The use of Wearables in Medical Technology
The wearable device market has grown and peaked over the last few years. This is due to fitness devices dominating the market by attracting consumers with the promise of insight and motivation. As this market has reached saturation point, wearable companies are looking increasingly towards new features that will give them domain over the wrist real-estate. Most of these are in the form of specific health insights.
This move had to come. While the concept of fitness trackers is great, the current generation of products are dispensable for a number of reasons. The main one is the lack of utility. After the initial buzz of owning a new gadget wears off, there needs to be a compelling reason to wear the device every day.
Unfortunately for device makers, everyone’s version of what is useful varies. For instance, tennis players really want information on their technique and runners are more focused on receiving reports about distance and foot strike. Cyclists on the other hand care about cadence, power and comparison with others.
Catering for this much variation in a small form factor is not technically feasible, and that’s just considering movement-based metrics. Fitbit have tried to overcome this with multiple product lines, segmenting users based on aesthetics, features and price…but that hasn’t cracked the market.
Most likely, the more direct path to a winning wearable will be the creation of a vital function. One that the user cannot live without. With certain medical conditions, this can be taken as literal. It is the driver of heavy investment into the monitoring of blood glucose levels, as an example. This can help people with diabetes stay within their tolerance band through tailored prompts. That’s pretty compelling. Evidence for this is apparent with Apples investment in Healthkit, and Fitbit investing $6M into glucose-monitoring start-up Sano.
This move will present a set of challenges to wearable device companies. To date, wearables have deliberately stayed clear of being classified as a medical device. With the trend towards monitoring specific conditions, this will not be possible past a certain point. If you’re providing insight and prompts to a user on what they could eat to stay within a range of blood sugar levels – you’d better get this right as the risk of harm is very real.
Whilst wearable companies will have to get their heads around medical device regulations, to the healthcare system the opportunity and benefit is huge. Giving people the ability to manage their own condition will reduce the burden on health infrastructure. This will allow institutions and governments to redirect funds to other important areas.
It will be exciting over the next couple of years to see who wins the race to track a vital health metric in an everyday wearable. Diabetes will be the beachhead, with Apple, Alphabet, Amazon and Fitbit all vying for top spot. The real winners will be those with Diabetes. As they desperately need accurate insight to better manage their condition on a daily basis.
Wearables are currently disappointing. They won’t be after this.
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