The future of Wearables is Healthcare, and vice versa
Over the past few years, smart watches, fitness trackers, and sensor-laden clothing have given rise to a new brand of technology — known affectionately as ‘wearables’ — which has seen its ups and downs. Despite their unsure business model and tumbles in the stock market, wearables have become, more so even than connected home devices, the Venture Capitalist’s Moby Dick. They present an all-too-obvious opportunity to create the next great platform, the next billion dollar app store, and the next cash cow for the technology industry.
There’s Pebble, one of the first crowdfunded smartwatch brands to emerge from the ether. And then there’s the Apple Watch, an established luxury brand which made the much-anticipated extension of its brand from the palm to the wrist. Android Wear has picked up fans that range from LG to TAG Heuer.
Fitbit & Jawbone are at each other’s throats over patents & customers (not to mention market cap), and clothing brands from Polo Ralph Laurent to Under Armour are sewing silicon into their inseams.
Some have screens, some don’t. Some are luxury, some are low-cost. They all have one thing in common: sensors. Sensors gathering data about the wearer. Data which today tells you not only how many steps you’ve taken, but can tell you how fast you’re breathing, how well your sleeping, and, increasingly, more medical-grade data. Bloom wants pregnant mothers-to-be giving themselves sonograms every day, and Clue is keeping track of your menstrual cycle — how much more would it take for OBGYN’s to get their hands on that data? Customer consent, that’s all.
The healthcare industry is going to face huge hurdles in the next 15 years. Not only because of an aging population (and in many countries, a shrinking population) but, because the USA, the final western country not to embrace Universal healthcare, has made its first steps towards modern civilization. This means that the days of MedTech companies up-selling private hospitals who in turn up-sell patients with private health care may be coming to an end. And guess what? That’s a good thing, even for capitalists.
The healthcare model, as it exists today, is broken for one simple reason: you only pay your doctor when you’re sick, instead of paying him when you’re healthy. In a digital age where I can return shoes for free to Zalando & I can scale up my cloud computing costs based on consumption, why can’t I pay my doctor for keeping me healthy instead of for getting me better?
In the next 4 years, we’ll see advanced social healthcare systems (France, Scandinavia & smaller western countries like Switzerland) providing a secure infrastructure to bring Doctor-Patient confidentiality online, meaning secure sharing of health data with your doctor. Since Doctors only get paid on a per visit basis today, the model will need to switch to a monthly subscription — your “Doctor” will be a data scientist. Based on your previous health conditions, you may be recommended certain consumer-grade health-tracking solutions, or even loaned certain portable medical-grade data-gathering products.
MRIs, X-Rays & other advanced technology for further diagnosis will still happen on-site, but visits will be triggered automatically — or, at least, alerts will be triggered automatically and your Doctor will choose how best to take action. Advice that can be given at-distance will be done so — “You’re not sleeping well, and if continued, it may create further health conditions. Please turn off your smartphone from 10:30 PM on for the next two weeks for observation.” And yes, your Doctor knows when you’re on your smartphone — screen-time is already shown to have health effects.
The Healthcare Industry needs real-time data in order to advance, and it needs it on a massive level. Look what Tesla has been able to do with a fleet of thousands of cars in terms of AI and mapping data. Imagine what medical groups could do with millions of patients wearing EKGs 24/7 when they’ve shown symptoms of stroke, heart attack or arrhythmia?
At the same time, the Wearable industry needs Healthcare in order to push beyond Quantified Self (QS), which has never presented a large enough market to sustain itself. QS is the ‘model trains’ market to HealthCare’s railroad industry — the orders of magnitude of market opportunity are unfathomable.