Are wearables a trend or a fad? Do they have real potential to promote better health? And how should the health system take advantage of the data they gather, if at all?
These are questions I’ve been thinking about during my own Fitbit experience after entering a Team TELUS competition. Like other wearables, it tracks health and wellness goals and metrics like calories burned, proper sleep and so on. I’m no super-athlete, but I usually run or play hockey about three times a week. Not wanting to let my team down, I used my Fitbit data to track and increase my activity by using stairs more often at work, scheduling exercise when I work from home and increasing the distances of my runs. Sadly, once the competition was over, I stopped using it and my activity level has started to wane.
I’m tempted to blame this on my Fitbit’s battery life; however, it came with a rechargeable battery and besides, I’m not alone. One study indicated that only about 50% of people use their device after twelve months. Like fitness club membership cards that spend more time in dresser drawers than out, these devices are piling up in dark places.
Even so, the wearables market is taking off. The Canadian consumer wearables market is expected to explode by 62% over the next five years. New products offer advanced sensing – like body mechanics, temperature and heart rate. And most anticipate that Apple’s recent announcement of the iOS 8, which includes HealthKit APIs to enable health and fitness apps to communicate with each other, will ‘revolutionize’ the way the health industry interacts with people.
If wearables are here to stay, can they make a difference in our health? My opinion is a qualified ‘yes’. Inactivity has been estimated to cost Canadians $6.8 billion per year or 3.7% of all health care costs. Clearly there’s an upside to embracing wearables…but…only if we use them.
Should physicians make use of the data these devices gather? Practically speaking, a primary care doc is likely to be only interested that you have a device and if you are using it. When these devices evolve to include vital signs and integrate with medical device data, then clinical interest is more likely to increase – especially for patients recovering from a severe incident like a heart attack or stroke. While the market is evolving quickly, for now, today’s devices are great for encouraging individual wellness and sharing your progress with your family, running mate, personal trainer or life coach.
Nick Zamora is Chief Clinical Advisor, Transformation Services at TELUS Health.