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What Do the Latest Survey Results about Consumer Interest in Wearables Really Mean—for Providers?

May 15, 2016
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A new PwC study, based on a consumer survey, finds a world of opportunity in consumers’ eager adoption of wearables

The new study by analysts at PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) that was released this past week offered fascinating survey results. The PwC folks had gathered 1,000 responses from U.S. consumers, carefully demographically adjusted to reflect certain characteristics of the U.S. population, specifically race, ethnicity, age, and gender.

And the results were quite noteworthy. Fully 45 percent of consumers surveyed said they own a fitness band; 27 percent own a smart watch; 14 percent own a smart video or photo device, such as a GoPro; and 12 percent own smart clothing. Given the self-selecting aspect of online consumer surveys, one might well surmise a slight built-in bias in favor of technology adoption. Still, even granting a bit of an overstatement of adoption, those statistics are remarkable, as they represent more or less a doubling of ownership of at least one wearable device on the part of American consumers in just two years. As Vaughn Kauffman, a global practice leader in PwC’s Health Industries Advisory, told me, when this same survey was executed in 2014, just 21 percent of consumers surveyed owned one or more wearable devices.

And what are consumers looking for in wearable devices? Among other features, a device should have features that “rewards the frequent users of that device with monetary rewards” (54 percent); have a “gaming feature that allows the user to compete with others” (45 percent); provide the consumer with “information that that consumer would not otherwise have” (45 percent); “allow the consumer to cut back on spending” (44 percent); “have apps or features that reward frequent users with loyalty points” (43 percent); or “looks good and coordinates with the user’s wardrobe” (36 percent).

Now here’s the most interesting set of results from the survey on which the study was based. Essentially, consumers indicated that while they would be excited to receive a wearable device from any of a broad range of entities, they would most trust wearable devices provided to them by doctors and hospitals. Here’s the set of results involved:

Ø  Doctor’s office: 65 percent excited, 41 percent would trust

Ø  Hospital: 62 percent excited, 38 percent would trust

Ø  Health insurer: 62 percent excited, 34 percent would trust

Ø  Cellphone provider: 61 percent excited, 18 percent would trust

Ø  Pharmacy: 57 percent excited, 29 percent would trust

Ø  Teacher: 57 percent excited, 12 percent would trust

Ø  Entertainment provider: 57 percent excited, 10 percent would trust

Ø  Travel agent: 56 percent excited, 8 percent would trust

Ø  Cable provider: 52 percent excited, 11 percent would trust

Ø  Bank: 52 percent excited, 33 percent would trust

Ø  Car company: 50 percent excited, 9 percent would trust

That to me is a very, very heartening set of survey results. Consider that the range of levels of “excitement” in this set of results ranges from 50 to 60 percent, only a 15-point span between the lowest level and the highest; but that the level of trust that would be elicited is much wider, varying from 9 percent (car companies) to 41 percent (doctors), with doctors, hospitals, health insurers, and pharmacies trusted much more fully than all other entities that might provide consumers with wearable devices.

And that seems like a good base of trust to build on. But of course, the leaders of medical groups, hospitals, and health systems have to decide what to do about all this, and how to do it, and therein lie the complications. As PwC’s Kauffman told me, “On the provider side, I still see a bit of apprehension around taking in that data” from wearable devices, “per, what happens if they don’t act on that data? So there’s a bit of a concern over risk management there. So the first set of questions around wearables is, how was that data captured, what was the context, etc.? So there’s a whole host of implications. And even if providers take that data in, there is a bit of apprehension around whether they might be held legally liable for having that data from patients. But from the population health standpoint, there is a potentially dramatic set of results when it comes to consumer-facing devices.”

There is also a gigantic set of considerations around how to ingest data from wearables and how to try to integrate it. On the one hand, as Kauffman told me, consumers’ use of wearables “becomes a channel through which a physician can interact with a patient, including at a lower cost. So in a way, that creates a real-time dialogue with the individual. And you can tell from our research that the consumer is already there, with regard to their willingness to engage. And some providers are further down the road than others around utilizing these kinds of data for engagement. There’s the potential to extend the doctor-patient relationship to beyond the direct doctor visit interaction. And obviously, this would involve individuals opting in, as opposed to kind of a Big Brother phenomenon.”