Report: Smart clothing, mHealth wearables on track for big growth

An increasing desire to track health issues and activity and share data with physicians will drive mHealth wearables adoption, according to a new Gartner research report. 

The report, "Forecast: Wearable Electronic Devices for Fitness, Worldwide, 2014," cites today's five main fitness wearables as smart wristbands, sports watches, other fitness monitors, heart rate monitor chest straps and smart garments. The smart garment category has the greatest potential, according to an announcement on the report, with shipments forecasted to jump from 0.1 million units in 2014 to 26 million units in 2016.

"Consumers concerned about their heart will choose wearables to self-monitor pulse or electrocardiogram. They will want to share the information from their wearables with the doctors," report author and Gartner Research Director Angela McIntyre told FierceMobileHealthcare in an email interview.

That perspective aligns with a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute report that said true device adoption will only come when developers offer affordable solutions that provide greater value.

The report predicts wearable electronic devices for fitness shipments will hit 68.1 million units in 2015, down from 70 million units in 2014. The temporary dip is happening as innovations are overlapping in functionality, according to the announcement. Smart wristbands and other fitness monitoring segments will rebound in 2016 thanks to creative designs and models with lower-cost displays.

Smart clothing, such as smart shirts that monitor everything from heart beat rate to perspiration, will increasingly gain acceptance though federal oversight will be a required aspect, McIntyre said.

"Hospitals and physicians will have an obligation to keep data from wearables private. For physicians to use the data from smart shirts to make a diagnosis or to prescribe treatment, the smart shirts would need to have regulatory approval, such as from the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration]," she said. She envisions doctors tapping mHealth wearable data as much as they rely on office-based diagnostic tools today.

"For example, data from a smartwatch could trigger an alert for the medical professional to contact a patient if the pulse seems abnormal, or perhaps if a person is recovering from knee surgery and does not seem to be exercising enough during the day," she said.

Gartner predicts that between 2018 to 2020, 25 percent of smart wristbands and other monitors will be sold through non-retail channels, with gyms, wellness providers, insurance providers, weight-loss clinics and employers offering devices at subsidized prices or even for free.

Consumers are likely only to jump on the wearables bandwagon given incentives, as FierceMobileHealthcare has reported. Thirty percent of online consumers would embrace a healthcare data service in exchange for lower healthcare costs.

For more information:
- read the announcement
- get the report (subscription required)

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