This year, wearable devices were all the rage at the International Consumer Electronic Show (CES (News - Alert)) but it appears most companies mainly focused on shine and flash over function. (Take the “Swarovski Shine” Misfit (News - Alert) collection for example).
Of the 50+ devices at the conference, most catered to the same demographic – wealthy, fitness-minded individuals. Almost none of the devices served the needs of the chronically ill (like those suffering from diabetes, obesity and heart disease) – a demographic that as of 2012 comprised nearly half of the adult population of the U.S.
And one of the largest technology companies in the world is omitting its healthcare capability from the latest version of one of its newer products. Apple Watch’s latest version will not include it’s health functionality leaving company executives to wonder about the product’s true purpose.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t exciting wearables for the chronically ill. For instance, there is the Zoll LifeVest, a wearable defibrillator. However, the Zoll LifeVest is the exception, not the rule. But my hope for the future is that other companies will follow its lead and invest heavily in products for patients with serious conditions.
Though such an investment comes with drawbacks – navigating FDA approval among them – there are three notable benefits: (1) ability to singularly focus on function; (2) loyal customer base; and (3) singular marketing pipeline.
The chronically ill are focused on function over form, so device companies can move forward with a functioning minimally viable product. They want something that’ll work no matter how cool it looks. If wearable makers get something functional into the hands of the ill, cuteness isn’t a factor. Take the Nightscout Group for example. Its early adopters spurred FDA engagement and diabetic medical device makers to accelerate their offerings.
Additionally, serving the chronically ill often comes with a built in customer base – which can sometimes take years or generations to develop. Loyalty is particularly important when that customer base can prove a product’s efficacy. That’s exactly what this group of people can offer. By that I mean they need these products, and they’re hungry for anything that will make them healthier, so they’re more likely to be early adopters of products that haven’t been proven.
There is a vast opportunity to reach an untapped market when wearable device makers build products for chronic illnesses especially on the marketing side. Doctors are primarily a singular group. Instead of marketing to millions of diverse individuals, a more focused wearables community could market to dozens of doctors – the power users who serve chronic disease. Not to mention – getting physicians on board will certainly quicken the pace of insurance reimbursement.
Wearable device makers can achieve and additional layer of success after successfully developing products for the chronically ill – they stand to truly improve their customer’s health. Making a lasting change in someone’s life is worth the extra hassle of breaking into a highly regulated industry.
Star Cunningham is the founder of 4DHealthware – patient engagement software that makes personalized medicine possible through data. 4DHealthware’s software helps patients and health organizations manage chronic disease.
Edited by Maurice Nagle
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