Batteries, Workflow, & Stigma Are The Biggest Barriers To Wearable Tech

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One of the questions Vince Kuraitis asked me was, “What are the top 3 barriers to market adoption [of wearable devices and services in healthcare]?”

The most important barriers that came easily and immediately to mind are tiny batteries don’t last long enough, getting personal and professional wearable workflow right is difficult, and the “stigma” of wearing gadgetry, especially on the face.

Wearable “Stigma”

I’ll start with stigma. I had a good friend in medical school who was also getting a PhD in Anthropology. He was studying stigmatized populations. Stigma is a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, obesity, smoking, depression, and, yes, wearables.

The best single example of stigmatization in the wearable space is what happened over time to Google Glass. Setting aside, for the moment, whether Glass is, or is not, the Newton or Segway of wearables, it has become highly stigmatized among everyday gadget consumers. Remarkably, in spite of this stigma, Glass, and similar head-mounted displays continue to attract positive attention in healthcare, particularly for a wide variety of hands-free, remote-viewing, ambient notification-oriented tasks. For example, at the recent wearables in healthcare conference in Indianapolis, 19 of 20 presentations were about Glass. But also telling, at the conference reception, even though many owned Glass, no one wore Glass. (Except me.)

Battery Life

Compared to stigma, the wearable battery life issue is relatively prosaic, but no less an obstacle to widespread adoption in healthcare, particularly among patients. There are wide variety of ongoing institutional clinical trials, many of which maintain multiple sets of wearables, so users can swap a wearable depleted of energy for an wearable that has been charging, swapping and beginning to charge the just depleted wearable, in a wearable charging/user turn taking strategy.

As a result of this obstacle to wearable tech, there’s intense activity in three areas: better batteries, better chargers, and less power hungry microprocessors.

Insufficient and long enough lasting power for wearable devices is even more pernicious than inconvenience for patient, effectively reduce the sell-in-to-able market for wearables, is the a sort of “chilling effect” (by analogy to journalists) on developers. The need to constantly think about how to minimize power requirements limits imagination.

The usually cycle of software development is to assume lots of computer resources, come up with the more kick-ass idea you can, and then optimize. Early versions of Glass (the 1 Gig variety, not the 2 Gig, I have one of each) were particularly prone to heating up and shutting down, not just when shooting video in a consumer use case, but simply when compiling and deploying the Android programs necessary to deliver the apps for users to use.

Wearable Workflow

Finally, we get to my favorite topic: workflow. I’ve even create a character, sort of like Reddy Kilowatt, called Mr. “Wearable Workflow” (shown in the tweet at the beginning of this post). I’ll be talking about “wearable workflow” for the reminder of this blog post series. So, please read my next post What’s The Connection Between Wearable Workflow Platforms and Health IT? if its been published, or tune in a return if you happen on this post just after I published it but before I published the next.

P.S. By the way, you’ll notice that I didn’t address healthcare wearable security. Headlines are full of concerns for notoriously insecure Internet-Of-Things tech. However, as big a (surmountable) obstacle security is, battery life, wearable workflow, and wearable stigma are greater.

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