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3 Factors That Will Affect Wearable Healthcare Tech Adoption

Wearable technologies have tremendous potential to change the landscape of patient engagement and quality of care. They can provide enhanced field displays to surgeons in the operating room or assist hospitalists who need bedside electronic healthcare record access  for patients. Smart clothes can sense and capture everything from vital signs to electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram activity.

The global wearable device market is expected to be worth almost $30 billion by 2022, and in 2011, ABI Research predicted that wearable wireless medical devices would grow to an estimated 100 million devices annually by 2016.

But who is going to use them?

According to a 2015 survey conducted by Endeavor Partners, more than 50 percent of people who have adopted wearables — especially in the sports and fitness space — were no longer using those devices six months after purchase. In most instances, the “wow factor” had worn off and interest had waned because those devices weren’t delivering something of tangible benefit to the user.

There are a lot of factors that can determine the successful adoption and long-term use of these devices, including:

Specificity – The prevailing thinking in app and device innovation seems to be focused on providing an all-in-one experience for the user. It is presumed that the more options I have from a single interface or dashboard, the better my user experience. People don’t need more options — they need better ones.

“The wearables that are very successful are the ones that are designed to solve a very specific problem for someone that a smartphone isn’t doing,” says Dan Ledger, principal for Endeavor Partners. “The instant a problem is solvable with their smartphone; the wearable has failed to differentiate itself beyond its ability to be worn.”

Design – From a design perspective, it’s more important for manufacturers to focus on whether the device will be worn, not whether it is wearable. The tech design of a wearable technology is important to its ability to sense, monitor, capture and transmit useable data, but design aesthetics may be more important. Only a diehard fitness enthusiast is going to be willing to wear an ugly watch for the sake of tracking activity.

Watches and wearables on the wrist only make sense if they are waterproof, so that accidentally wearing one into the shower or diving into a pool doesn’t result in a ruined product. Clothes with embedded sensors won’t make it past the first wearing if they don’t fit well or can’t be laundered.

Niche usability – The challenge with wearables in the fitness space is going to continue to be in sustaining consumer engagement. Again, the fitness enthusiast will be the most likely long-term customer, but this is a narrow market and arguably the fitness enthusiast needs these tools the least. A great deal of attention is being directed at the psychology of behavior modification and change readiness.  Everything from social support to gamification are being integrated in tech design in an attempt to find the right consumer motivators.

If wearables are limited to the fitness and wellness market, the gains will be narrow and the uphill climb will be difficult. Wearables are going to be the most successful when they are truly transformative and indispensable to activities of daily living. For example, for a chronic disease patient whose device dramatically impacts the management of their disease or to the surgeon whose device enables rapid, hands-free access to clinical data, images and information.