For wearables to take deeper root, user incentives a must

A new report from Rock Health on the wearables product industry and market outlook doesn't sugar coat what lies ahead for devices promising to help users manage their health and health issues. In particular, the report offers up one startling statistic: Users discard fitness bands and other wearable health devices, including smart watches, just after 15 months of use.

Given all the media hype and vendor activity, one could easily get the impression that wearable devices are flying off the shelves and consumers are clamoring for better options. In just the past month, some big-name players (Samsung, Apple and Microsoft) have announced comprehensive development strategies to tap what appears to be a hot new industry.

And, as FierceMobileHealthcare has been reporting, wearable devices--notably Google Glass--are being piloted by medical institutions and organizations. There's clearly interest by healthcare providers to tap such technology as a way to streamline care processes, save money and save more lives. And Google reportedly is prepping a health platform called Google Fit that will aggregate data from fitness-tracking devices and health-related apps.

On the consumer side, however, it's been mostly contained to fitness and exercise gurus wanting to check their heart rate after exercise. Actual device use and loyalty aren't anywhere near the implication from media reports that devices are becoming a necessity or everyday accessory.

Why? When it comes to health, most consumers rely on a doctor's advice and recommendation in adopting a solution. Take smoking, for instance. Doctors began recommending alternative smoking options way back when and the industry of nicotine patches, gum and e-cigarettes--the latest, and most controversial, option--morphed into a huge market segment.

But when it comes to diabetes diagnosis and heart disease, it's a bit harder to find doctors prescribing a fitness band for that newly prescribed walking regimen. Right now, wearable consumer use is purely consumer driven by the small percentage of those seeking products and technology that will help them succeed in their fitness efforts, whether losing weight or improving heart functionality.

Maybe it's a matter of form factor as watches, overall, aren't as common thanks to the smartphone wave, which replaced the need for a watch for many. In that regard, a move to make wearables a jewelry could be a driver. As we reported Amulet--an electronic bracelet boasting a framework for software incorporation--was unveiled in late April at the USA Science & Engineering Festival in the District of Columbia. The bracelet features the capabilities of a smartphone and bridges the gap between universal computing on a mobile phone and the functionality of a wearable computing device.

Mostly, I suspect, a big wave of adoption with wearables will be directly tied to a prescription model in which a trusted physician writes a device prescription with payers onboard for some level of reimbursement.

As our sister publication, FierceHealthPayer reports, wearable health devices can make insurers become a more trusted ally to policyholders, as well as attract more consumers with incentives and rewards. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)