How Consumer Wearables Can Change the Way People Behave

With the widespread promotion of physical activity and other beneficial lifestyle behaviors, new breeds of wearable fitness devices, health monitors, and activity trackers are hitting the consumer market every day. Pedometers, accelerometers, heart rate monitors, blood pressure trackers, and all-inclusive smartwatch devices are among the most common but, interestingly, only 1 in 5 people actually use them.

Even more interesting is the fact that an estimated one-third of users will likely abandon these wearable technologies within six months.

Given the low consumer adoption of wearables coupled with poor adherence and compliance rates, the underlying issue is whether or not such technologies can truly foster long-term changes in health behaviors. This concern is especially important when considering individuals with one or more chronic disease risk factors who could potentially benefit the most from using wearable technology to self-monitor activity patterns, vital signs, and other valuable indicators of personal health and wellness.

Indeed, self-monitoring is an effective tool for behavior change.

Unfortunately, despite the promise wearables are showing, limited evidence specifically addresses the issues of adoption, adherence, and compliance. The general scope of existing research related to usage is in fact quite narrow and skewed in the direction of health care markets and providers with little focus on the perceptions and experiences of actual users.

This is inherently a problem since the overall success and impact of wearable technology is highly contingent on whether consumers and patients are willing and able use them. Luckily enough, even with limited data available, considerable insight can be gained by exploring the social and behavioral sciences.

Leveraging wearable technology for health promotion and behavior change is in and of itself a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that involves multiple levels of influence including individual factors (knowledge, attitudes and behaviors), interpersonal factors (families, friends, social networks and support systems), and community dynamics (relationships between organizations and social institutions).

Each of these factors can directly influence people’s motivation to use wearables in addition to their general patterns of engagement with these technologies.

In this light, a simplistic approach to employing wearable technology as a means to promote long-term changes in health behavior is one that bolsters the many levels of influence in ways that increase motivation and support sustained engagement.

Consider the evolution of the pedometer.

For years, this wearable device has enjoyed widespread popularity amongst “ordinary” people across the demographic and socioeconomic spectrum due to its low cost, low participant burden, ease of use, straightforward feedback, and clear-cut supplementary message – “10,000 steps a day” for good health.

In short, the pedometer is approachable, useable, and affordable.

Moreover, the advent of the pedometer has undoubtedly raised people’s awareness on the importance of walking for overall good health. In addition, long-term engagement among consumers and patients has been greatly reinforcement by social, organization and community factors (virtual walking buddies, mall-walking programs, workplace challenges, and community competitions).

This very simplistic approach demonstrates how varying levels of motivation can directly influence sustained engagement.

Any strategy for increasing adoption of healthy lifestyle behaviors among consumers and patients should be one that enhances the user experience by incorporating multiple levels of social support but supplemental health information and continuous feedback are also essential.

Interestingly enough, today’s technologies are far more advanced than the stand-alone pedometer. In conjunction with computerized and/or mobile-application software, newer varieties of wearables have the potential to integrate with even more sophisticated systems aimed at enhancing healthy lifestyle behaviors.

Some systems employ simulation-based learning tactics by way of virtual images and avatars that demonstrate the direct impact of “tracked” parameters on specific health conditions such as the effects of high blood pressure on heart health. The latest technologies also facilitate enhanced learning and engagement with personalized (individualized) feedback, Internet-based community forums, and social media-driven consumer/patient interactions and communications for reinforcement.

Collectively, these strategies can be highly useful for improving user engagement, interaction, and general health knowledge. 

Wearables in general are also among the most cost-effective approaches to collecting and sharing meaningful physiological information and health-related data between patients and providers in ways that support the health care team in routine service delivery while fostering two-way communication.

Given that self-monitoring is an effective tool for promoting behavior change, continuous creation of innovative and easy-to-use products could very well reduce the burden of lifestyle-related chronic diseases. This holds particular true when learning systems for consumers and patients are employed. Innovative avenues for social support and interpersonal communications are also needed in order to encourage and reinforce positive behaviors.

Although wearable technology is still in its infancy, the industry as a whole is growing rapidly with continuous creation of innovative and easy-to-use products across the spectrum of health care and general health and wellness spectrum. Without a doubt, more and more research will be necessary to support the reliability of wearable devices in order to ensure that they are readily affordable, easily accessible, and appropriately integrated into primary health care.

By coupling research and development with continuous improvement strategies aimed at encouraging better rates of adoption, adherence and compliance, wearable technology will surely change the ways in which people behave for the betterment of their health and ultimately the health care industry as a whole.

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Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a physician for advice.

Before starting an exercise training program you should first make sure that exercise is safe for you. If you are under the age of 55 years and generally in good health, it is probably safe for you to exercise. However, if you are over 55 years of age and/or have any health problems, be sure to consult with your physician before starting an exercise training program.