Wearable devices are collecting reams of health data. But, we still aren’t sure what to do with it.
Increasingly dissatisfied with the broken healthcare system, consumers are taking an active role in managing their well-being.
Aided by a growing number of apps, wearables, and at-home diagnostics, a paradigm shift is underway.
- The global fitness tracker market is expected to reach $139B by 2028.
- 39% of US consumers own a smartwatch or fitness tracker; 14% bought their device since the start of the pandemic, per Deloitte.
- The most popular uses include counting steps (59%) and measuring fitness (42%), but detecting stress levels (17%) and COVID symptoms (11%) are gaining.
Among health optimizers, it’s not uncommon to wear multiple devices for quantifying workouts, sleep, and blood glucose. Next up, hardware for measuring hydration, sweat, cortisol, ketones, and other biomarkers is taking shape.
Beyond biohackers, the hope is that technology will usher in a new era of personalized, preventative healthcare, replacing our reactive sick care system once and for all.
But, siloed data and a lack of actionable insight pose challenges for companies and consumers alike.
The Body’s GPS
With each new iteration, fitness trackers are looking more and more like medical devices.
We’re moving toward a future where continuous, noninvasive, clinical-grade insights are easily accessible, but for now, we’re just scratching the surface of understanding what’s happening inside our bodies.
Exploring this uncharted territory, former a16z general partner Balaji Srinivasan said:
“We know what’s going on in Bangalore or Budapest, but not in our bodies… we don’t know what’s going on subcutaneously. It’s an amazing blank spot on the map.”
Likening the power of real-time health data to that of GPS, Srinivasan said people don’t have to worry about getting lost anymore — “you never don’t know where you are.” Soon, he remarked, “you will never not know your infection.”
Ecosystems. Pursuing this vision, Big Tech is pushing further into healthcare. Using fitness trackers as Trojan horses for activity data, companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google are creating powerful lock-ins within their respective ecosystems.
In addition to enhancing sensor capabilities in their own hardware, tech giants are aggregating health data from other devices, conducting medical studies, and paving a path to sync with electronic health records (EHR).
Integrations. Another avenue, wearable makers and health apps are joining forces. Improving the user experience by enabling greater interoperability, personalized and actionable recommendations based on real-time biometrics are becoming a reality.
Opening its platform, WHOOP recently announced a new developer kit and export options. Oura has also been busy, linking with Natural Cycles for birth control, Therabody for sleep optimization, and Strava for social fitness.
Meanwhile, Strava CEO Michael Horvath told us the company aspires to be a connected wellness hub, creating an “Athlete HealthKit” by aggregating insights from a wide range of health wearables.
APIs. Building the infrastructure for enhanced interoperability, health-focused APIs are unlocking siloed data.
As TERRA CEO Kyriakos Eleftheriou put it, if developers can easily access health data, there’s no limit to what can be built. But, gaining access can be a challenge.
Tackling this problem, companies like TERRA, Thryve, Vital, and Human API offer an all-in-one digital health integration.
If You Track It…
According to Harvard professor and entrepreneur David Sinclair, improving health starts with tracking it:
“We’re changing the way we treat people in medicine and with wellness. We have to personalize it. And the only way to personalize something is to measure it… It now means we can tailor your food to you, your supplements, your exercise — because everybody responds differently.”
In the not-too-distant future, Sinclair mused, there would be an app capable of assessing nutritional deficiencies in real time that could then recommend a personalized meal. A step further, he added, it might relay the recipe to a restaurant or delivery service for on-demand fulfillment.
Looking ahead: From battery life and affordability to improved interoperability, wearable tech has a ways to go before Sinclair’s vision takes hold. Then, of course, there’s still the question of how it meaningfully improves the cost or quality of healthcare.
But, as innovation continues, the hope is that we’re moving closer toward the personalized, preventative future of well-being.