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But its success requires a long-term vision.
My expertise lies in health-related wearable technology. They are beautiful tools, which in healthcare can be used preventively, through general fitness wearable devices, or for treatment and support, through medical wearable devices. As you might know, the first is mostly adopted by younger healthier individuals, used to track and monitor health, whereas the second is more appropriate for elderly and less healthy or sick individuals.
There is no doubt that the adoption and retention of medical wearable technology will, at least for now and the foreseeable future, outrun that of general fitness wearable devices. This is understandable, as they fulfill a direct and current need for the consumer. However, my belief is, and I assume yours too, if you believe in prevention over treatment, that the more general one of these two has the feared but powerful potential to truly change the status quo. Where now, overall health goes down just before the age of 50, general fitness wearable devices could move up that number. They could lead to a healthier population and, moreover, give care providers a holistic view, providing more insights when health issues do arise. Herein enduring behavior change is crucial.
As already discussed in many papers, the long-term adoption of these tools remains low. Where an increasing number of us do purchase wearables, at least a third stops using them after half a year, and even more follow from thereon forward. The reasons for abandonment are already well researched. Many of them point to issues such as poor device performance, aesthetic appeal, discomfort, a lack of innovative features and privacy and security concerns. These are all technological that seem to give wearable developers a headache.
There are, of course, some studies that point out more human factors, such as a lack of motivation, forgetfulness and the need for the tools to engage the consumer. However, to my knowledge, there are few to no studies that actually researched not the barriers but the motivational tactics that can support long-term adoption.
In my last post on wearable technology, I said we should view digital health as a cultural change, not a technological one. It is a people-driven change, and therefore enduring behavioral change should come from the people, not the technologies. This same view should be used when looking at the adoption of and engagement with wearables. Individuals need to be driven to use the tools. They need to see the value of it. Value is, in essence, not derived from aesthetic appeal or innovative features; it is derived from goals and increased through motivational factors and engagement.
For the medical device user, these goals are often fairly clear, straightforward and fundamental. The same is true of additional motivational factors — the importance of the use of a tool for disease management, the facilitation of easier and accessible control on medication, the likelihood of it actually supporting them. Don’t get me wrong — much can be improved here as well. Nevertheless, for a healthy individual, the goals and motivational factors of using a general fitness wearable are much less clear and likely fleeting.
This is why I want to argue that in order to achieve long-term adoption and enduring behavior change, especially with the general fitness wearable user, we should no longer focus on how we can adapt the technologies but how to fundamentally alter the individuals’ ideas about the goals of these technologies. The goal of walking 10,000 steps per day might be fleeting, but the goal of having sustained proper health until age 65 rather than 50 might not be.
I am not saying that I have the answers. In contrast, I don’t. But I do feel that when we all would look at the long-term adoption issue as something broader than just short-term incentives and barriers born from technological design, we might get closer to a healthier society. This is why I call upon you to research possible goals and motivational factors rather than reasons for the adoption issue. The convergence of humanity and technological solutions is a learning process that requires understanding, adaptability and, most important, an open mind.
A regular Healthcare Analytics News™ columnist, João Bocas is a wearable technology expert, a top 100 global digital health influencer, and keynote speaker. He possesses more than 25 years of hands-on experience in professional sport and corporate environments, working with senior management, boards and executive teams. He has worked in healthcare, financial services, media, sporting, and third and public-sector organizations.
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