Thanks to buzz from places like CES 2014 and SXSWi, companies have a new quandary: what’s our wearables strategy? The proliferation of wearable gadgets has unleashed a virtually infinite number of ideas, but the challenge is finding combinations that deliver a winning mix of Usability, Functionality and Benefits.
A lot of excitement about wearables has focused on applications for lifestyle and fitness. Gadgets such as Fitbit and Nike’s Fuelband SE and the Basis Health Tracker have excited tech-lovers but for most people they’re just “nice-to- haves”. We believe that advances in wearable technology will be driven by real healthcare needs.
Today’s emerging category of wearables features three crucial new elements. The first is minute, low-cost sensors that can automatically track data such as motion, heart rate, blood oxygenation and blood sugar levels. The second is mobile connectivity, automatically transferring data. This creates scope for continuous monitoring, and reduces user error. The third is analytics to turn the data into meaningful, useable information.
Some devices aren’t watches or bands or even actually wearable. For example, AliveCor’s Heart Monitor clips onto the back of a mobile device and acts as an electrocardiogram. The finger-tip sensor of the iSpO2, which optically detects blood oxygenation, pulse rate and perfusion index continuously, comes closer to being a wearable, as does Vital Connect’s HealthPatch, which collects biometrics including ECG, heart rate variability, skin temperature and body position, then transmits them wirelessly.
Even more sci-fi is a system developed by Proteus Digital Health with an ingestible sensor attached to a patient’s medication, coupled with a smart skin patch. The fluids of the digestive system power the sensor and the patch picks up the signal with vital signs and transmits them to a mobile device.
Pulling devices and data together
Many more devices will be created but whatever technologies they use, it’s likely that mobile devices will continue to be the crucial nodes in the wearable healthcare ecosystem.
Firstly, they are the one item that people carry virtually all the time. This makes them dependable data relays and also perfect for delivering tips, hints and nudges.
Mobile devices also augment and extend body awareness. They can pick up subtle physical signs and present their data as games, comparisons and graphics. When shown in real time as biofeedback, they can help users to learn new health behaviors.
Usually, this data is scattered across different platforms but to be useful it needs to be integrated securely. Start-up Validic is leading the way on this front, collecting data from apps and devices and putting it together in HIPAA/PHI-compliant, standardized formats for healthcare companies.
Making wearables fit
Here are some handy principles.
1) Let the solution lead the technology – define what you want to achieve, then look at how.
2) Use off-the-shelf technology.
3) Define the purpose of the data you aim to collect.
4) Think in terms of a complete experience in which devices play a part.
Above all, your thinking about devices should be guided by three key considerations:
- Functionality: what function(s)
does the wearable device serve and how well?
- Usability: how easily and reliably will the target be able to use the device?
- Benefits: what’s in it for your target/customer and your brand?