Have Wearables Arrived?
The rising occurrence of medical conditions such as hypertension and obesity, driven by a sedentary lifestyle, combined with a well-growing health awareness, is anticipated to grow the demand for medical wearables. Accordingly, the global wearable medical device market is expected to reach US$ 27.8 billion by 2022, as stated in a report by Grand View Research, Inc.
The burden of chronic diseases is increasing world-wide and such diseases like diabetes require constant monitoring. This in turn creates opportunities for technological innovations to come into play. The myriad of wearable health technologies is vital for the ecosystem’s growth. These now range from smart bands that monitor physical activity and sleep patterns to smart clothing that detect body temperature, hydration levels, and heart rate. Additionally, there are smart watches, such as Apple Watch and Samsung Gear, that come along with applications to measure fitness and health. The possibilities for these wearables and applications are endless. With proper application and planning, they will help to encourage and empower behaviors of its wearers to take control of their health, their exercise habits or manage their fitness but will also help to provide a platform for physicians and patients to monitor and diagnose diseases by sharing data and helping collaboration on health strategies.
Thus, not surprisingly, a growing number of well-recognized technology giants have jumped on the HealthTech bandwagon. The latest member is the Finnish communication and information company Nokia (www.nokia.com) that announced the purchase of the French consumer electronics company Withings (www.withings.com) which designs products that allow the measurement of various personal health metrics. The price of US$191 million, highlights the importance of the market and Withings has been consistently lauded for high-end products, like its latest product, a smart thermometer, priced at US$ 100, that measures body temperatures within seconds using infrared sensors and communicates the data via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to a smartphone app. With its latest acquisition, Nokia joins the big family of key wearable companies that also includes Fitbit Inc., Garmin and Philips and indicates its emergence into the smartphone market. A graphic that presents the 14 most promising wearable medical device companies and the three most promising newcomers is depictured below. Bragi (www.bragi.com), a German company, has wireless smart earphones Bragi Dash that plays music but more interestingly provides biometric sensing, coaching, call handling and more, just raised US$ 22 million. Further listed biometric monitoring company Biotricity (www.biotricity.com), is currently developing tiny implantable bio-generators for diagnostic and post-diagnostic solutions for chronic conditions and lifestyle improvements.
The challenges in Singapore
Certainly, the Lion City appears poised to benefit from the opportunities due to its penchant for new technology adoption. But the main reasons why wearable technologies in healthcare are not yet adopted broadly are data privacy, sustainability and costs.
Health wearables still come at a premium. Prices for smart trackers start at Sony’s SW2 at SGD$ 138 and end at the premium version of Apple’s Watch at SGD$ 1458. Although, as an exception, Chinese electronics company Xiaomi just introduced Mi Bunny, a smartwatch aimed at children for less than SGD$ 62. Ways to subsidize the cost of health wearables may be aided by the government with tax incentives or sponsorships.
Widely known are the apprehensions consumers have about access to the data collected. In 2012, Singapore established the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) to address people’s concerns regarding data privacy, to govern data collection, its use, disclosure and care of personal data. PDPA recognizes both the rights of individuals to protect their personal data and the use by organizations for legitimate and reasonable purposes.
Sustainability faces the greatest issues. Although purchased, consumers do not use wearables on a long-term basis. Correspondingly, data generated daily cannot be used to study common health and lifestyle conditions. Wearers may be encouraged by MediShield premiums or reduced health insurance in return. However, even after addressing consumers to use their wearable technology regularly, technologies need to be integrated in both primary and secondary healthcare systems. While Singapore’s primary healthcare system is mainly privately managed, secondary healthcare is managed through public hospitals. There is still significant space for improvements in both sectors regarding integrated private and public healthcare systems.
With big producers and now mobile phone pioneer Nokia taking steps to improve future products, the next generation of healthcare will be better than ever.
Authored by: Dario Heymann
Edited by: Helene Champoux
Copyright © 2017 Galen Growth Asia