Tech

The Self-Health Era

Ceci Connolly

If you’re wearing a wristband that counts your steps, a patch that monitors your vital signs or a watch that tracks your heart rate, you are in the minority. And if you paid $300 or more for any of those items, you are among the nation’s quantified self-health elites.

Judging by the chatter streaming across our social media feeds, one would think every man, woman, child is sporting a health “wearable.” But in reality, these are the early days of the devices that promise to help us live longer, healthier, more active lives.

Despite the buzz, just 21% of Americans own a health wearable, according to a new consumer survey by PwC’s Health Research Institute, and only 10% of them use it daily. Even fewer consumers – 5% of respondents — expressed a willingness to spend at least $300 for a device. Many wearables today are a passing fancy – worn for a few months then tucked away in a drawer awaiting a battery charge or fresh inspiration to get up and get moving again.

As Genentech CEO Ian Clark recently put it, health wearables are “a bit trivial right now.”[1] And it seems even the folks claiming to be wearing the devices can’t be trusted – reports have begun circulating of employees enlisting their more active coworkers to wear the device and collect fitness points on their behalf.

Yet wearables present remarkable opportunities for a nation and industry grappling with the twin challenges of improving health and controlling healthcare spending. Across the board, consumers, clinicians, insurers and employers express high hopes for the power of these new devices.

Indeed, 56% of consumers tell us they believe wearables could add 10 years to the average life span, while 46% think the devices will reduce obesity in a nation in which two in three adults is overweight or obese. It’s hard to think of a pill, surgery or program that has garnered such faith in recent years.

Investors, meanwhile, have been voting with their bank accounts. In the first half of this year alone, digital health startups had raised $2.3 billion – more than in all of 2013.[2] And of that, more than $200 million went to devices such as wearables.

So how to narrow the gulf between today’s tepid reality and the red hot aspirations for health wearables?

The answer lies in a combination of incentives and truly useful data that arms a patient and care team with information that improves health outcomes. Nearly 70% of consumers tell HRI they would wear a device provided by an employer and permit the data to be shared in an anonymous pool – provided they got a discount on their health insurance premiums.

For clinicians who must increasingly earn their keep by demonstrating improved health outcomes of patients, wearables offer another tool for understanding what’s happening away from the hospital or doctor’s office. The good news for providers is that consumers are most willing to share their personal wearables information with their physician, ranking doctors above banks, tech firms or other industries looking to capitalize on the wearables craze.

A well-designed wearable can aid remote patient monitoring, making life more convenient for patients and less expensive for the system. Pharmaceutical life sciences companies are beginning to explore how wearables can quicken recruitment for clinical trials and reduce the number of costly investigator visits.

And in the end perhaps the most promising wearable isn’t exactly worn; but kept close by. Doctors and hospitals are already using it to help manage patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, analyzing regular data downloads for anything out of the ordinary.

The device? The mobile phone.

 Ceci Connolly is the health practice lead for PwC and a frequent contributor to THCB. 


[1] Lee, Stephanie M., “Genentech CEO wonders if wearables craze is ‘a bit trivial,’ San Francisco Chronicle, http://blog.sfgate.com/techchron/2014/08/21/genentech-ceo-wonders-if-wearables-craze-is-a-bit-trivial, Aug. 21, 2014.

[2] Rock Health, “2014 Midyear Digital Health Funding Update: Obliterating Records,” http://rockhealth.com/2014/06/2014-midyear-digital-health-funding-update, June 30, 2014.

 

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18 replies »

  1. As a college student, and someone who has grown up on technology itself, these devices to me are not out of the norm. Because of this, the low percentages you have listed of those wearing these devices were surprising to me because I assumed that there would be much more people who have jumped on the bandwagon. Personally, I think that digital health is not just going to be a fad, but I think it is the beginning of where our society is going with healthcare. As you mentioned, doctors and hospital are already using these devices for those with Diabetes and Asthma. Also, Iphone apps are taking over and acting as aids to manage our nutrition and BMI, and Fitbits are calculating our steps per day/amount of physical activity we choose to engage in. These simply are incentives and motivators for people to become active and take control of their own health and individuals are more likely going to purchase these products rather than hire a nutritionist, for example, to manage their health and wellness for them.

  2. Wearables today.

    Implantables tomorrow.

    Willingly adopted by a clueless herd.

    Moo.

  3. I think that wearables are an interesting phenomenon. Agree with previous poster on cost. As components become cheaper, less clunky and more people find uses for them & develop on top of the platform, we’ll see more use and adoption (kind of like the history of cellphones). I segment wearers into techies, super fit, fashionistas, research participants, curious/got as Christmas present, testers. Like any tech product, the questions are what will this device do for me and is that worth the cost. Battery life has been an issue with wearables (I.e. Glass) as well as design. If you wear it as a fashion statement or point of conversation then clunky or making it stand out is ok, but in terms of function, would prefer seamless and valuable integration into daily life. Agree with previous commenter that tech is not a panacea & that behavior & social determinants play a role, although as a tool it can be extremely powerful especially in chronic disease. I think that things are starting to get interesting as consumer-friendly user interfaces & data analytics come into play because people will be empowered by their access to tools that can potentially provide actionable insights over time and in real time. Data visualization features on platforms are helpful. I too thought about what a clinician would do w just reams and reams of data. Being able to parse out a trend and outliers as well as potentially being alerted to them by wearers is helpful. As I see it now, wearables complement other mobile devices & are helpful if you want to do something hands-free but I agree, still early.

  4. John,
    Here’s the exact wording: If your employer offered you a health-monitoring wearable device that anonymously added your information into a pool that resulted in lower health insurance premiums, how likely would you be to opt-in?
    You raise good, healthy skepticism. This is why I stress there is great optimism (and even opportunity) in health wearables but many hurdles, including the ones you identify.
    That said, this result suggests two things: people have enthusiasm for these devices and they want lower insurance premiums.

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  6. I’m sure your doctor would love to spend a couple of hours reviewing the data from your pedometer if you just transmit it to her electronically.

  7. I wear one of those pedometer things on my suspenders because my daughter gave me one and it makes me look young and cool. I have never looked at it.

  8. “Doctors and hospitals are already using it to help manage patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, analyzing regular data downloads for anything out of the ordinary”

    Wonderful, but are the outcomes any better, are the costs less, are adverse events fewer, and are doctors able to care for the patients rather than the device?

  9. I just heard about these devices a couple of days ago
    One guy said 15,000
    The other guy said 10,000
    They told me they were talking about steps in a day
    I rode the exercise bike yesterday for 30
    minutes and went 3 miles!
    Don Levit
    Managing Partner
    National Prosperity Life and Health

  10. “For clinicians who must increasingly earn their keep by demonstrating improved health outcomes of patients, wearables offer another tool for understanding what’s happening away from the hospital or doctor’s office”

    OK, so I learn that the patient I’m treating for DM, HTN, and CAD goes through the drive-through at Mickey D’s at least twice a day, and stands in front of his fridge for 30 minutes every midnight.

    So what do I do now with all this data to earn my keep?

  11. Nearly 70% of consumers tell HRI they would wear a device provided by an employer and permit the data to be shared in an anonymous pool –

    Hmm. I’m not sure I buy this.

    I think your numbers may have been skewed a bit by the language. Would you mind sharing the question?

    I think people are going to be way too concerned – rightly or wrongly – that their employer is going to invade their privacy ..

    I believe I read something about a couple of startups in the San Francisco area that are actually doing this kind of monitoring of their employees, which is pretty interesting ..

  12. “while 46% think the devices will reduce obesity in a nation in which two in three adults is overweight or obese.”

    You mean the wearable that voices, “don’t eat that” – “don’t eat that” – “don’t eat that either”.

    Can’t wait for that device.

  13. Health wearables are certainly a great initiative to keep yourself healthy and active. But cost is too much, that’s why it is not finding more consumers. I think it should reduce the cost or add some exceptional feature which encourage consumers to use it.

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