Wearable Health Technology Still Just a Novelty, Report Finds

One-third of surveyed consumers who bought such a device more than a year prior said they use the device infrequently or no longer at all.

by Stephanie Lee, San Francisco Chronicle (TNS) / October 22, 2014

Consumers have not yet embraced wearable health technology, but they could be persuaded to do so if given the right incentives, a new PwC report predicts.

The report, released Tuesday, identified what many others before it have: Wearable devices, for now, remain novelty items. One-third of surveyed consumers who bought such a device more than a year prior said they use the device infrequently or no longer at all.

They expressed disappointment that the information generated was inconsistent or unreliable, and they worried about privacy: More than 80 percent were concerned the technology would invade their privacy and make them more vulnerable to security breaches.

Despite that lack of widespread adoption, more than 80 percent of respondents said they thought that wearable technology could make health care more convenient. In particular, they said they would wear employer-provided wearables that streamed anonymous data to an information pool in exchange for a break on their insurance premiums.

In addition, a doctor’s endorsement is key: Consumers said they were more willing to try wearables provided by their primary care doctor than any other brand or category.

Consumers also said they trusted their physicians most with their health data — but expressed little interest in sharing data with friends and family. The report suggested that teams of medical professionals could also help patients wade through the sea of health apps and devices by recommending certain ones for use.

Lest this sound too pessimistic, the report noted promising signs that wearables have begun to gain traction: More than 1 million customers transmit data from fitness tracks to Walgreens in exchange for points that can be used like cash in its stores and on its website.

Dignity Health physicians enter patient information into electronic health records with Augmedix’s Google Glass app. And Apple — a company with a track record for turning devices into must-have items — revealed last month a smart watch that can monitor heart rate and activity.

The Apple Watch hasn’t even gone on sale yet. But it’s made consumers more excited about wearables in general in the month it’s been announced, which could bode well for the category, another study out Tuesday reports.

Networked Insights analyzed conversations on social media about four different smart watches and found that consumers are much likelier to buy the products now than they were before Apple’s announcement.

It came to this conclusion by examining conversations related to each smart watch, then analyzing the percentage of posts with language that indicated whether the consumer was planning to buy it.

Consumer buzz over the Galaxy Gear and Moto 360 smart watches have increased since each product was introduced, the analysis found, and overall, about 8 percent of all conversations about smart watches express an intent to buy them.

It might be wise to take these findings with a grain of salt, however: According to the analysis, consumers’ talk about wanting to buy an Apple Watch has apparently dropped off since the company’s announcement.

©2014 the San Francisco Chronicle