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Wearable Tech Finds a Fit in Health Care


The success of fitness and activity trackers is blazing a trail to a much larger opportunity in health care through medical-grade devices worn by consumers to monitor and/or treat chronic disease or other conditions.

The success of fitness and activity trackers is blazing a trail to a much larger opportunity in health care through medical-grade devices worn by consumers to monitor and/or treat chronic disease or other conditions. The next few years are critical to advancing the market for wearables in health care as industry, health insurance companies, the medical community and consumers (patients) work together to find the right fit.

New B2B research from CTA highlights the market potential for wearables in U.S. health care as well as the possible pitfalls in its report, Wearable Health and Fitness Technology in U.S. Medical Care (January 2017). In addition to generating a new competitive market with projected sales in the billions of dollars, medical-grade wearables could save billions of dollars in health care costs.

Not surprisingly, the linchpin for integrating wearables in health care is consumer adoption – and use compliance – of the technology. Rapid consumer uptake of fitness trackers over the past few years is a positive sign despite abandonment rates as high as 30 percent (Gartner, 2016). However, a stronger prediction of patient acceptance is consumers’ increasing desire for convenience in all things, fueled by the Internet of Things (IoT).

Monitoring the Data

While wearables will enable a convenient way to manage or treat chronic conditions, the data they generate could create complexity for physicians under the current fee-for-service model where there is little or no incentive for doctors to proactively manage patients’ wearable data. Challenges for physicians include time to analyze patient data, integrating the data into electronic health records, and securing the data. Evolution from the current fee-for-services model to a value-based case model would increase chances for wearables to succeed.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle confronting wearables in health care is establishing the efficacy of the data collected. While sensor innovation has addressed the need for precision and accuracy of measurements of medical-grade wearables, evidence of positive outcomes from the technology is generally lacking – at present. This is especially true among unregulated activity trackers. Expect innovation to advance more purpose-built wearable devices, validated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which build the documentation of efficacy demanded by doctors. Meanwhile, expect activity trackers and other unregulated ‘fitness’ wearables to continue to serve as tools to help consumers take control of their lifestyles.

Encouraging Healthy Habits

Insurance companies also are waking up to wearables as a means to get patients and policyholders to adopt more healthy behaviors. CTA’s study articulates how insurance companies like United Health Care, Cigna and John Hancock are finding increasing value in wearables and the personal data they collect to validate their calculation of risk. Company wellness programs also play a role in fostering broader acceptance and adoption of wearables in a health context.

How wearables will ultimately fit into the U.S. health care system comes down to consumers and care providers. Consumers need to embrace the technology and use it to make a true difference in their lifestyles. Medical professionals need to ccept the technology as a real driver for better health and wellness. But, they will only do so when there is scientific evidence of positive health outcomes. Keep up-to-date on this evolving market with CTA market research and industry forecasts.

Steve Koenig

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