I’m not trying to make a political statement, but last week Jeb Bush actually told the world that Obamacare could be “fixed” by the AppleWatch. His specific quote was:
“On this device in five years will be applications that will allow me to manage my health care in ways that five years ago were not even possible. I’ll have the ability, someone will, you know, because of my blood sugar, there’ll be a wireless, there’ll be, someone will send me a signal. It’ll come here, I’ll get a double beep saying, ‘You just ate a butterscotch sundae’ or something like that. ‘You went way over the top. You’re a diabetic, you can’t do that,’ whatever.
“We’ll be able to guide our own health care decisions in a way that will make us healthy. And ultimately, we have to get to a health system, away from a disease system.”
You can watch him say it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Hhtjpzvdu8
Ok, ok, Uncle. I have come to agree that wearables may actually matter for healthcare, not just fitness. I have seen evidence of some pretty cool ideas and even actual products that could offer real medical advances and make meaningful improvements for people with some serious medical conditions. Heart disease, cancer, Parkinsons—all potentially amenable to a better patient experience through wearables.
But fix healthcare? Nope, not buying it. Let’s just overlook the fact that engaging consumers in their own health has very little to do with how insurance actually operates and whether it is necessary for medical or financial reasons. I do not imagine that United Healthcare or Aetna or the folks running Medicare are worrying too much about being replaced by a watch.
And for all the good that the Apple Watch and other wearables may, theoretically, achieve, you have to have patients who want to engage in order for change to happen. At the moment, most wearables are still monitoring the inside of bedside table drawers within 6 months of purchase.
There are definitely signs that some patients actually do care about their health, and both of those people are already healthy. Well, maybe it’s more than two people, but so far we haven’t seen widespread meaningful adoption among the population of people who are already suffering from chronic health conditions and who could most benefit from ongoing monitoring, measuring and medical badgering. Hopefully that will begin to evolve as the more serious applications take hold, on the Apple Watch or elsewhere.
In the meantime, I still think most of the fanfare on the wearables front is directed towards the already impossibly fit and those wannabes who shroud themselves in lycra and hope, by doing so, they can pass for one of the former. I laughed out loud at this story from The Onion, which tells the (allegedly) satiric story of a new exercise app that tells users they ran 5 miles no matter what they did. According to The Onion, “With ProMiler, achieving your exercise goals is as simple as turning on your device in the morning and being notified that you’ve already run five miles.”
Wish I’d thought of that.
And in one of those life imitating art moments, Joe Boxer, the underwear company, has launched a real live wearable, which they have dubbed an “inactivity tracker,” that rewards users for doing nothing. The product’s motto is “that couch isn’t going to sit on itself.” God I love these people and others who know how to laugh at all of our collective silliness.
I definitely agree that monitoring patients/consumers who have serious or potentially serious medical conditions and helping them understand how to take better care of themselves is a laudable and important goal. At a minimum we can at least cause someone else who cares to help intervene with patients who are spiraling downward, even when they themselves aren’t able to focus on it for whatever reason.
As I have written before, by far the most successful wearable of all time is eyeglasses, which provide both instant gratification (solve the problem of being unable to see right now) and have become a fashion statement all their own. Certainly the Apple Watch and others have recognized the importance of the fashion aspect of something that is strapped to you at all times. This is one of the reasons people hate hearing aids and neck-hung PERS devices—they couldn’t be less fashionable and tend to make the wearer feel old rather than hip. And yet those two items solve meaningful problems for users, proving that this is not enough. Only Flavor Flav can carry off that huge pendant form factor with style.
Hopefully we will soon start to see the effective incorporation of wearables into meaningful medical use, but let’s not pretend it’s a cure-all for the healthcare system, which is, after all, a system, and thus complex and comprised of many parts.
And don’t get me started on how ticked off everyone one was (totally justifiably, by the way) that they couldn’t enroll in Obamacare on demand but are willing to wait two months to get an Apple Watch because it feels “exclusive.” Perhaps the HHS people should take a page from that marketing handbook next time they roll out something new!