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Wearable Technology and Health Benefits

Most of us tend to make New Year’s resolution to quit smoking, eat healthy, shed X pounds of weight. And we tend to stick to our plan for couple of weeks at most. During these couple of weeks, some of us may have ordered a new pair of running shoes or even a treadmill. We made a conscious effort of making a plan and then put in some time and effort to stay on course but why do we skid away from our health commitments?

The answer lies in the way as humans how we make choices. In Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Yale University Press, 2008), Thaler and Sunstein suggest that “people make good choices in contexts where they have experience, good information, and prompt feedback—say, choosing among ice cream flavors.”

Let’s examine the choice of adopting a healthier lifestyle through the lens of experience, good information and prompt feedback. There is plenty of good information and firsthand experience on benefits of adopting a healthier lifestyle. However, a healthier lifestyle does not offer prompt feedback.

It would be interesting and motivating if one can measure the impact of adopting a healthier habit in short duration of time. I am sure that I am not the only one who would spend 30-40 mins in the gym and then spend another 10 mins in front of the mirror to seek “prompt feedback”. The lack of prompt feedback distracts us from the goals we set out with on New Year’s Eve.

For argument sake, let’s give treadmill a fighting chance. Small displays on treadmills offer key information like heartbeat, calories burnt during the workout. However, it requires a different level of motivation to use a treadmill. For all of those who aren’t motivated to use a treadmill, wearable devices like Apple Watch and Fitbit wearables are an effort to fill the gap of “prompt feedback”. Just imagine, if we are able to monitor key health indicators in real time it fills the gap of prompt feedback and thus motivates us to take corrective action.

We all have good information like range of healthy heart rate but now with wearable devices we can monitor our hear rate in real time and thus make choices for adopting healthier habits. Similarly, with wearable devices we can conduct light workouts independent of location and time while receiving prompt feedback in form of calories burnt.

Given the benefit of prompt feedback, the wearables will see increased adoption. And this emerging consumption pattern is set to disrupt at least 2 industries, First is the market for wearable devices itself, we can see more and more players entering with innovative wearable devices or better software to record and analyze health data. Newer devices will bring the cost of adoption lower and thus has potential to increase insurer or employer mandated adoption of wearables to monitor individual health.

Secondly, the health insurance companies will start using the health data so collected to revise health insurance premiums for its subscribers. Today, some health insurance companies offer lower premiums to individuals who go to gym regularly. With additional detail available, underwriters will be better equipped to measure health risks with more precision and thus charge more relevant premium.

Surely, there is an adoption curve and along the curve there will be concerns regarding how the data is collected, how is it analyzed and let’s not forget privacy of the data so collected. But that’s part and parcel of any technology adoption in this data driven era. And like we have done in past, we’ll address these concerns as we go along.