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Tech Trends in Healthcare: Wearables

By: Nextech | August 28th, 2015

Blog Feature

In the second quarter of 2015, wearables tech company Fitbit saw its sales revenue more than triple to $400 million, up from $113 million in the same quarter last year.  This upward trend in the wearables market isn’t just being seen by Fitbit, either.  While they definitely seem to be leading the pack, many other tech companies have introduced their own wearable devices in recent years, usually in the form of wristbands that track a wearer’s stats/behavior for things such as heart rate, step counts, calorie intake/burn, and even sleeping habits—Apple Watch, the Nike+ FuelBand (though this device discontinued last year as part of a new fitness-wearable joint venture between Nike and Apple), MiBand, and Jawbone, to name just a few.

The sharp rise of the wearables market over the last five years has surprised many in the tech industry.  In 2011, the entire wearables market was valued at only $630 million.  Four short years later, it is currently estimated to have a value of $7.14 billion and many predict that value to reach $12.64 billion by 2018 (some 2018 predictions are more generous, however, claiming the global wearables market could be worth as much as $30.2 billion).

No doubt about it… wearables are big business, these days.

The question is why now?  After all… there have been similar devices in the past and none of those met with success.  Remember Google Glass?  Despite the best efforts of oddly devoted techie-hipsters, the venture did not pan out so well for Google.  This was most likely because the product did not appeal to the general public, who have no interest in recording every second of their lives.  Most people just use their (much cheaper) smartphones for that.  In all honesty, the device was basically a smartphone/camera modified to be worn on a user’s face.  And when certain businesses (namely restaurants and movie theaters) started banning Google Glass from their establishments to protect patron privacy and prevent film piracy… many saw that as the beginning of the end.  Not to mention that one survey found that 59 percent of respondents said they would never even consider buying or wearing Google Glass (only 28% said they would).  However, Google isn’t done with wearables just yet.  

In fact, it seems the folks at Google learned some valuable lessons from the demise of their smart glasses, and they appear to be planning to design a new wearable device.  Although, they haven’t offered any specifics just yet. 

For their sake, I hope they decide go with a smartwatch or wristband model the second time around… because those things are selling like crazy, with 24.92 million units shipped to customers worldwide in 2015.  

And, let’s face it… smartwatches and wristbands don’t make people look quite as weird.

Appearances aside, there’s another reason that smartwatches and wristbands have succeeded over smart glasses.  Simply put, smart glasses don’t offer much when it comes to functions that can improve a person’s health or lifestyle—things like tracking the wearer’s blood pressure or helping to keep an eye on how far a person is walking every day… or even identifying possible sleep apnea without the need for an expensive sleep study.

Many have pointed to the rise of wearable health/fitness devices as a side effect of the Affordable Care Act’s “consumerization” of healthcare, which has forced many consumers to become more directly involved (especially on a financial level) with the costs and choices related to their healthcare providers and insurance companies.  And, as people have become more involved in their own healthcare, wearable health/fitness technology was there to service that need.  While that may be where these devices began, the future of such technology is far wider reaching.

As our world moves toward an “Internet of Things” in which all smart devices will have the ability to communicate with one another in one giant global network, wearables are increasingly viewed as the future standard for telehealth and telemedicine.  Future wearables will be able to track, record and transmit pertinent information directly to a patient’s healthcare provider—insulin, cholesterol, and blood pressure among other things.  This will allow the doctors of tomorrow to consistently monitor the status of those patients with problematic or chronic conditions, such as diabetes or cancer, without the need for the patient to make a physical trip to the office.

And hopefully… the wearables of the future won’t make you look like a crazy person.