How can health wearables reach health app adoption levels?

By Jonah Comstock
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The ePharma Summit in New York City this week was a veritable smorgasbord of new mobile health data. Monique Levy shared some new data (and insights) from Manhattan Research, Tom Jones from Makovsky Health shared data about consumer mobile health use, and, finally, ComScore's John Mangano shared data from a survey of 2,929 individuals, broken down by generation.

ComScore data

"So what I did was I had my team look specifically at people who had a health condition in the last year," he said. "We surveyed about 3,000 people and asked them what they thought of wearables: what they'd use, how they'd use it and where it would go. We found some interesting results." 

First of all, Mangano and his team found a huge disparity between awareness of wearable devices and actual ownership of them. Seventy percent of respondents -- and that number held for millennials, Gen-Xers, and baby boomers -- had heard of wearable devices, but only 18 percent owned one. That number did break down generationally: 32 percent of millennials owned a wearable, compared to 13 percent of Generation X and just 6 percent of baby boomers.

Of the top three devices consumers were aware of, two of them were actually owned by none of the respondents: Google Glass and Apple Watch (which hasn't actually been released yet.) Fifty-two and 41 percent of respondents were aware of those two devices, but no one owned one.

The number one brand of device in terms of ownership was also number two in awareness: Fitbit, which 47 percent of respondents knew about and 6 percent owned. Other devices, Jawbone UP and Pebble, scored relatively high on ownership (3 percent) but relatively low on awareness (16 percent and 6 percent, respectively). A quarter of consumers were aware of the Nike+ Fuelband and the Sony Smartwatch, but only 2 and 1 percent respectively owned those devices.

With such relatively low penetration of wearables, Mangano said it might be better to look to a tracking device that's arguably more accurate, and which boasts 72 percent market penetration: the smartphone.

"So as we start to look at what the benefits are, while the wearable may have specific benefits, there’s also definitely benefits on the mobile app," he said. "And mobile phones are a pretty good leading indicator of where we’ll see success with [wearable] devices."

Thirty-one percent of millennials have downloaded a health app, according to the survey. Twenty-two percent of Gen-Xers have done so and 14 percent of baby boomers have. But 51 percent of baby boomers have never downloaded any apps at all.

Generations also differ on how they use health apps. While millennials mostly use them to track exercise, Generation X uses them to track diet, access medical information, and for medication reminders. Baby boomers also track diet, but use apps to find community support related to diseases or conditions too.

Mangano also showed data that people with chronic conditions are more likely to have a health app and also over-index on wearable use related to their condition. The examples he listed were people with diabetes, insomniacs, and people with allergies. People with allergies are the most likely to use an app (28 percent) and 26 percent of them used a wearable to help manage their allergies. Twenty-six percent of people with sleep disorders used an app and 39 percent used a wearable. Finally, 24 percent of people with diabetes used an app and 36 percent used a wearable to monitor blood pressure.

Data shows that 54 percent of people without a wearable said they are too expensive, 48 percent were simply not interested, and 23 percent didn't see a benefit. Mangano believes that last one is the most important and the most addressable.

"Why would you not buy a wearable? There are two real reasons. It costs too much, and I don’t see a benefit from it," he said. "Luckily, with technology, cost is always dropping. It will get cheaper over time. … But there’s a benefit and we need to find those benefits. Insomniacs found it, allergy sufferers found it, but we need to find these benefits as they apply to specific conditions."

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