Smartwatches: Good for telling time, but not for collecting clinical data (yet. but don’t bet against it!)
(ED NOTE: Anybody want to bet on the use of Smartphones to eventually be HIPPA-compliant, and EVERY doctor using it to retrieve medical data about patients? And I promise to use the proceeds to this winning bet to hire medical curators for this website!! And Daddy needs a new pair of Shoes!)
The expected release of Apple’s much-hyped iWatch and enhancements to Samsung’s Gear platform, along with recent releases by Asus, Sony, LG Electronics and Motorola, make the smartwatch market one of the more active in recent months. But does this mean that healthcare providers should be taking them seriously?
Not really. Or, to be more precise, not yet.
For now, analysts say, smartwatches will be fighting for a share of the consumer-facing health and fitness market. But they won’t be attracting much interest from the healthcare community because (1) they aren’t appealing to a broad range of the public, and (2) they aren’t collecting data that doctors want or need.
“Healthcare is not enough to stand alone” on a smartwatch platform, says Harry Wang, director of mobile product and health research for Parks Associates. “It needs to be part of a platform that supports many other activities (to gain broad consumer acceptance) … and we’re not there yet.”
“I can see it for wellness and fitness, yes, but for healthcare? No.”
The interest is there, and growing. According to Parks Associates, the number of connected digital trackers sold worldwide rose from 6.6 million in 2012 to 13.6 million in 2013 and is expected to soar to 22 million by the end of this year. And smartwatches – which Wang said are also tracked separately – are expected to reach 18 million in worldwide units sold this year and skyrocket to 121 million in 2018.
Wang says the healthcare community is sharply divided on the clinical value of smartwatches and most wearable devices, with many believing they’re not sophisticated enough to capture accurate healthcare data and not safe enough to be trusted with that information.
The lightning rod for the industry right now is Apple, which has unveiled its HealthKit platform and dropped hints that it will soon be launching the iWatch. Some see this as a step forward in the marrying of consumer health and fitness tools with clinical interests. Others aren’t so sure.
“The health industry is very doubtful in terms of what Apple can come up with,” Wang said. And while Apple is touting its collaborations with the Cleveland Clinic, Intel and Epic, Wang wonders how a smartwatch platform will be able to find information that a clinician will want – or that an electronic medical record will need.
“How will data be integrated and used?” Wang asked. “Who’s going to interpret that data for clinical use? That’s very challenging, even for Apple.”
And let’s add in the concerns about data security, both on the device and elsewhere. Just ask Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Upton if they feel safe about having private information stored on devices right now.
But smartwatches do have an appeal that could give them a niche in the healthcare landscape in the long run. They can be made to be fashionable, and they can passively collect data and transmit that data to another device, like a smartphone or home health monitoring platform. Wang sees this value as a “data gateway product,” good for population health management or chronic disease management.
For that reason, Wang said, the healthcare community will keep its eye on smartwatches and other wearable monitors, and pay attention to what’s on display at tech conferences like the IFA trade show in Berlin and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. They’re waiting for that last bridge to be crossed between consumer acceptance and clinical value.
Smartwatches “need to be a less intrusive but more powerful solution that people will want to wear every day,” Wang said. That’s why they’ll need to be paired with other uses – home security, music, shopping and communication, for example.
“It’s adding value to the smartwatch” so that it will be adopted and embraced by the public at large, not just the fitness fanatics, Wang said.
It would probably help if they told the time, too.