The growing trend of wearable devices, like FitBit and Jawbone, makes it possible for consumers to access their medical information, monitor their conditions and carry out a more active lifestyle. Having this much access to information related to their health has prompted “wearers” to make more of a conscious effort to live healthy and share this newfound enlightenment with friends and family.
The trend is growing, and continues to grow, with roughly 4 million health and fitness trackers sold in North America in 2014, up from 1.5 million that were sold in 2011. And it is projected the sales of wearables, in the health segment specifically, will reach over 10 million by 2016.
There are a lot of players in the space for consumers to choose from – Nike+ Fuelband, Samsung Gear Fit, Microsoft’s Band and the highly anticipated Apple Watch set to launch later this month; just to name a few. Who would have guessed there’d be wristlet-size devices that could track a person’s heart rate, blood oxygen levels and sleeping habits, all while still allowing them to check emails and text messages without missing a beat? And consumers are easily adapting to these technologies, taking full advantage of this opportunity to gain empowerment over their health choices.
As wearable companies acknowledge the growing popularity of this category and the clutter in the market, many are seeking new ways to enhance their technology and keep their brand top of mind; whether it’s through acquisition or creating newer generations of their existing products. FitBit, for example, introduced two new wearables earlier in 2015, the Charge HR and the Fitbit Surge, which are improved versions of earlier models. The company, which is classified as the pioneer in the wearable device market, has even crossed over into fashion with Fitbit accessories and an exclusive line for Fitbit Flex with Tory Burch.
As consumers make use of wearable devices and apps to manage their health, it’s slowly changing the dynamics of the patient-doctor relationship. Consumers having access to their own medical data makes them more knowledgeable and ultimately boosts their confidence when visiting with their doctor. According to Makovsky Health’s and Kelton Research’s (KR), “Pulse of Online Health” 2015 report, 24% of adults would be willing to use a wearable device to communicate with their doctor, while 20% would use wearables to store questions about their condition to ask their doctor on their next visit.
Some may construe this to mean a doctor’s role will eventually become less significant and lead patients to disregard advice and treatment given. But in the grand scheme of things this level of knowledge can only enhance the communication between patients and their doctors. The patient is no longer left in the dark about their current state of health and is better equipped with relevant information to spark productive and edifying conversations with their doctor. In addition, patients with first-hand insight about their health and its progression are more inclined to proactively take the necessary steps to be healthy.
It would be safe to assume healthcare professionals are onboard with patients taking more control regarding their health. With healthcare advice apps, such as HealthTap, First Opinion, and Urgent Care, patients are able to get the answers to their medical questions in real time. Some may ask how these apps are any different from searching on Google or visiting one of the staple health hubs, like WebMD or EverydayHealth. The best response is these apps are less about seeking informational articles or diagnostic tools, and more about connecting with a live physician or other licensed medical professional. Almost like having a doctor in the palm of your hand.
This health-monitoring technology trend is not only restricted to wristbands. Google developed Smart Contact Lenses, in partnership with Novartis, to measure glucose levels for diabetics. Blood sugar is measured each second by monitoring its levels in the tears that wash over the eye. Smart Skin Patch, expected to hit the market in the next five years, is a wearable drug delivery system that can dispense a continuous flow of therapeutics and has the ability to determine when it’s time to stop (ideal for people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease). Engineers are in the process of enhancing the system to allow doctors to diagnose conditions and dispense treatment remotely.
Wearables and health apps have opened the door not only for doctors, but for pharma brands and marketers alike. Although turnkey advertising programs are scarce, deeper partnerships are possible. Health brands should be thinking about how to use live patient data, or how to build patient profiles that can help align patients with the right therapies.
While development in this sector looks like the Wild West, it won’t be long before consumer adoption drives significant scale in the wearable tech sector. As that happens, look for packaged programs to emerge that can help healthcare companies with classic pain points like patient identification, adherence and patient reminders to speak to their doctor.
Lynnsey Rijos is a media professional with considerable HCP, DTC, B2B and International advertising experience and has managed plans across various media channels that include Print, Digital, OOH and Point-of-Care. Lynnsey is an Associate Media Director at Underscore Marketing, a firm that creates and manages integrated marketing programs for health and wellness brands. Additionally, Lynnsey is a native New Yorker and received her BA from The City College of New York.