Today I went for my regular swim with my Poolmate watch and found myself very frustrated when yet again I found that it was not counting my laps correctly. I presume I am probably like quite a few wearable owners in that I do not really use all the functions of my wearable device but I do expect it to get the basics right. In this case the basic function is counting my laps. Learning how efficient my strokes are is great but not much help if the device is not counting the laps correctly. I have written previously about my frustration with wearables when they don’t work and again I find myself in the same position. Not that long ago life existed without wearables and we seemed to do fine. Given my personal “fail” rate with my devices I wonder if they really are worth all the hype … or where things better before they came along?
The answer IMHO is yes and no. I think wearable technology is getting over-hyped but at the same time I think the opportunities that these devices offer are worth some hype nonetheless. Whilst my fails where frustrating they did not have a huge negative impact on my life (bar having to go back to counting laps in my head). In fact for many people a wearable is just a helpful addition to their fitness routine, which may indeed have a positive outcome on their health, for example the average fitbit user actually takes 43% more steps per day. If the device fails the worst case scenario is that for a while we may do less exercise – or just go back to how we always did it in the past.
However in other situations wearables could have a significant impact on people’s lives and in these cases the last thing you want is a device that does not work (especially if the fail is not spotted quickly). There are devices for example which patients could be using as a real support, for example in diseases like Alzheimer’s, or which have a large impact on their healthcare. Budgets could also be impacted, for example a recent study found that hospital costs dropped 6% for those who were inactive and became active. Failing devices which patients have become dependent on could lead to higher re-admissions and subsequent costs, or worse.
Linking the potentially very important impact from these wearable devices for some patients to a questionable device reliability does quite rightly result in a red warning flag. Currently many of the devices are being built for consumer fitness and a fail rate just results in disgruntled, perhaps slightly less fit, consumers. Moving these devices then into a more critical health environment without taking into account the greater impact could be a serious concern. Are these wearable technology companies doing enough to test their devices for duration and reliability in a more critical environment? Or are they just adapting consumer devices to seize a growing opportunity in the healthcare market? Are regulations adequate for these wearables – or indeed are regulations hindering innovation?
These are just some of the questions that accompany the hype of wearable devices. Despite my frustration today with my device I am still a big advocate for wearable technology simply because I do believe with time we will see some very positive impact coming from them for patients. In the meantime though perhaps we had best be careful of the over-hype and set our expectations around wearables more realistically. I for one am looking forward to getting my new Swimmo watch but I am also taking into account that it may not be all it is cracked up to be – or all that I hope – but if it can count my laps correctly for the next few years I will be happy.
And if I get to talk about all of this at #SXSW next year I will be doubly happy! If you have not done so already please vote for me: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/48954