Student whitepaper - The rise of the wearables

Posted by Jenni Armstrong on 28 April 2016

Group 9 from the October 2015 cohort round off our three-part whitepaper series with their finger on the pulse of a viable trend in the healthcare industry and recognised key factors driving the adoption of wearables and digital health platforms. 


Things are changing dramatically. Our globally connected world is changing 10 times faster and at 300 times the scale of the industrial revolution.(1) It’s a world that is more global, connected, urban, older, mobile and digital than ever before.

These macro, societal trends are significantly impacting the health industry. Research conducted by professional services firm PwC shows that we are about to witness a boom in digital heath products and services [Figure 1].


Figure 1: HRI Consumer Survey, pwC, 2015(2)

Wearable technology is to play an intrinsic role in this digital revolution. It will be a key component in managing the cost of caring for our large, aging population alongside helping consumers of every age to make better choices for their short- and long-term health.


Wearable technology is already making waves in the healthcare industry. Use cases include everything from Google’s Smart Contact Lens [see below], to wearable real-­‐‑time electrocardiograms, to  the  iTBra  that detects breast cancer.

As this nascent industry develops, we are beginning to see the extent of the possibilities and impact wearable technology can have on people’s lives.

wear2.jpgCurrently, the most visible healthcare wearables exist in the realm of fitness bands and smartwatches, over three million of which were bought by Brits in 2015. That represents an increase of 118% on 2014.(3)

It’s not just the UK which is seeing growth here. Market researchers IndustryARC are predicting a $41 billion market globally by 2020 for health wearables – that’s an annual growth rate of over 21 percent.(4)

We believe it’s going to get there using three key tactics:

  1. Personalise, personalise, personalise: companies that put patient/consumer convenience and personalization at the heart of their efforts will see the greatest returns
  2. Integrate with other sensors: as the Internet of Things continues to grow, wearable tech needs to integrate with other smart devices that can provide supplementary information (everything from thermostats or smoke alarms to in-­‐‑house treatment monitoring systems)
  3. Develop analytical skillsets: healthcare wearables will only grow if the teams building them have the skill and talent to interpret huge quantities of data. We have the data; we need the analytical skills


The benefits of a saturated wearables market are significant: cost savings to medical care, the ability to track health and fitness, and ultimately the ability to help people live longer, healthier lives. However, there are also some significant challenges.

Privacy and security of data is an issue that affects the wider digital ecosystem, but it is of paramount importance within the healthcare industry given the sensitivity of the topic at hand.

Companies acting internationally must pay ardent attention to the different jurisdictions they act within to ensure they don’t fall foul of local data protection laws. They also need to recognise that these and other relevant laws are under constant recasting. The existing European medical devices directives, for example, are currently being redeveloped.(5)

It is also important to acknowledge that complete data security cannot be guaranteed and patients/consumers of healthcare wearables should be informed of this potential lack of privacy.(6)

Privacy and data security aside, other issues include:

  • Ease and duration of use: most people stop using healthcare wearables after a few months – how can this be addressed?(7)
  • Cost and perception of value: healthcare wearables will only proliferate when consumers are both able to afford the technology and see the value it
  • End responsibility: the effects could be catastrophic if something goes wrong – who is responsible if something goes wrong? Phone manufacturer, operating system developer, app developer or the patient/consumer themselves?


The road forward for wearable healthcare as an industry is clear: personalise, personalise, personalise; integrate with other sensors, and; develop analytical skillsets. Alongside that growth, we want to see the industry take the lead on a different road of healthcare: mental health.

Dr. Conor Farrington of the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge, writing in The Guardian, notes that:

wear3.jpg“Mental health care is often described as the Cinderella of medicine – overlooked, disparaged, and generally neglected. In the UK, mental health care is the single biggest item on the NHS budget (£12.16bn in 2010/11), but in practice this means that only about 11% of the overall spend is allocated to deal with 23% of the disease burden.” (8)

This is a problem that is even more pronounced in  low income countries. In the UK and US, the average spend on mental health care is £26.71 per capita. In low income countries it’s just 12p.(9)

We want to see the wearables industry not just thrive economically, but go beyond monitoring activities and contribute to mental health prognosis.

One in four people in the world will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their life.(10) In our more global, connected, urban, older, mobile and digital world, what can wearables do to help?

'Technology can have greater impact on mental healthcare than on the care for heart disease, diabetes, cancer or other diseases.'

Dr. Thomas Insel, speaking at Chicago Ideas Week11

  1.­‐‑functions/strategy-­‐‑and-­‐‑corporate-­‐‑finance/our-­‐‑insights/the-­‐‑four-­‐‑global-­‐‑ forces-­‐‑breaking-­‐‑all-­‐‑the-­‐‑trends
  3.­‐‑centre/technology-­‐‑press-­‐‑centre/brits-­‐‑step-­‐‑up-­‐‑to-­‐‑wearable-­‐‑technology-­‐‑sales-­‐‑of-­‐‑ fitness-­‐‑bands-­‐‑and-­‐‑smartwatches-­‐‑up-­‐‑118-­‐‑in-­‐‑2015
  5. http://united-­‐‑
  7.­‐‑health-­‐‑and-­‐‑fitness-­‐‑wearables-­‐‑running-­‐‑out-­‐‑of-­‐‑ gas/#61bd92db17d1
  9. Ibid

Topics: Digital trends, Digital marketing, Whitepaper, Squared Network