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Wearables 2.0

by Yasi Baiani, MBA, Product Innovation Manager, Epocrates

We’re currently living in an era where access to data about ourselves — our bodies, activity and behaviors — is more available than ever before. It’s no surprise then that companies and entrepreneurs are devoting time to satisfying the public’s need for what is called the “quantified self.” In fact, in response to the staggering number of employees who expressed interest in tracking their health, athenahealth has partnered with Fitbit to provide athenistas with a super engaging wellness experience. Visit an athenahealth campus, and you’ll see Fitbit users everywhere!

With 67% of the market share in 2013, Fitbit has been the leader in the wearable market consumer culture. Apple recently entered the fray with HealthKit, which aims to establish an interconnected world of health by facilitating an accumulation of access to health data. And Salesforce launched its Salesforce Wear Developer Pack, enabling developers to build applications for a variety of wearable devices.

While most “wearables” will offer various functions such as taking pictures, receiving text messages and pushing relevant information to the user, it’s the “health” component that can be the most revolutionizing. Considering the potential market expansion – and variety of consumer options – what must a wearable device offer to be a winning wearable product?

Accurate Data
Many skeptics of the first generation of wearables rightfully question the accuracy of data that the monitoring devices collect. Even basic information – steps taken or calories burned – proved to be not entirely accurate.

For instance, if you participated in bikram yoga and burned 450 calories in the process, current Fitbit or Jawbone wristbands would not accurately capture that information. Similarly, if you went spinning for an hour, your wristband would not show the right calorie burned. The reason is that the motion sensors in these devices are still quite basic and only capture movements of the part of the body on which the wristband is located.

Due to the lack of accuracy, early wearables cannot be confidently utilized by physicians and care providers for medical decisions. It’s easy to see how difficult the next step would be: Aggregating accurate data that could potentially be developed for preventive care or diagnosis.

To establish trust with users and physicians or coaches, the next generation of wearables (Let’s call them “wearables 2.0”) should focus on a more accurate metrics system. That’s a great first step.

More Health, Less Fitness
Most of the current fitness trackers collect information about numbers of steps or the duration of a physically strenuous workout. Certain wearables also monitor sleep and allow the consumer to manually track their food intake.

Although these are interesting metrics, they will not be enough for wearable 2.0 products because they focus on fitness rather than overall health. A successful wearable should track more biometrics and health metrics — glucose level, oxygen saturation, heart rate, heart rhythm, respiration rate, blood pressure, temperature, cortisol level, adrenaline level — to better demonstrate an individual’s health status at any given time. The ability to provide a 24/7 health snapshot of an individual could be invaluable and would offer a compelling case for a wearable 2.0 device.

Make Data “Actionable”
Collecting an individual’s health metrics for one point in time has value, but not beyond that individual or that moment. The ability to produce accumulated data, to be digestible, comparable, and actionable, is what wearable 2.0 companies should focus on.

Research shows that ⅓ of wearable owners quit their devices within the first 6 months. Based on my interviews with about 30 of wearable owners, I realized that 70% of them hopes that their wearables do more than simply track their health and activity metrics; they wanted their devices to help them improve those numbers. For wearable 2.0 makers to succeed and avoid a similar attrition, they should aggregate collected data from individuals of the same age, gender, and health profiles, and create indices, which can then be made available to the users. Participants could then compare their performances relative to others in the same category. Finally, the product innovators could incorporate features and levers in their products that would encourage the public to be at their healthiest level.

Integrate into the Health Care System
For wearables to have a genuine impact, they must be integrated into the larger health care system. Collecting accurate health metrics is the first step towards building trust and credibility with physicians and care providers, but to widely penetrate into the system and become part of a doctor’s daily workflow, wearable 2.0 creators should focus on two details:

  1. Establish a partnership with existing technologies and systems in hospitals and physician’s offices, like those found on the athenahealth Marketplace. This can help expand the base of wearable 2.0 users, an essential element to bringing greater interest across the industry.
  2. Offer features that address care providers needs, such as a dashboard with charts and tables that easily illustrate a user’s (a patient’s) health metrics.

There are, of course, other major considerations that product developers should take into account: design, privacy factors, battery life, and the ability to serve as an “all-in-one” device that deserves to be attached to the consumer 24/7. In short, I envision that the next generation of wearables will evolve rapidly by offering one element above all else: an exceptional user experience.

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