Wearable technology is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, estimated to be worth $52.14 billion in 2021.
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In fact, market research firm Grand View Research projects wearable technology’s market size will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 14.9% from 2022 to 2030.
João Bocas, a thought leader, mentor, speaker, and wearable tech expert, called wearables “the healthcare delivery of the future.”
“[Wearables] will, of course, help to create new business models,” Bocas said, “but they are also an excellent vehicle to acquire data — and data is fundamental in terms of treating people.” Bocas added that wearables can be used to monitor and diagnose patients, too.
The nonprofit GCF Global Learning, which offers educational and work opportunities to individuals with disabilities, describes wearable technology as devices worn throughout the day. Examples include smartwatches like the Apple Watch and fitness trackers like Fitbit. These devices aim to collect data and help wearers make more informed choices as they go about their day.
Leveraging data for behavioral change
User comprehension of and engagement with that data is crucial for behavioral change.
“I always say this, but wearables on their own, they’re not the miracle,” Bocas said. “The miracle is a combination of change of behavior and the wearables to assist. I see the devices as having a supporting role.”
Wearables, he added, “require a very strong element of human intervention. The human being needs to be quite engaged and intrinsically find the motivation to use wearables to benefit from them.”
For example, if a user has a personal health goal to become more active, he or she might need to know how to track their steps using their wearable and then leverage its features, such as reminders, to make that behavioral change. Perhaps they want to watch their heart rate if they’re managing a cardiovascular condition, such as if their cardiologist advised them that that level of monitoring would be helpful. But without knowing how to activate that feature and then interpret its data, the wearable is useless for whatever the intended purpose is.
Overcoming barriers to usage
True wearables combined with patient education can make for effective health outcomes. As authors of one research paper note, wearables have five features: “(1) wireless mobility; (2) interactivity and intelligence; (3) sustainability and durability; (4) simple operation and miniaturization; and (5) wearability and portability.”
Bocas emphasized that simplicity in design is critical. “Health is already complicated enough — the delivery, the pay, the technology,” he said. According to Bocas, healthcare providers can help encourage effective wearable use by implementing their usage in existing care models.
Other barriers that have been studied and need to be overcome for wearables to be helpful include: absent patient motivation, a lack of perceived value, human error (such as failing to charge a device or use a device), and concerns over patient data privacy and security.
Experts like Bocas are optimistic about the future of wearables — but they say those devices will be a lot more advanced than those you’re used to seeing on the wrist.
“I have a big vision that they can change the world,” said Bocas, who added that if they can influence the way someone manages a health condition, they have the ability to affect reality.
Wearables available today include smartwatches, smart rings, smart clothing, smart belts, smart shoes, and smart sensing technologies. However, wearables of the future will implement artificial intelligence, Bocas predicts, and they’ll be all around us — potentially even within us as microchips.
“They will be with us 24/7,” Bocas said. “Because of testing capabilities, wearables will be unrecognizable.”