October 2, 2014

mHealth analysts and observers have been saying for some time that only the self-motivated are using wearable devices and fitness trackers, while most people aren’t being convinced to do so.

And now a new study essentially confirms that. The research also concluded that doctors and especially payers could have a huge effect on increasing the use of wearable devices if they supported the technology.

The “Wearable Technology & Preventative Medicine” study, conducted in September by Brentwood, Tenn.-based TechnologyAdvice Research, found that only a quarter of those surveyed use a fitness tracker (11 percent) or smartphone app (14 percent) to chart their health, weight and exercise. (Another 14.5 percent said they plan to do so).

Of the 75 percent who aren’t using such devices, almost 44 percent said they have no specific reason, while a full 27 percent said they have no interest in tracking their health data and 18 percent cited concerns about cost. Rounding out the list, 10.5 percent said they had concerns about data privacy and almost 8 percent cited unsatisfactory designs.

“A large portion of ‘none of the above’ respondents may simply require a catalyst for adoption, and do not necessarily have specific barriers holding them back from purchasing and using fitness tracking technology,” the report stated. “This is encouraging for the healthcare community, as these individuals (lacking a defined barrier to adoption) will likely be more willing to use such devices, given the proper incentives.”

[mHealth masters: Continua’s Chuck Parker says the time is right for smartwatches.]

Combining the results of this survey with the Pew Research Center’s 2012 Internet & American Life Project, the report noted that the percentage of adults tracking health and wellness data through a smartphone has doubled in the last two years – from 7 percent in 2012 to 14 percent now.

According to the survey, 48 percent of those who aren’t using devices said they would if prompted by their physician; 57 percent said they’d be more likely to use such a device if it would help lower insurance premiums; and 44 percent said they’d use a device if it meant getting better healthcare advice from their physician.

“If healthcare providers help make fitness tracking devices (or apps) available to their patients or work with health insurance providers to encourage device usage through discounted premiums, they should be able to significantly increase the number of self-tracking adults in the U.S.,” the report stated.

When breaking down the responses by age, the survey found that those most likely to benefit from devices and apps are the least willing to use them – only 17 percent of those age 65 and older were receptive, as opposed to almost 83 percent who weren’t interested. At the opposite end of the spectrum, more than 60 percent of those between 18 and 44 would use a fitness tracker.

“If physicians wish to encourage fitness tracking throughout their patient population, they will need to spend additional time highlighting the benefits of these devices to older patients,” the report stated.

When health insurance premiums were compared against age-based responses, once again, the older adults shied away from embracing wearable devices and apps.

“Young to middle-aged adults likely possess a greater understanding of wearable technology and have less overall income, making potential insurance discounts more appealing,” the report said. “Given that younger Americans are now required to purchase health insurance plans – many for the first time – such incentives may be particularly effective. Older adults, past the age of 45, may have less financial need for these discounts and are likely to be less familiar with wearable devices.”

“The greatest opportunity for increasing adoption of fitness and health tracking lies with insurance companies,” the report concluded.

While doctors have the potential to drive more use of wearables, the biggest opportunity to increase adoption resides with insurance companies.

“Over 57 percent of adults indicated that the possibility of lower premiums would make them more likely to use a fitness tracking device. Health insurance companies have greater means to subsidize the cost of such devices, and stand to benefit from the collected data in the form of better risk profiles. If healthcare providers worked in tandem with health insurance companies, both stakeholders could benefit from the collected population health data.”

The survey targeted 900 U.S. adults on their general fitness tracking habits and 419 adults on their specific reasons for not using tracking devices or apps.


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