Welcome to the post-COVID wearables world
This week, Amazon launched a new wearable device and service, while Fitbit tweaked its product offering to include the Sense, a device designed to offer health monitoring as opposed to simple activity tracking. The launch of both devices has me wondering whether this is an inflection point for wearables, one that will allow them to become the first and most personal link in our health care delivery system. Conversely, I’m wondering if they will fail to make the leap and instead remain a fad for those focused on their health and wellness.
In short, will COVID-19 do for our health interactions what Amazon’s Alexa did for our control of connected smart home products? In five years, are we going to look back at the delivery of health care and see that it started with an earbud, a smartwatch, or a wrist strap? This is the future that Amazon and Fitbit are betting on with their new products, and the future that Apple, Samsung, and others are hoping to make real.
Amazon’s new Halo wearable can track activity, health, and emotions. Image courtesy of Amazon. There are three trends here, and only one of them has to do with the pandemic. The first is a new focus on wellness and preventative health. The second is a focus on personalization that’s rooted in individual health data and decisions. And the third is a change in the delivery of health care that has been a long time in the making, but thanks to COVID-19 is rapidly occurring.
The focus on wellness has been happening for a long time. As far back 2014, I was wearing activity trackers and even a device that tracked my respiration to determine whether or not I was stressed. Companies at that time were also building sensors to track sleep quality that fit under mattresses or could be placed next to a bed. The hope was that technology and data could help all of us lead healthier lives.
As time passed, the sensors multiplied, the algorithms got better, and the regulatory bodies got involved. Now the medical research community is starting to come around to the potential benefits of using these devices, and is testing them for accuracy and clinical relevance. Such testing will determine whether a consumer wearable device becomes a gateway to our personalized health care or just another faddish gadget.
Most of these devices aren’t formally validated today, and the studies that show some of them can predict COVID a day or two ahead of symptoms onset, while good PR, aren’t medically useful yet. To get to that point, we need to create a bridge between these devices and actual health care.
I’ve covered companies that are trying to create that bridge , such as Elektra Labs and Glooko . Big-name consumer companies such as Apple, Samsung, and even Fitbit are also working toward it with FDA-approved products. Apple’s HealthKit, a framework for taking in device data and storing medical records, is one such effort. But these firms have to get doctors on...