Industry talk of wearable health and fitness tracking devices has escalated from buzz to fever pitch. Whether we’re a developer, researcher, entrepreneur, clinician, or educator, each of us with skin in the game is discussing the many benefits of wearables and sensor technology – both for consumers and the organizations and professionals who serve them.
But research shows consumer adoption rates are in the single to low double-digit percentages. iTriage found much the same when we conducted our own survey among 3,309 users of our smartphone app: Only 19 percent reported they currently track their health and fitness with a wearable device. (To put adoption into further perspective, we asked iOS and Android smartphone users about their use of the Apple Health app and Google Fit app, respectively; in both cases, 27% of device users had never heard of the application.)
Like telemedicine and other disruptive technologies that came before it, a disconnect exists between early-stage consumer adoption and market growth projections for healthcare wearables, which researchers predict will reach $40 billion in 2020, up from $2 billion today.
What will sway consumers to use them?
Their doctors and healthcare insurers will, according to our findings:
- 76 percent said they would be more likely to track their health and fitness with a wearable device if their doctor recommended or provided it; and
- 68 percent said they would be more likely to use one if their health insurance company recommended or provided it
What’s stopping them from tracking their health and fitness this way now?
- Cost: 38 percent said owning a wearable health device or tracker is cost prohibitive – but 75 percent of those respondents reported interest in using one
- Complexity: 20% said wearable health devices and trackers are too complicated
But for those who currently use a wearable healthcare device:
- 71 percent use it every day
- 44 percent said they feel more in control of their health as a result
- 76 percent are somewhat to very interested in sharing the data they’re tracking with their healthcare providers to make treatment decisions
- 70 percent are somewhat to very interested in sharing their tracked data with their health insurance company if it means they’ll receive reduced premiums
Should these people actually begin this kind of data sharing, their cost of care would likely decrease as they work with their providers to identify risks before they become conditions requiring treatment. Their healthcare providers – including any offering telemedicine – would now have a dynamic view into their patients’ day-to-day metrics, which were previously only attained through patient anecdotes. This would break down the brick-and-mortar walls for more efficient care.
Overall, better outcomes at lower cost with increased convenience can be achieved.
Let’s illustrate the total cost of an ideal connected device and sensor setup for a middle-aged male, newly diagnosed with diabetes and underlying hypertension:
- Smartphone – $0 to $850 depending on the your choice of device and service plan
- Blood pressure cuff – $100 to $120
- Weight scale – $75 to $150
- Pedometer – $50 to $350
- Glucometer – $10 to $50
- Diet tracker app – $0 to $5
Total = As low as $235, and up to about $1,525 if you opt for everything on the high end.
Comparatively, the average medical expenditures per year for a diabetic man are estimated at $13,700, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Even if you’re outfitted entirely on the high end, devices are considerably more affordable compared to the downstream hospitalizations, medications, office visits and further treatments due to progressive kidney failure, eye disorders, and heart disease that may have been avoided through improved “connected” monitoring and management.
Depending on the total cost of the setup, a positive return on the investment could occur for payers, providers and patients even if just one office visit was avoided, one ER or urgent care visit was avoided, and if one procedure was avoided.
What are we waiting for?
Challenges for the industry remain with wearable technologies, but they’re worth addressing.
Overcoming the concerns of a newly diagnosed patient about chronic disease management with wearables may also be no small feat. For someone who’s just been told he’s diabetic and hears what that means for his daily lifestyle, being handed a bunch of technology for measuring blood sugars and learning each of the applications with which it integrates is likely overwhelming.
But think of the impact wearable devices could have on the millions of people managing chronic diseases through decreased costs and improved outcomes – as well as the millions of people who will never have to if they can catch and manage risk factors before they became a problem.
The future is bright with wearables helping us achieve a healthier society.
What are your thoughts about what wearable health tracking and monitoring technologies could do for our industry?
Post your comments below and reach me on Twitter @kriddleberger.
 Survey conducted among iTriage mobile application users between December 29, 2014, and January 26, 2015.
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