Wearable technology is a growing market that holds immense potential to connect patients and their care team for more robust UX. Small electronics worn on the body, these products are typically discussed in the context of personal fitness. But wearable technology can also have an effect on patient UX. Currently, wearables can track a wide range of vitals, including total calories burned, heart rate, steps, blood oxygen levels, ECG, blood pressure and sleep quality. In the United States, chronic diseases drive healthcare costs and result in 90% of healthcare expenditures. Being physically active plays a major role in the reduction of risk for many chronic conditions, and the use of wearable devices have been shown to reduce sedentary behavior and improve overall wellness. Simple lifestyle adjustments like increased walking and better sleep have large impacts on reducing the severity of extremely prevalent chronic diseases, with heart disease and stroke alone account for one third of all annual deaths in the United States. Checking one’s blood pressure regularly and increasing physical activity are effective interventions. Wearable technology not only provides much needed access to health and behavioral monitoring for individuals focusing on their wellness but may also incentivize health engagement through gamification.

By collecting data continuously during use, wearables create large sets of data that can be exported to healthcare teams. This data can act as a replacement for clinician-given self-report questionnaires or tests that can be time-consuming, costly and subject to patient memory. More nuanced and continuous data allows for early detection and diagnosis, alterations to ongoing treatment and increased treatment compliance by the patient.


Methods of Engagement for Wearables

Wearables keep patients engaged with their health by providing access to data, gamifying health and—in some cases—providing financial incentive. Often, accessing vitals such as heart rate and rhythm, blood oxygen levels and even steps can be elusive without a wearable, which is why being able to access that data allows patients to conceptualize their health and actions. Individuals who previously only had their heart rate measured in a healthcare setting can now read it on demand and conveniently track their resting, standing and moving heart rate. Additionally, they can receive alerts when their heart rate deviates from a normal zone.

Game thinking, or gamification, incentivizes the use of wearables by turning physical activity into a game. Users can compete against friends for points, badges, or position on scoreboards, and can create goal streaks. Gamification also reduces abandonment rates when compared to wearables that do not offer a game component and has huge growth potential with the global healthcare gamification market estimated to exceed $47 million by 2026.

Health Insurance Leaders

Several health insurers, like Aetna and UnitedHealthcare, currently market fitness programs that marry wearable technology to patient UX. Attain by Aetna combines users’ medical history with their Apple Watch activity to create goals and challenges, pairing actions with point values (e.g., a flu shot or annual physical can earn 1,000 points and hitting a calorie goal can add a boost of another 10 points). Users can cash in these points for a new Apple Watch or gift cards from popular retailers.

This screenshot shows an example image of the Attain by Aetna app from the firm's public website.
Attain by Aetna App Public Site Homepage

In the past year, UnitedHealthcare added Apple Fitness+ to its national well-being program, incentivizing users to earn over $1,000 a year by logging physical activities on their compatible wearable device. Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer, recognizes the link between wearables and chronic illness, stating that “enhancements and access to Apple Fitness+ are part of our broader effort to provide people with digital resources and financial incentives that may help them take charge of their health and better manage chronic conditions.”

What Health Systems Need for Better Integration

Wearable technology creates more data, but the potential truly lies in how patients and healthcare providers use that data to improve the user experience. Hospitals should invest in infrastructure to collect wearable technology data and update processes to integrate patients’ data into health team workflows. Insurers can find ways to merge wearable data with wellness apps. Beyond this, there must be standardization in data output for health systems to best access and use meaningful data, particularly with the abundance of wearable watch brands and types.

Enabling patients to monitor and potentially improve a chronic condition through tools such as wearables provides them with a sense of autonomy and agency that can lead to further positive changes, like in behavior. As the reliability, credibility and sensitivity of these devices improve, they will see increased use and integration into care for individuals who increasingly want seamless digital healthcare experiences—a trend also reflected in previous CI research.

Corporate Insight closely monitors the digital patient experience across leading health systems. Within our Health System Monitor, we see organizations responding to new and changing pandemic regulations to provide care for patients. Access further insights for leading healthcare organizations on our blog.