Where are We Heading with Wearable Health Devices?

  1. Wearable Health Devices

Are you purchasing a wearable health device such as a Fitbit or Jawbone for someone this holiday season?  Before you pull out your wallet, check out Brian Eastwood’s article on CIO.com entitled, Wearable Health Tech in Early Days, But Long-Term Benefits Emerging. Eastwood highlights key findings from a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers appropriately named Wearable Tech: Early Days including:

  • Wearable health devices are currently a novelty that quickly wears off. Of the 1,000 consumers PwC surveyed, only 21% owned a device and fewer than half of them wore it regularly.
  • However, don’t put wearable health devices in the same category as Chia Pets. More than half of the respondents believe that wearables’ capacity to monitor vital signs such as heart rate and temperature, could boost average life expectancy by 10 years. According to PwC, more than 40% also see the potential for nutrition and exercise monitoring to reduce obesity.

So who is wearing health devices?

According to PwC’s Health Research Institute, the early adopters have typically been 18 – 34 year-olds who are already active. They leverage these devices to improve athletic performance. However, the “sandwich generation” of middle aged adults has also started using them. These users tend to be middle age women who are charged with caring for their children as well as a parent. They leverage health devices to track the wellness of multiple family members in one convenient place.

It is anticipated that the next generation of wearable health devices will go beyond providing consumers with self-gratification (“Look! I walked 10,000 steps today!”) and provide deeper insights into their health. For example, it’s one thing to see how many steps you take; it’s another to have a device calculate your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories your body burns when it’s not inactive.)

The topic of wearable health devices came up at a recent CHIMSS event on Telehealth and Telemedicine, sponsored by HOSTING. According to J.A. “Chip” Strosnider, Director of Technology and Innovation at Kaiser Permanente, today’s wearable health devices serve to engage consumers in their health, not necessarily their healthcare.  As he describes it, “My doctor doesn’t care if I walked 10,000 steps. He cares that I lost 35 pounds in six months.”

Companies such as Google and Apple are already developing wearable devices that could turn consumer data into real insights about their health. And when they come to market, the challenge could be getting consumers to share that data with their healthcare providers. Concerns surrounding security, privacy and HIPAA compliance will continue to emerge. But we’ll save that discussion for a future blog post. In the meantime, we’d love to hear about your experience using wearable health devices. Jot down your thoughts in the comment box below.

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