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Wearables – worth the hype?

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

swimmo3

#SXSW- Wearables: saving lives and improving outcomes

WearablesI recently submitted my proposal to speak at SXSW next year on “Wearables: saving lives and improving outcomes” and the public voting on proposals starts today.  It would be a dream to speak there but I know the competition is stiff so I have all my fingers and toes crossed and will be asking everyone to vote for me!

Picture2If you follow my blog you may have read my posts from earlier this year.  That was my first time at SXSW and I have to admit it was a life changing event resulting in me leaving my job to go back to focus on my true love – digital strategy and innovation in healthcare.  The event was incredibly inspiring,  not only seeing such amazing innovation but also seeing how it could be applied to improve the lives of patients with chronic diseases like myself. As I listened to some of these amazing talks I thought how great it would be if I could also share some of my knowledge, passion and inspiration in this area, and so when my friend Jackie Cuyvers suggested I submit a proposal I went for it!  I was actually interviewed for national TV about the impact of wearables so I thought why not speak about this topic!

I wanted to share want inspires me the most – how technology is having such a huge impact on patient’s lives and the revolutionary changes that are happening in healthcare as result, not just in terms of technology but also in the culture and mindset change.  As an autoimmune patient myself I have a huge amount to thank for the internet, thanks to the information I found that led to my diagnosis, and the improved quality of life, but also in the inspiration from other patients that drove me to be an empowered patient and demand better health from my physicians.  Back then I had got to the point were I could hardly get out of bed any more and had such extreme brainfog I was struggling to complete sentences; I now lead a normal, active life – thanks to the information and support I received online.

wearables3It is this that drives my passion at looking how innovation and new technology can do more for patients and help turn other people’s lives around, or indeed save them.  In January I spoke about how social media is saving lives and now I want to speak about how wearables also have this capability.  Wearables is of course the big thing this year, with a huge swathe of new devices of all shapes, sizes and uses being launched.  The big ones are off course in the “health & fitness” arena like fitbit or new smartwatches such as the Apple watch.  Everyone is talking about them and I have quite a few friends who have purchased new smartwatches to track their sports activities (I myself have invested in the new Swimmo watch).  These devices are fantastic to help the reasonably healthy get even more healthy.  But what about those that are not well or fit enough to run marathons or swim kilometres?

wearables4The real impact of wearables will come in how they are developed and adapted for those people who face real health challenges, whether it be Alzheimer’s or severe Asthma.  Being able to wear a device which provides live support and information or that conatcts HCPs or family in the case of a medical emergency can have a huge impact in improving a patient’s life.  Some options in this area already exist but few wearables on the market have been specifically designed for this purpose.  Right now much wearable tech is focusing on the lucrative “fitness” and consumer markets but once we start to see more wearables being specifically designed for certain diseases then we still start to see some incredibly inspirational outcomes thanks to this technology.

It is on this topic that I hope to head to and speak at SXSW in March next year, with my friend Jackie (who will be speaking about social media listening and the implications of culture and language – think about the British and American understanding of the word “pants”).  I would ask that you please help me achieve this goal by voting for me here by searching for “Fulford”, and don’t let me go alone – please also vote for Jackie too!

For full details of how to vote have a look at this document with instructions that I put together.  The final thing I would like to say is that for every vote I get I will make a donation to my charity Hope for Romanian Strays which works tirelessly to rescue stray and injured dogs in Romania – so vote for me and help stray dogs!