Making Clinical-Quality Intelligent Wellness Devices

Despite excellent adoption rates, today’s generation of fitness trackers are leaving opportunities on the table: Drop off and abandonment rates are high, and today’s consumers want more personalization. What’s the gap that wearable health technology product creators and innovators have to mind? As tech and science news site Futurism notes, while consumer industry fitness band leaders, “…have enough technology to document steps and pulses, they don’t have the ability to put together the bigger picture of their user’s health. Essentially, they’re not dynamic enough to be clinical-quality. And when you’re looking to track your vitals, why settle for anything short of what a doctor might use?”

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Making the Shift to Personalized – Data Driven Insights

As product creators, we’re working toward delivering next-gen personalized and data-driven insights in three ways:

  • Integrating data from divergent systems for maximum visibility into a user’s life
  • Developing algorithms and predictive tools to find patterns, personalize recommendations and create highly useful experiences
  • Presenting that information back to the user and promoting interaction in a way that maximizes engagement and use

Samantha Kleinberg, Ph.D., an assistant professor of computer science at Stevens Institute of Technology, notes that this shift represents a new paradigm for how the data collected by wellness devices is used and shown to users. “I think the biggest shift will be from just tracking ‘what,’ to telling people ‘why’ and what to do next," she says. "Both with fitness and nutrition tracking the main focus has been quantifying what people do, such as counting steps or calories burned. However, people often stop using these technologies because the information isn’t actionable. If a device tells me I walk 9,500 steps a day, what can I do with that information?” She continues, “Similarly, health IT has made huge advances in areas such as continuous tracking of blood glucose in people with diabetes, but the devices can only tell people what their glucose level is—not what made it high or low. This is what is needed to make the data collected useful.”

Dr. Kleinberg’s research focuses on improving human health through the use of artificial intelligence (AI). She is currently working on devices that automatically measure food intake using wearable technologies. For users with issues like diabetes, the key to improving their health is a holistic overview of that data with automated, continuous feedback. Dr. Kleinberg’s approach leverages the ability to store, retrieve and analyze all the data pulled in by apps and off-the-shelf smartwatches and fitness trackers. The shift in demand to “why” has influenced the direction of her own work.

“In parallel, we have worked on developing technologies to track nutrition, as well as algorithms to automatically explain events and find causal relationships," says Dr. Kleinberg. “In the long term, these will be combined to do things like automatically find what someone ate and link it to their personalized glycemic response.” 

Fostering Connections via Community

At Flex, we’re seeing virtual community and virtual events playing a critical role in maximizing data value, a trend that's echoed by others throughout the industry. “Traditional industry players are increasingly entering the data capture space via integrations and co-branding,” says Mike Caldwell, founder and chief engineer of Pacer Health. "A common scenario is the virtual event, where activity trackers allow their global user base to participate in online events that have sponsorships, medals and rewards just like real offline endurance events or charity walks. Corporate wellness and insurance tie-ins are also areas to watch, with white labeling of existing products also being a commonly discussed business model."

Gartner suggests that by the end of 2017, 70% of enterprise organizations will be sponsoring wellness-focused wearables. Not only are brands and products leveraging community data to increase engagement and success, but there are also benefits for community health trends. Right now, communities are comprised largely of people users already know, thanks to connections harvested from their social media networks. Could predictive analytics help users forge connections with wider communities that share their goals and wellness styles in a way that could further embed the experience in their lives?

A Connected View of the Entire Person

What does all this mean for the future of health solutions devices? What kind of underlying analytics are required to feed a user’s fitness tracker, sleep monitor, calorie app, and an emotional feedback system into a single dashboard, parse that data and circle back with recommendations?

We think it creates an important mandate for product creators to ensure that while their products deliver value alone, they also link into a system that isn’t yet fully developed. Building intelligent products is going to be less about requiring one device to deliver a holistic experience, and more about creating products that are complete in and of themselves, while also feeding into a larger wearable health technology system.

“Although smartphones are incredible supercomputers that open up countless doors for IoT functionality, a tiny wearable that is reliant on another device is like throwing a party in someone else's house," says Ran Craycroft, founder of UNA, a panic device for the elderly. “Without owning the product experience end to end, you will encounter barriers for innovation. I expect the future of IoT/wearables to be less reliant on smartphones and operate ubiquitously in the world.” 

The real market opportunities may be for companies that can develop the platforms that mediate between devices and pair the most insightful predictive analytics with friendly, artificial intelligence-inspired interfaces.

“There are many languages of connected devices being spoken right now,” says Craycroft. “It's a battle to the death between the tech giants and off-the-radar startups competing to own the language of connect devices on the web. Within the next two years, a clear leader will likely emerge to write the playbook for how connected devices coexist.” 

“Read part one of the series to learn more about wellness wearables in the Age of Intelligence ™.”