Smarter, more sophisticated tools a great prognosis for mHealth wearables

The best aspect in serving as FierceMobileHealthcare's newsletter editor is the opportunity to talk with experts on what's happening with mHealth, devices, consumer wants and expectations and on mobile trends from app building to wearable devices.

This week I spoke with Monique Levy, vice president of research at Manhattan Research, which just released its annual Cybercitizen Health survey, that taps most, if not all, the issues mentioned above.

One of the study points is the prediction that motivating consumers to embrace mHealth tech may very well require incentives, mostly from providers, that may range from cost savings on premiums to smaller co-pay requirements and the fact such incentives will vary widely. The "ask," explains Levy, will vary as consumer needs and demands are varied. It could be anywhere from dropping a copay from $35 to $20 or offering a savings of $10 on a monthly plan cost to motivate consumers to wear a wearable device and track health information more closely.

I'm inclined to agree with Levy. While fitness buffs and health "fanatics" are embracing mHealth wearables, I'm not so sure mainstream consumers are as interested or compelled to spend anywhere from $50 to a few hundred bucks on a device that offers up blood pressure rates or respiration rates unless they're dealing with an illness and a doctor makes a strong recommendation. As we reported recently, nearly three quarters of U.S. adults are not using fitness devices or apps for tracking diet, weight or exercise.

Levy believes greater sophistication of wearables is critical to driving wearable adoption and that even with incentives, mass adoption won't occur unless mHealth delivers a sophisticated and substantial gain to consumer. She envisions wearables collecting data that then is fed into a software algorithm, which can produce actionable insight and recommendations to the user regarding personal health.

For example, if device data provides insight on poor nutrition and diet habits, the wearable will alert the user to consider talking to a health coach about those issues or watching a informational video that offers insight on implementing better diet habits.

"Right now it's all very simplistic," Levy told us. "Just having data is not enough." An example of this is using a the astute analogy of the bathroom scale everyone likely has tucked somewhere in the home, she says.

Such scales offer a data point, an important one, but nothing else. But just imagine if that scale shared its data with a smartwatch that had been tracking your diet all week as well as other body vital signs, then shared it with a lifestyle coach or medical practitioner and within a few seconds of the scale check you learned you need to cut back a bit on salt and pump up liquid intake to avoid dehydration issues. Truly beneficial mHealth tech will do that and more, as we reported last week in an article on what's coming with wearables.

As Levy says, the mHealth revolution will be very similar to how the video gaming industry has transformed from simple console button action to the emergence of virtual reality headsets.

"It's about getting smarter and better," she said. And that, by all accounts, is always a good tech trend.

- Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)