Examining the rewards and risks of wearable tech
The important role of technology in our daily lives continues to grow and is now being fueled by the development of smaller more personal devices. Wearable technology are small, electronic devices designed to track and collect data for various purposes – ranging from smart watches and fitness monitors, to full desktop experiences offered by smart glasses. According to a PwC report entitled The Wearable Future, twenty percent of Americans already own a wearable device and this number is expected to rise, with most users utilizes these devices to record exercise efficiency (81%), track dietary and medical info (71%), and for notifications on deals on retail purchases (51%).
The market for wearable tech is expected to expand with a jump from $5 billion in 2014 to over an estimated $12 billion by 2018, according to Statista. There is no denying the significant influence these wearable devices have on how we live and work, however as is the case with many forward-thinking innovations, along with the rewards of advancement also comes some risks.
It is easy to see the many rewards that come with wearable tech, such as access to vast amounts data, the ability to communicate more easily, and to accurately monitor health conditions. With every stage of development in wearables, there seems to be more biosensors, actuators and gyroscopes available that can track various levels and conditions, giving devices the remarkable benefit of monitoring timely health risks. For example, a company called 1 Biometrics has produced wearable technology to assist in the immediate collection of cranial impact data by using sensors inside of helmets or mouth guards in collision sports. Or another great example is an app for the Apple Watch called “Hello Heart” which allows the user to monitor blood pressure and upload their vital signs directly to their clinic or doctor. The app also provides a full view of one’s medical condition, and makes it easy to monitor your heart condition in real-time, rather than having to visit a doctor’s office or pharmacy for the information.
Wearable tech is also assisting in the management of healthcare. One of our own Healthcare IT clients, athenahealth (Nasdaq:ATHN), has developed an app called AthenaText that allows doctors and other health care professionals to text each other secure messages that meet federal privacy regulations. The software allows doctors to be notified of secure messages, and even read them on their watches. Athenahealth is now looking to expand the application for broader use between doctors and hospitals or other institutions.
And there is no end in sight to the development of new applications for wearable technology devices. It was reported last week that there are now 8,500 third-party Apple Watch apps available and more are expected later this year with the release of the second generation operating system for Apple watch that will allow for native apps.
As with any new innovation, there are also some potential risks. A study recently showed that smart watches could be subject to new cyber and hacking attacks. The same has been shown for many other connected devices, such as self-driving cars or “Internet of Things” developments.
The popularity of wearable devices has radically changed the way personal data is collected and could potentially infringe on individual privacy rights. Overall privacy and security issues become a bigger topic now that these devices can collect detailed information on individuals including: location, daily routines, lifestyle choices and personal health data — with the collection of such a great amount of personal data, also comes great responsibility.
It was recently announced that companies that use wearables as part of their workplace wellness programs may soon have to comply with federal regulations when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a proposed rule that would amend parts of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
There are also several debates over who actually owns the data that is generated by wearable devices, and more importantly whom are they sharing with. For example, what if the information is made available to a health insurer and that in turn allows them to use it for the purposes of determining premium. When information is collected, there needs to be a clear outline of the purposes for which it is being used to avoid any issues of privacy. Another invasion of privacy consideration applies to the capturing of facial images and video, and searching or posting information about that person without consent.
An additional area of concern is the potential adverse health effects, especially as wearables become more invasive and are worn closer to the body. To date, however, it has been found that the harmful effects are minimal since most use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology in order to receive data; researchers say there is no proven harm from those types of frequencies on the body.
Regardless of risk or reward, wearable technology is here to stay as the market continues to evolve. It is up to us as users, developers and advocates that are embracing it to manage the technology for responsible use, and promote how it can help transform business and demonstrate its power as a tool for better communication and overall health and wellness in our society.
About the Author
Susan Forbes is the Chief Innovation Officer for WGA. She is responsible for WGA’s innovation leadership, communication and collaboration focused on three areas: new client products and services, client-facing technology services, and operating efficiencies.