The Future of Wearable Health Monitoring Technology: 1 Big Prediction, 2 Obstacles, 3 Calls to Action Explored

Posted by Mike, on March 29, 2017

Mark Sullivan (@thesullivan) recently stated in an article for Fast Company:

for 2017 to be a healthy year for wearables, the companies making them will have to change the minds of lots of people about why they need a fitness tracker or a smartwatch in their lives. And marketing messages might not be enough. The device makers will have to create products that, packed with indispensable new features and functions, make the point themselves.”

Similarly, SmartShape Design's own research into the wearables market shows that while wearable health monitoring technology has potential and promise, many devices on the market today still come with average abandonment rates of more than 30% after a period of engaged use.

These device drops happen for a variety of reasons, including low battery life and users no longer liking how the device looks on the body, but, related to Sullivan’s thoughts, for many there just isn’t enough benefit in the information collected. This creates a need for thinking far beyond counting steps to what these devices need to become to earn widespread adoption.

How should these devices evolve, and, more importantly, what could that mean for the future of the wearable fitness and health monitoring market? That’s what we’d like to discuss. Our thoughts and predictions on this topic are shared below.

Beyond Counting Steps: Finding Purpose in Comprehensive, Medical-Grade Health Insights

What if your daily step count helped you expose accurate and insightful medical information each day?

What if these insights were pulled into a central dashboard that also showed trends from the same device and others around your heart rate, blood pressure, percent body fat and more, displaying trends, averages and behavior-based predictions?

If steps were one important piece of your total health snapshot, and the results of your daily steps could be linked to positive health outcomes or trends that positively impact other key health metrics, you certainly wouldn’t want to have an incomplete picture on your total health and wellness.

Suddenly, your daily step count is much more critical.

The problem with devices’ ability to provide this level of insight now is that these solutions were not built to be medical-grade devices, and have problems in accuracy and ability to be used for true preventative care.

But that could soon change.

Evidence abounds that wearable fitness tracker giants like Jawbone and Fitbit are making pivots in strategy toward development of true medical-grade solutions aimed at clinical markets and improved metrics.

For those that adopt now, you may soon see yourself entering a much correlated world of useful health information.

What We Predict: The Future Will Be in Data-driven Predictive Health Feedback

The information that health-monitoring wearables collect, once advanced to medical-grade solutions, and what that information can connect to for more in-depth personal health records, is the next frontier for wearable health monitoring technology.

Imagine if, through dynamic APIs and powerful artificial intelligence, your health metrics from multiple wearable devices, connected with your unique hospital health data, could not only be insightful toward knowing more about your own health and wellness, but could also be compared against the anonymous averages of millions of your same age, gender and similar genetic pre-dispositions. Suddenly, you’re able to tap into predictive insights like life expectancy and risk of various disease types.

Measurement of one of your daily health metrics suddenly could become, “Because I’ve walked this many steps today, I’m on track this week to lower my body fat percentage by X%, which means that I could be on track to decrease my likelihood of X disease by X%.”

These kind of critical health insights could not only guide each individual’s recommended preventative healthcare decisions, but also call out never-before-noticed community health trends, changing the entire preventive healthcare landscape as we currently know it.

What We Must Overcome: The Need for Medical-Grade Data

Before we can make this kind of technology a reality, the issue of inaccurate device data has to fixed.

A 2016 study conducted by cardiac experts at the Cleveland Clinic found that heart rate monitors from four popular brands on the market today are inaccurate 10-20% of the time. With margins of error that high, it’s clear device makers still have some work to do.

Data and devices must be updated and optimized for improved accuracy before information can even be considered as a medical or preventative healthcare solution. These insights must be medical-grade and clinical-use ready.

What We Must Overcome: The Need for User Training for the Elderly

Additionally, we must bridge the gap, and make the latest technology seem much less intimidating and confounding for more senior individuals.

As it stands, the majority of wearable health monitoring technology users are young, early adopters.

Yet, those that need critical medical insights and could benefit most from improved information about their health are typically elderly, non-tech-savvy individuals.

Only a minority of 65 year-olds own smartphones that have apps. And of those older people who do own smartphones, only about 15% of them have ever downloaded an app, according to recent studies. So, among all people over 65, that would be less than 5% that have ever downloaded an app, which makes asking this generation to then go and adopt solutions driven by dynamic app-centric integrations more than a little tricky.

There is a big gap that must be addressed between the people who need wearable health technology the most and those with familiarity using technology.

And as young people become older people, new technology will continue to emerge, so this gap, in all likelihood, will only continue.

We need to keep this awareness at the forefront, and design devices and programs that provide a seamless and very intuitive user experience to close this gap. We should strive to make things that just work for people, without requiring advanced technical knowledge first.

How We Can Make Strides Toward the Future: The First Three Steps

We realize this is no small undertaking that we are talking about. Not a simple update, but an entire shift in the way we think about, develop and use wearable health monitoring technology.

But, if you have been nodding your head as you read this, and are as excited as we are about the possibility of leveraging wearable health monitoring and personal health data into the ultimate preventative healthcare system, join us in the following three-fold ask of wearable health monitoring designers and developers:

  1. Continue to create more wearable health monitoring devices with all ages groups in mind. This means intuitive usability built to effortlessly interact across a wide variety of lifestyles, and ready for adoption without significant training, even by people who are not familiar with syncing devices and using apps.
  2. Create more presentations and training aimed at catching elderly populations up to speed on how to use and benefit from the latest technology.
  3. Think with us on how we can make this big picture vision—wearable health monitoring as a community health solution—a reality. Talk about it with as many invested people as you know, and get curious about its true potential to improve healthcare. There’s so much power in collaborative problem-solving—let’s put it to work.

What predictions and potentials obstacles do you see in wearable health monitoring technology’s future? Share your own thoughts with us (or your agreements with what we’ve highlighted here) in the comment section below.