Are wearables starting to deliver?

If you caught the recent Wired article entitled Wearables Are Totally Failing the People Who Need Them Most, you may have felt a sense of deep depression that a sector growing as strongly as it is is apparently delivering so little real health benefit (you may also be depressed to see the world of apps developers described as “From Silicon Valley and San Francisco to Austin and MIT…” although remember the North American-based Major League Baseball is called the World Series). The thrust of the article is that young people are developing wearables for people like them, who are then stopping using them within a few months, whereas those with long term conditions (LTCs) who are not the target customers are actually the ones using wearables consistently. As they say:

So who’s made a long-term commitment to measuring and tracking their health? People with two or more chronic diseases. According to a Pew Foundation survey, 45 percent of US adults are dealing with at least one chronic condition. While only 19 percent of people with no chronic conditions track their health indicators, 40 percent of adults with one chronic condition do so, and 62 percent of adults with two chronic conditions do so. So far this year $2.8 billion has been spent on wearable medical devices, and that’s expected to grow to $8.3 billion in the next five years. If you took all the fitness bracelets and smart watches sold in 2014 and multiplied that retail number by six, it still wouldn’t match the $6.3 billion US market for blood glucose test strips.

People with chronic diseases don’t suddenly decide that they’re over it and the novelty has worn off. Tracking and measuring—the quantified self—is what keeps them out of the hospital. And yet there are more developers who’d rather make a splash at a hackathon than create apps and devices for people who can benefit hugely from innovation in this area.

Definitely worth a read – a point we should add that was previously made in an earlier TTA April post, as well as an August post. Although immediately afterwards, to lift the mood, read the item we covered yesterday, that Tunstall has recently introduced the Tactio mobile care management system that integrates non-Tunstall apps and devices (very much of a welcome change for Tunstall to, to cheer us all up too) to enable clinicians to collect & monitor a wide spectrum of data–everything from activity, sleep, pregnancy, body fat and mood tracking to the traditional constellation of vital signs. Of course there is an issue of doctors drowning in data, although clever algorithms will deal with that problem shortly.

Even more exciting is the apparent beginning of a trend of linking activity trackers to LTC apps. For example Mobihealthnews has a self-explanatory headline today “Joslin, Glooko add activity tracker data to their HypoMap diabetes management system“. The idea is that when patients look at their glucose stats and overlay their activity, then they’ll see for themselves that improved activity equals improved glucose management. Or if they don’t, their clinicians will point it out! After this post was first published, Mobihealthnews did a survey identifying the number of apps that push data into, or take data out of, Healthkit, or both – they counted 137. This in turn should enable more apps to do as Glooko has (and is doubtless being mirrored by the major Android players).

An alternative, and interesting, viewpoint is put by CNET whose article entitled Wearable tech’s most important race: Turning heartbeats into cash is I think best summed up by the following paragraph extract:

In every case, the goal is putting that data in the hands of those who can do something meaningful with it. The services that arise from those data troves — such as on-demand medical consultations, fitness coaching and weight-loss training — will help shape the wearable market, which by 2018 could reach 130 million units sold with a market value of $6 billion, according to market researcher IDC.

Then there are a slew of really exciting-looking Wearables events as we covered earlier this week, which includes a pointer to the recent PWC report on Wearables.

Hat tip to Prof Mike Short for the Wired article – I missed it in the UK edition.

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