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Are wearable devices really making us healthier?

With major advancements and significant investment from leading technology companies, fitness trackers have come a long way from the days of the basic step counters. This evolving technology allows us to monitor our own health, weight, and fitness with access to real-time data which, in some instances, is medical grade. But is all this information really changing our habits and making us healthier?

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We often hear friends or family talk about hitting their 10,000 steps a day target, how their resting heart rate has dropped over time, or how well they’ve slept that night, all based on data generated by fitness trackers and smart watches. This real-time access to information enables us all to take a level of personal responsibility for our own health and make changes that bring about improvements to our overall wellness.

A review published in Everyday Health in December 2020 looked at the outcomes of 28 research studies involving over 7,000 participants who all wore a fitness tracker. It was noted that individuals, on average, took 1,850 more steps a day and were still moving significantly more after 13 weeks. And with the fitness tracker market expected to grow from $40.6 billion to $148.7 billion by 2030 and being backed by big brands like Apple, Samsung and Fitbit (Google), the trajectory of this market looks set to only go in one direction.

What role do these wearables have in a wider healthcare context?

There have been calls for the NHS to issue fitness trackers to level up health inequality for the poorest and disabled, support the ageing population and act as a preventative tool for those at risk of type 2 diabetes

By the end of 2021, it has been estimated that the NHS will have spent between £2.2 and £2.4 billion on in-patient care for diabetes. This equates to approximately 11% of the overall NHS budget and results in 1 in 6 beds being used for this type of treatment. In 2016, the NHS launched its digital prevention programme for diabetes in which participants would have access to a comprehensive digital service that includes a fitness tracker. The success of the initial study led the NHS to roll out a wider programme, marking this as a real opportunity to make a difference in diabetes care.

Dr Jennifer Smith, former Diabetes Programme Director at Public Health England, said, “we are breaking new ground to help those most at risk of type 2 diabetes to literally take their health into their own hands at their own time and pace”.

Where does technology and fitness trackers go from here?

There are many potential areas of growth in this market, from improved data accuracy and aggregation to the sharing of this data to further help individuals accomplish their personal goals.

Through monitoring sleep, calorie intake and heart rate, fitness trackers are becoming increasingly part of our day-to-day lives, while the integrated smartphone technology allows people to answer calls and access personal messages directly from their wrist.

Major technology companies are already implementing advancing technologies in areas such as stress-sensing electrodermal sensors, electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood pressure monitoring, expanding the range of medical areas that could benefit from this technology

The opportunity to share real-time and longitudinal data with medical professionals allows these insights to be used to monitor, control, and even prevent major diseases. For organisations like the NHS, these advancements offer a cost-effective alternative to current more costly hospital-based procedures. Practical applications could support patient independence and relieve demands on the NHS, with smart devices themselves being used to proactively alert patients and practitioners alike.

What does this mean for the future?

It’s unlikely that fitness trackers alone are going to spark a medical revolution, but the rate at which they have been adopted and developed demonstrates a real potential to be part of the solution to some of the world’s major medical challenges. The NHS’ adoption of this technology as part of its digital transformation programme is a clear statement of intent to use these insights to drive personal responsibility and enable medical practitioners to provide more personalised care into the future.

The GKA Difference

At GKA, we regularly engage in research with wearable devices and enjoy exploring both the medical impact and product development sides of medical device market research. If you are interested to understand more about this approach, our experience or have a medical device that requires insights from patients or medical practitioners, please contact Charlotte Cullen on 01242 220240 or contactus@gilliankenny.com

A Market Researcher’s Guide to the NHS

Looking for further information and advice about what this means for medical market research? GKA engages directly with HCPs at the front line of these digital transformation programmes. Contact the team to discuss how we can connect innovative practitioners to your upcoming research projects.