How to train your body with smart health-enabled wearables

Wearable technology is still in its early days, but the future looks bright. These devices can become really helpful tools and power a much healthier community of engaged patients in the future. As a physician and an engaged patient, I’m excited to see innovations making this easier.

Health is personal.  The good news is that more people today are getting involved and taking matters into their own hands especially when it comes to behaviors they can change. An estimated 69% of American adults today track areas of their health, such as weight, diet, exercise and symptoms, and 21% of them are using digital tools to do it. mHealth apps, interactive tools and the wearable market is set to explode as a growing number of people look to manage their health to stay or get well.

I am a big believer in the quantified self and I use several tools to track my activity, food, and sleep habits. As such, I am always on the lookout for the next innovation to make it faster, easier, or more accurate to monitor how I am progressing against my personal health goals.  One of the most promising of these is wearables that can go beyond what my fit bands can do by becoming more connected to my habits and more aware of what I’m doing (or not doing) than any unintelligent wristband or anything that sits on my desk or in my pocket.

Presentations at this week’s Samsung Developer Conference in San Francisco lead me to believe we are not far from a smart watch or other wearable device that can have a direct connection to me in a very different way… where I can talk to it and it can talk to me (a la the movie, HER), teaming up to promote my personal health. I’ll admit that I could use that help, and I’m clearly not alone.

Studies show that tracking alone – whether it’s calories, exercise, weight or something else – does not always lead to persistent behavior change in most people. That’s where a voice-enabled Smart Health application on a watch or other wearable could make a difference by engaging with people who need repeated nudges (like myself) in the right direction. For example, the biggest challenge I face is remembering to take medicine on time consistently. That’s why I love the concept of a smart watch on my wrist that uses voice as part of the user experience, making it easier to use, always present and more personal. It would be great for logging exercise and meals eaten in a few simple phrases, but voice is also much more compelling to me for reinforcing good behaviors. What if you could have your physician or some other personal inspirational figure record a reminder for you take your medicine on your wearable?

As many as 75% of patients fail to adhere to physician prescribed treatment regimens. That’s crazy when you think about it. We invest all this money in medical and drug research, visiting physicians, getting recommendations, filling prescriptions and then we get home and fail to execute reliably.  I think voice-enabled wearables are a huge opportunity to fix this and so much more. Most people hearing a verbal reminder from their wrist are more likely to follow the advice because it is more personal and harder to ignore. Besides laying on guilt, these tools could also provide supportive feedback based on your progress and monitoring of activities. For example, you could hear a voice if you’ve been sitting for too long, saying “take a 5 minute walk” or delivering an encouraging phrase to push you through the end of a run.

Wearable technology is still in its early days, but the future looks bright. Today while many people own Jawbones, Fitbits and other wearable devices, the drop off rate is precipitous with more than half of consumers dropping their use after 6 months. I see this changing in the future. Voice-enabled intuitive technology as part of the wearable experience is a great opportunity to provide much more value to the consumer as a personalized health tool. A recent study of 1,000 people claims that most people are not willing to pay for their own wearable today, but if the device were provided as a health benefit and associated with the user’s healthcare provider, the number could increase – according to the report, up to 68%.

Today there are cool toolsets that developers can use to create their own consumer health apps, and I for one, can’t wait to see what comes next. I’m excited as both a physician and an engaged patient to see how wearables will transform mHealth in the future and support and maintain better lifestyle choices.

Tags: , , ,

Dr. Nick van Terheyden

About Dr. Nick van Terheyden

This is a contributed post by Dr. Nick van Terheyden. As a pioneering creator in the evolution of healthcare technology, he brings a distinctive blend of medical practitioner and business strategist to the realm of health IT. To see more content like this, visit the Healthcare section of the blog.