The market for wearables is booming. Notifications on your wrist, a connected fitness trainer, a sleep tracker, and a health monitor all without having to get your phone out? Get us one too! Does knowing all the facts and stats without a doctor help us understand our health, or harm our well-being? Or, is it the new way to get patients more engaged in their own health?
Life-saving or stress-inducing?
Jared got a smartwatch as a gift from his kids last year. Besides tracking his occasional run and receiving text messages, he doesn’t think much about it. But, after receiving a notification from his watch that tracked a strange heartbeat, he called his cardiologist. The doctor diagnosed Jared with AFib, an irregular heart rhythm that increases the likelihood of blood clots and stroke. Without the data from his smartwatch, the doctor wouldn’t have been able to detect this irregularity on the spot. Jared’s smartwatch might have just saved his life.
Laura is another wearable user. She uses her smartwatch to track everything in her life: her steps, sleep, water and food intake, workouts, and more. Noticing one day that her heart rate was lower than average, she went into the emergency room immediately, hoping it wasn’t a sign of a heart attack. After a check-up, the doctor explained that her heart rate was still normal for her age and didn’t have anything to worry about. As quickly as Laura’s anxiety spiked, she was relieved and was able to go on with her daily life as she left the office.
While wearables can help users like Jared to diagnose a problem, there are also users like Laura that focus too much on data, and without a doctor can misinterpret readings, which can lead to unnecessary doctor visits and a lot of stress.
“In the proper context, technology can be liberating, workflow-enhancing, and life-saving,” explained Howard Luks, MD, to The Script. “But all too often, the context is different where the digital data we have is not combined with the verbal information we get about how the condition is actually affecting the patient. As a result, we treat numbers or MRI findings, not people.”
A gamified fitness experience
“If you take a brisk walk for 13 minutes, you’ll close your rings today.”
“Work out one more time this week, to earn the 7/7 badge.”
Having a personal fitness trainer on your wrist means that it is always with you, and constantly pushing you to do more. The gamification of fitness through wearables gets users more involved in tracking their progress but is that extra lap really helpful to our health?
Liz Joy, a sports medicine specialist and senior medical director of wellness and nutrition says otherwise. “[Patients] say, ‘I try to get 10,000 steps a day.’ And I’ll ask them where they think that recommendation came from, and nine times out of 10, they have no idea,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with getting 10,000 steps, it’s just that they don’t need that many to get health benefits.”
The 10,000 steps a day was more of a marketing message than a health fact rooted in science.
A positive way to get involved
What about you? We picked the brains of our own VivaTech community for their thoughts on health and wearables. In our online poll, we asked: “Are wearables (e.g., smart watches) a positive or negative technological development in monitoring our health?”
Overall, most respondents, 57%, think that wearable technology is a helpful development in monitoring our health, while 30% think it’s a mix of both helpful and harmful. Only 5% thought it was harmful, and 8% said it was neither.
While the technology of wearables isn’t a cure-all, it does allow users to get more involved in their wellness. According to research from Insider Intelligence, more than 80% of consumers are willing to wear fitness technology in 2022.
With wearable popularity on the rise, so are the benefits we can reap. Wearables can be a tool to promote proactive health and let users gain a feeling of control over their health. Wearable data can help doctors detect a problem or disease early on, which in turn can decrease treatment costs. Insurance companies could even lessen rising costs for patients using wearables since “the technology incentivizes behavior that reduces hospital visits and readmissions due to poorly managed personal health,” according to Insider Intelligence.
Focus on innovation
Wearable technology had a rocky start in the healthcare industry, but is slowly becoming more accurate and useful in the right context. We will continue to see inspiring advancements and life-saving innovations emerge in this industry.