Wearables can Drive the Digital Health Movement

on March 7, 2016

The more I study the consumer landscape for wearables, the more I’m convinced the wrong narratives are circulating about their value. Because the market is so young, most of the use cases being presented skew toward a tech or fitness lifestyle. Consumers see people running or working out as primary advertising angles and most won’t immediately identify with the use case. Or they see and hear about more tech/gadget-centric value propositions being the reason they need a wearable and don’t identify with the use case. This is the challenge of being early in a market. The mainstream value is there. Consumers just don’t see it yet.

Over the past few months, I’ve had a range of discussions with agencies in the healthcare industry. Following those discussions with my own interviews of consumers who don’t own a wearable, I get the sense the health angle is the least understood but also has the most potential in helping wearables go mainstream. Most consumers (74% of our consumer panel) have no immediate plans to buy a wearable tech product and 53% say they don’t see the need for one. However, when you talk them through the health benefits specifically, you can see their attitude soften.

On this note, some research was recently conducted by Accenture. Here are the stats that stood to me:

  1. 77% of consumers and 85% of doctors say using wearables helps patient engagement
  2. 78% of healthcare consumers wear or are willing to wear technology to track their lifestyle and/or vital signs
  3. 40% of health app users have already shared data with a doctor in some capacity
  4. When recommended by a doctor, 3 in 4 consumers followed advice to wear technology to track health

Interestingly, the study found that, when it came to whom to share this data with, consumers responded with the following:

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In recent Wristly research, we discovered 61% of the panel would consider switching healthcare providers if they offered a subsidized smart watch. 49% of the Wristly panel also said they would be “likely” or “very likely” to share health information with their provider if offered a discount on their bill. (This information and more are detailed in the latest edition of Wristly Pro)

All of this confirming the motivation behind the recent trend of corporations planning to implement corporate wellness strategies to offer employees a subsidy on a wearable in order to motivate them and track their progress toward staying healthy. The benefits to increased health and wellness to the consumer, employer, and consumer/doctor relationship is overwhelmingly positive and can’t be ignored.

We are in the midst of a transition, however. The healthcare IT world is still working out the kinks as they move to a digital world. A specific study done by Accenture with doctors found, “Nearly all US doctors (90%) say better functionality and an easy-to-use data entry system are important for improving the quality of patient care through healthcare IT. Interoperability remains an unmet need.”

When you take a step back and see the foundation being laid right now with the digital healthcare transition and technologies around health apps and wearables, it seems clear where we are headed but not clear how long it will take to get there. The health story is a strong one, as even consumers will agree health is important to them but admit a lack of education is a main reason they feel challenged to get and stay healthy. Technology will aid in this process and that core understanding is one reason I remain so bullish on wearable products. The sensors which can capture essential information in helping us stay healthy will remain unique to something we wear on our person. It remains one of few functions our smartphones will not be able to do. Whether these sensors stay on our wrists, move to our ears, get embedded into our clothing, or something else, we don’t know. But we do know we will wear quite a bit more technology in the future.