the aggregate data being gathered by millions of personal tracking devices are patterns that may reveal what in the diet, exercise regime, and environment contribute to disease,” wrote the Washington Post.
And that’s true: the promise of wearable technology to pinpoint causes of illness is immense, both for personal and public health. Consider that a whopping 45% of U.S. adults report living with at least one chronic condition — maladies which require ongoing monitoring to manage — and the potential of wearable technology crystallizes even further.
However, the majority of wearable users don’t have chronic diseases. Nearly half of all wearable owners fall into the 18-to-34 years-old demographic. In contrast, having a chronic disease is statistically correlated with advanced age and lower education, as well as less access to the internet.
So not only does the population which needs wearables the most not have them, but these patients also have less ability to operate the devices via the internet should they ever acquire the hardware.
Now, getting wearables into the hands of the chronically ill isn’t the job of device manufacturers iper se; policy makers and healthcare providers have a large opportunity to contribute to the dissemination and use of wearables as well.
To be fair, some wearables such as remote monitors are standard fare for the chronically ill, but much more could be done. And until the wearables industry begins focusing on solving these types of problems, the heaviest users will remain quantified self fanatics.
Sustained adoption and actual utility
For the moment, the question of how to use wearables for the greater good remains an academic one. A far more pressing problem — at least in the eyes of manufacturers — will be the user drop off rate.
A study by Endeavour Partners LLC found that after three to six months roughly 30% of wearable owners stop using their device. The percentage of drop offs keeps rising in direct proportion to the period of time after purchase.
This study shows that a significant portion of consumers don’t find much payoff from using wearable devices.
This raises real questions about the current utility of these devices in comparison to the hype in which they’re basking. Healthcare providers and scientists are still debating over how much of the data provided to them — through wearable devices or otherwise — is truly useful.
The same conundrum arises from patient access to patient portal software, where users can upload data at any time. For example, the number of steps a user takes per day isn’t groundbreaking material for a physician, and it looks like it may not be groundbreaking for many users either.
Developing products that become irreplaceable in the lives of each user must be the ultimate goal for each device manufacturer. Integrating devices into an existing ecosystem, like the ever-growing Internet of Things, is a good start.
That’s what Remo, a wearable that allows users to manipulate different systems in their home, does. Using gestures, a user can manipulate a range of appliances, from the television to lights and alarm clocks. If this was coupled with health tracking, it could be of huge value to consumers who have trouble moving throughout their homes.
As it stands, wearables are garnering some attention from the general population, but most people aren’t biting. That’s because the fundamental value of tracking your steps and heart rate isn’t compelling enough to pull in the casual consumer.
Now, if these devices offer more complex functions that monitor things such as stress and anxiety, then consumers are likely to take more notice. The market for wearables will continue to increase even if that doesn’t happen in the near future, but the sustained utility of advanced heart rate monitors will only appeal to select groups.
Zach Watson is marketing operations analyst at TechnologyAdvice. He covers marketing automation, healthcare IT, business intelligence, HR, and other emerging technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.