At the 12th annual Connected Health Symposium, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel discussed his thoughts on wearables and healthcare. As the Vice Provost for Global Initiatives and Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Emanuel made his skepticism about wearables very clear: “I think you can forget about wearables for the masses. Investing in them is not going to pay off.”
Dr. Emanuel is not the only skeptic, and like many others, he believes wearable gadgets are targeting the wrong segment of the market. “Users tend to be young, rich, healthy, and connected. You’re not going to get anything out of them from a healthcare perspective.” Statistically, he is correct, but one of the key questions he does not answer is why do they need to be for the masses? If wearables are effective tools for some individuals, isn’t that enough?
This is a point we think is heavily overlooked. Critics judge digital health technologies on how well they can address everyone, not the way they can help certain people. Our belief is that every person is unique, and their inherent uniqueness makes them want to engage in their health in different ways and with different technologies. This is most evident in the number of wearables in the market today. Wearables are not for everyone, and even the people who are interested in them have different preferences for which one makes sense for them. This is also analogous to the numerous run tracking apps in the market today. Each one appeals to different people.
So are wearables for the masses? No, but neither should they be. Digital health technologies, including wearables and apps, are for the masses. This is why employers should not follow in the footsteps of Target and buy these devices for their employees. They should incorporate them into their programs so that those individuals who own a wearable can use them in their employee wellness challenges. Employers should incorporate mobile health apps and other digital health technologies as well. By covering the landscape of these technologies and incorporating them into their program, employers can create a program for the masses.