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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Makenzie_BennettMD as HELLCharlene Ngamwajasat MDceci connollyashish Recent comment authors
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Makenzie_Bennett
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Makenzie_Bennett

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… Read more »

MD as HELL
Guest
MD as HELL

Wearables today.

Implantables tomorrow.

Willingly adopted by a clueless herd.

Moo.

Charlene Ngamwajasat MD
Guest
Charlene Ngamwajasat MD

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… Read more »

ashish
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ashish

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William Palmer MD
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William Palmer MD

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.

Granpappy Yokum
Guest
Granpappy Yokum

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.

ceci connolly
Guest
ceci connolly

But I bet you feel great looking young and cool!

Curly Harrison, MD
Guest
Curly Harrison, MD

“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?

ceci connolly
Guest
ceci connolly

Excellent question. As the title of the report indicates, we’re in the early days. Much more study needs to be done. We have early data from St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in our full report with encouraging early results.

http://www.pwc.com/us/en/health-industries/healthcare-new-entrants/index.jhtml

Don Levit
Guest

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

Granpappy Yokum
Guest
Granpappy Yokum

“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?

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

“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.

Perry
Guest
Perry

It’s called “virtual Mom”.

Jeff Goldsmith
Guest
Jeff Goldsmith

I think there’s a very limited market for “self nagging”. . . .

Bharat
Guest

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.

ceci connolly
Guest
ceci connolly

Pardon the cliche but your comment is right on the money!