With the recent news of Nike’s decision to discontinue its FuelBand fitness tracker, the media has been quick to write off health wearables (Jawbone UP®, FitBit®, etc.) – referring to them as glorified pedometers and deeming the fitness wristband industry “dead.” But are we too quick to judge the potential of these devices?
One in 10 American adults owns an activity tracker, but a third stop using the device within six months. That makes it easy to start doubting health wearables. But, think about it – that means two-thirds of people continue using their devices. If we apply these stats to the millions of Americans living with diabetes and other lifestyle diseases, healthcare wearables could motivate millions of Americans to get out and move more. Is that not a success?
Small-scale studies show promise. In 2013, Dr. Rajani Larocca, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, gave 10 diabetes patients (ages 50-70) a FitBit® Zip tracker, as part of a six-week lifestyle program designed to encourage exercise and healthy eating. According to Dr. Larocca, “every single person increased their activity” and felt “more knowledgeable.” Eight months later, she reported that about half the patients from the group still wear a tracker.
What does this mean? Are there improvements still needed to be made to health wearables, such as accurate movement measurement, seamless social network integration, and improved user experience? Absolutely. Are health wearables just a fad? With these first generation devices, let’s wait and see. The potential of these devices, like Google’s rumored contact lenses, to revolutionize how we take charge of our personal health still lives on.