Guest post by Will Hayles, technical writer and blogger, Outscale.
Last year, 2014, was the year the wearables market really took off. No end of wearable technologies were released, each promising to hook users into the personal analytics and quantified self trends. Of course, many of those releases went nowhere, and even some of the big companies saw their wearable devices fizzle rather than pop — the obvious example being Google Glass, which received an unprecedented amount of attention, much of which was negative. But there were many successes, and later this year Apple will be entering the fray with the Apple Watch and its bundle of sensors.
Last year the wearables industry was worth around $2.8 billion. Over the next five years it’s expected be to worth more than $8.3 billion. But there is a market with the potential to dwarf the consumer fitness monitoring market, and that’s chronic illness management, which has, unfortunately, if understandably, seen far less attention from startups. As J.C. Herz notes in a Wired article on the subject, the entire market for fitness trackers is vastly outstripped by the size of the market for blood glucose test strips, which are an essential tool in the monitoring of diabetes.
Herz takes a harsh tone with an industry that has failed to focus research and development on solutions for people who stand to benefit the most, but I’m more optimistic. Healthcare outside of the fitness sphere is a difficult market, with a heavy — and necessary — regulatory burden and entrenched ideas about treatment and patient monitoring. Unity Stoakes, co-founder of StartUp Health, recognizes both the challenges and the potential for innovation that can significantly improve people’s lives:
“Unlike other industries, healthcare is plagued by regulation and longer product development timelines. Bringing successful products to market is challenging for both large industry players and digital health entrepreneurs. Startups need access to advisors, peers and dollars, while large companies need ‘batteries included’ entrepreneurs fueling innovation. The unprecedented level of change gripping the healthcare industry today presents both challenges and opportunities for both.”
There is recognition both within the healthcare industry and among technology companies that monitoring tools and other applications of wearable and mobile technology offer an opportunity to substantially change healthcare and the lives of people who suffer with chronic illnesses.
According to a recent study from the Health Research Industry, 42 percent of healthcare providers are comfortable relying on at-home test results for prescriptions. Sixty-six percent thought mobile solutions have the potential to help with the management of chronic diseases. And as we’ve discussed on this blog several times before, mobile technology and wearables are helping caregivers better collaborate and coordinate care.
Given that privacy breaches are all over the news these days, it’s understandable that consumers aren’t eager to trust startups with their healthcare data, but they do trust healthcare providers.
Although chronic disease management is not a “cool” field to be in, it’s a field that couples genuine usefulness and even life-saving potential with an enormous market — a combination that businesses cannot ignore.
The wearables market is in its infancy, but the next big thing is around the corner, so-called invisibles. One of the major problems with wearables is that people forget to use them. Invisibles, which will combine embedded sensors, both internal and external to users’ bodies, with mobile devices and cloud technology, are the next step and they don’t rely on people remembering to put their Jawbone on or being willing to walk around looking like a Borg.
Wearables and invisibles are a specific application of the Internet of Things: the combination of sensors, mobile devices, and cloud technology that enables us to generate, process, analyze and produce useful insights from real-world data.
Healthcare, and specifically chronic illness management, is a tough nut to crack, but we’re on the cusp of having the technology to do so — many of the parts are in place, we just need a generation of entrepreneurs prepared to apply themselves to a field more challenging than simple fitness tracking.