Wearable tech is gaining momentum as the business of choice in the medical technology market today. Mobile apps and smart-phone/tablet linked devices have increased at a remarkable rate. Juniper Research’s oft-referenced report, into the emerging industry (Smart Health & Fitness Wearables: Device Strategies, Trends & Forecasts 2014-2019) believes wearables are set to dominate the [health] market until at least 2018. Data from Rock Health already shows huge strides, overall.
“Venture funding of biosensors and wearable technology increased 5X from 2011-2013—more than double the growth of digital health overall during the same period. The merging of these two spaces into a singular category—biosensing wearables—is where we see the most potential to impact healthcare.”
As news of Intel’s taking over as the chip supplier for Google Glass (supplanting Texas Instruments), Google is already partnering, and in some cases, acquiring medical device companies, and startups, to push it’s wearable device further into the workplace.
Not to be outdone, Apple’s partnership with Epic and Mayo Clinic to spawn its HealthKit, in mid-2014 had its own industry boom that, together with Google’s own successes, made news and industry experts dub 2015 as the year of the wearable device.
As these new healthcare startups gain momentum, and competition between Apple and Google
digital health economies heats up, so too, are growing concerns challenges are starting to appear. “The key is making the devices provide meaning as well as data—counting steps is all very well, but will not keep consumers interested unless that information can be contextualized and made useful for them,” Juniper Research Analyst James Moar said in an interview with FierceMobileHealthcare.
Another challenge is regulation. The FDA is taking measured steps in this area: Wearables will not be considered medical devices unless they make claims about fitness to treat specific diseases or conditions, or present inherent risks to consumers’ safety. “On the flip side are health devices that make specific claims about treating diseases or conditions. For example, if a wearable device promoted itself as a way to combat obesity, that would fall under the FDA’s purview, because obesity is a medical condition. Likewise, there’s a line between a device that helps promote heart health and one that claims to help lower your blood pressure.”
A third obstacle is the good ol’ Law of Diffusion of Innovation: some providers and customers alike still don’t see the benefit or value in wearable tech. According to a story from the LA Times, ”surveys have found that half who use mobile fitness trackers to keep tabs on their workouts or diets stop using the programs within six months.” Airstrip Technologies’ president, Dr Joseph Kvedar addressed San Diego’s Healthcare Unbound conference saying, “I can tell you right now doctors do not care about your Fitbit data.” Some have even gone as far as to say that mhealth will be another tech bubble.
However the emerging industry of wearable technology plays out, we are sure that the medical device landscape has changed because of the disruption these smart apps, devices and kits are causing even as you read these words.
And we can’t help but recall the words of Steve Jobs.
“I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning.”
Indeed it has.