Wearable devices: a health trend or a long-term solution?

April 4, 2014

Although health insurance companies and physicians are encouraging patients to use wearable devices, usage is often short term.

There is hope that wearable devices could improve the patient/doctor relationship by helping manage patient behaviors. But do patients see these devices as trendy jewelry or a part of their healthcare strategies?

Although health insurance companies and physicians are encouraging patients to use wearable devices, usage is often short term, according to a new study. Half of the people who own activity trackers, such as Fitbit and Jawbone bracelets that monitor heartbeat and steps taken per day, don’t use them, according to a report by Endeavour Partners. One-third of wearable device owners only wear the devices for 6 months after receiving them. 

The problem with these wearable devices, according to the study’s authors, is that they aren’t designed to drive long-term utilization. “Products and services that provide utility but fail to have a meaningful impact on users’ behaviors and habits-such as an activity tracker that provides data but doesn’t inspire action-end up failing in the market,” the study’s authors say. “Users quickly abandon wearables that don’t help them make positive changes. Devices that offer functionality to help the wearer change their habits also promote sustained behavior change and lead to long-term health.”

The study finds that many wearable devices on the market today lack three factors that would increase long-term use:

  • Habit formation: Engaging users through cues, rewards, and behavior, instead of just data collection will help wearables become more habitual.

  • Social motivation: Connecting not only data, but shared activities and behaviors to social media builds a sense of community and competition for wearers.

  • Goal reinforcement: Wearable devices have the opportunity to help people feel continued progress through reaching small goals everyday. This, coupled with feedback keeps them interested in the device.

According to a recent Nielsen report, about 15% of consumers own wearable devices. Fitness bands and activity trackers are the most popular, as 61% of wearers own them. Half of consumers surveyed say they want to purchase a wearable device in the future. Experts forecast that more than 17 million wearable devices will be sold in 2014, and that number could jump to 45 million by 2017.