How popular will wearables ultimately be?

Jeff Rowe
How popular will wearables ultimately be?

Wearables. Will they, or will they not, go mainstream?

However much FitBits, Jawbones and Apple Watches have been embraced by the usual “early adoption” suspects, there’s disagreement among some fairly prominent stakeholders about whether the masses, so to speak, will end up following the enthusiasts.

In a keynote address at the recent 12th annual Connected Health Symposium in Boston, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, made his feelings quite clear when he said, “I think you can forget about wearables for the masses. Investing in them is not going to pay off.”

He explained that wearables enthusiasts “tend to be young, rich, healthy and connected,” then pointed out that 60 percent of healthcare spending comes from the 10 percent of the population that is older, has multiple chronic conditions and is often poorer then the average citizen.

Taking the opposite position is Shahid Shah, the well-known health IT innovator and writer, who wrote recently in MedCityNews about “a growing consensus that ‘patient-driven’ (or consumer-driven or member-driven) healthcare spending has arrived.”

A good piece of that spending, he says, will revolve around “consumer-driven insurance exchanges,” but he says that as retail pharmacy giants such as CVS and Walgreens continue to expand their healthcare footprint, there may be an opportunity “to drive more sales of telemedicine, remote monitoring, chronic care apps, and other digital health products by creating specialty stores” in which trained sales people who know how to combine products, services and solutions from a variety of companies could educate consumers – both caregivers and patients –about their use.

“What if,” he asks, “some smart pharmacies, smart health insurers, and smart health systems got together and put together healthcare management retail stores in malls, similar to an Apple Store or a Microsoft Store?”

So what do you think?  Are “Digital Health Stores,” as Shah dubs them, a good way to help new health IT catch on beyond the relatively narrow confines of enthusiasts?  Or are wearables destined to remain either a “must have” only for the self-identified quantified health crowd?

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