Prescription-only wearables: “Maybe number is already up for Fitbits and Jawbones”
Prescription-only wearables have the potential to be not merely life-changing, but life-critical to those who need them. Such devices are already known to be especially effective at monitoring chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy in ‘real time’, sending notifications and alerts every time the wearer enters a ‘danger zone’.
While many of these medical grade wearables start as single purpose devices (such as, for instance, the Embrace wristband from Empatica which was initially devised to help people with epilepsy or the Quanttus wristband aimed at people with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease) they are slowly but steadily penetrating the mass consumer market. Equipped with advanced sensors, sophisticated algorithms and able to compete with the Apple Watch in terms of simplicity and elegance, they already offer real alternatives to those seeking a wearable that tells them something substantive about their health, from stress levels to the likelihood of a heart attack.
In that sense, mainstream adoption of such devices will provide something that current activity trackers do not: the ability to predict, rather than react to specific medical issues. For people with a family history of such chronic conditions or a suspected propensity to develop them, this is no small matter.
The potential life-critical uses of medical wearables are however endless and go beyond the ability to monitor chronic conditions. Imagine wearing a wristband that can tell you how bad the pollen count is on a particular day so that you can adjust your antihistamine dosage accordingly. Or a wristband that alerts you to the UV levels of sunshine and advises what level of sunblock to use. Or an activity tracker that checks blood oxygen levels or resting heart rate levels to remind you to stand up and take a walk.
While medical wearables do not aim to invalidate the case made by present day wearables such as Fitbit or Jawbone, they certainly put significant pressure on them to get their value proposition right. If a case can no longer be made that such devices make us healthier (because they ultimately fail to motivate us to be fitter or exercise more) and the data they collect is insufficiently robust or complex to be used for medical reasons, what purpose do they ultimately serve?
Maybe the number is already up for the Fitbits and Jawbones of the world. The faddish attraction and the early-adopter geek-chic factor of these devices have faded. In the same way military technology gave birth to the iPhone, these new wearable devices which evolved from hard-core medical research have raised the bar on tangible benefits to wearing that bit of plastic around your wrist.
The cynic in me can't help thinking this is a simple case of "The Fitbit is dead! Long live the Fitbit v3.0!" Digital darwinism is a good thing in this instance. May the "fittest" wearable survive the battle.