Not too long ago I was invited into “All Things Crowd,” a group on Facebook that focuses on the convergence of crowdsourcing, crowd-funding, collaborative consumption, and the sharing economy. One of the group’s most recent conversations was around wearable technology and our thoughts about it. Being in the health and wellness space, I can’t help but be more focused on the potential of this technology to impact health outcomes and less on the sophistication of the technology itself, which in fact is pretty damn impressive.
2014: the year of wearable technology
Our group’s conversation around the future of wearable technology is just one of many. In fact, the most recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas dubbed 2014 as The Year of Wearable Technology. And all this buzz has got me thinking about the potential ramifications to health and, more to the point, wellness. Imagine if 50% of the over 45 population started wearing technology that could actually improve their health. What would this population look like after say six, or even just three months?
And if the trend of these wearable health devices actually stuck and people incorporated them into their lives long term, what could that do to the grand scheme of national health? It could do a lot. In fact it could change the way we treat. Think about behavior modification and adherence programs for patients with chronic diseases. It could mean driving healthier behavior and affecting a very positive way of living. And this behavior would not be driven by traditional patient education or marketing, but by endorphins! These devices could become the glue, if you will, that makes people accountable to their own health, because their numbers are accessible and sometimes literally, depending on the device, in their face.
Wearable health devices versus the app that tracks
Wearing bracelets such as Fitbits, Nike Fuel or Jawbone, have the effect of a constant reminder. You are wearing your steps, your personal stats, the quality and pattern of your sleep. Where as with an app you need to log on and enter your information: calories consumed, runs, walks, etc. You are reporting, and this reporting is one step removed from the actual behavior. Wearable devices offer a more immediacy to keeping you both honest and on the track to health. They also look cool. They become like jewelry that makes a statement about the wearer, as well as a functional device. A very smart arena for these companies to play in.
What does this mean for the patient?
When we think of these devices from a patient’s perspective, that is, someone who is in treatment for a health condition, the potential impact is again huge.
We know that patients have a wide range of issues that they may be dealing with. Taking medicine according to schedule and managing doctor visits are just two examples. Their condition may impact how and when they can eat, work, manage life tasks, interact with family and friends, etc. They may have particular physical needs, as well as emotional needs that their “new normal” requires. Wearable technology can have a positive impact on all this patient activity and interaction, too.
Imagine the usefulness of a device that connects with your doctor’s office or a lab to send real-time personal stats. Or alerts you you’re your caloric intake is high? Wearable technology can offer a level of detail and accuracy into patients’ day-to-day reality, and thereby help both the patients themselves and their healthcare providers to produce better outcomes. They can have a larger view of their successes and failures and work to continue the positive momentum and correct what needs correcting.
So now, what to wear?
When it comes to choosing a device, or devices, the options are growing. As mentioned earlier, many of these devices become pieces of fashion themselves, while others are worn “undercover.” And trade offs are mostly around accuracy versus comfort versus range. Whether it’s the Fitbit, Jawbone or Nike Fuel they all have their merits.
Wearable impact: available in small, medium, and large
It’s clear that wearable technology has tremendous potential to drive healthier behavior and deeply impact health on a global level. Its accessibility and affordability give it a far-reaching impact. Similar to fashion, a trend is on the horizon. In fact, I believe wearable health is the very future of health wellness.