Is Health The Killer App For Wearables?

Tech Wearables

Your health is personal, and largely your responsibility. It’s good to know then that growing numbers of people are increasingly interested in their health and are taking matters into their own hands – especially when it comes to behaviours they can change that benefit their wellbeing.

An estimated 69% of American adults today track areas of their health, monitoring their weight, diet, exercise and symptoms. 21% of them are using digital tools to help them learn how they are performing. Unsurprisingly, mobile Health apps (mHealth), interactive tools and the wearable market is set to explode as a growing number of people look to manage their health to stay or get well.

A Better Way To Monitor Health

On a personal level, I am a big believer in the quantified self. I already use several tools to track my activity, food intake and sleep habits and patterns. I am always looking for the next innovation to make monitoring faster, easier, or more accurate to assess how I am progressing against my personal health goals.

For me, I think wearable presents a lot of promise. They have the potential to go beyond what my fit bands can do by becoming more connected to my habits and more aware of what I’m doing (or not doing!) than any unintelligent wristband or any other device that sits on my desk or in my pocket.

To that end, I was encouraged by presentations at the recent Samsung Developer Conference in San Francisco. They led me to believe that we are not very far from a smart watch or other wearable device that can have a direct connection to me in a very different way… where I can talk to it and it can talk to me (just like in the recent film, HER), teaming up to promote my personal health. I won’t deny that I could use that help, and I very much doubt I’m alone in that respect.

The Constant Reminder That Keeps You On Track

Be mindful though, that studies show that tracking alone – whether it’s calories, exercise, weight or something else – does not always lead to persistent behaviour change in most people. That’s why I believe a voice-enabled Smart Health application on a watch (or other wearable) could make a difference, because it engages effectively with people who need repeated nudges (like myself) in the right direction.

By way of example, the biggest challenge I face is remembering to take medicine on time, consistently. That’s why I admire the concept of a smart watch on my wrist that uses voice as part of the user experience, making it easier to use, always present and more personal. It would also be great for logging exercise and meals eaten in a few simple phrases. But voice is also much more compelling to me for reinforcing good behaviours; what if you could have your physician or some other personal inspirational figure record a reminder for you to take your medicine on your wearable?

Bringing Speech To Healthcare

Unbelievably, as many as 75% of patients fail to adhere to physician-prescribed treatment regimes. That’s crazy when you think about it. We invest all this money in medical and drug research, visiting physicians, getting recommendations, filling prescriptions and then, when we get home, we fail to execute reliably. I think voice-enabled wearables are a huge opportunity to fix this and so much more.

Most people hearing a verbal reminder from their wrist are more likely to follow the advice because it is much more personal and harder to ignore. Besides laying on guilt, these tools could also provide supportive feedback based on your progress and monitoring of activities. For example, you could hear a voice if you’ve been sitting for too long, saying “take a five minute walk” or delivering an encouraging phrase to push you through the end of a run.

Voice-enabled intuitive technology as part of the wearable experience is a great opportunity to provide much more value to the consumer as a personalised health tool. A recent study of 1,000 people claims that most people are not willing to pay for their own wearable today, but if the device were provided as a health benefit and associated with the user’s healthcare provider, the number could increase – according to the report, up to 68%.

Today there are cool toolsets that developers can use to create their own consumer health apps, and I for one, can’t wait to see what comes next. I’m excited as both a physician and an engaged patient to see how wearables will transform mHealth in the future and support and maintain better lifestyle choices.

Dr Nick van Terheyden brings a distinctive blend of medical practitioner and business strategist, both national and international, to the realm of healthcare technology. A graduate of the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, University of London, he is a pioneering creator in the evolution of healthcare tech. After years as a medical practitioner in London and Australia, he joined an international who's who in healthcare, academia and business, in the development of the first electronic medical record in the early 1990s and as a business leader in one of the first speech recognition companies.