Imagine that you have a shiny, brand new bicycle that has all the technology you want and need – an embedded tracker so that you’ll find it when it’s stolen,  automatic gears, phone charger, anti-theft brake lock, GPS, glow-in-the-dark frame, integrated and responsive lighting, and brake and turn signals. Excited, you jump on the bike. Your mind is racing thinking of all the things you’ll be able to do on this souped-up bike. You put your feet to the pedals but, no matter how fast and hard you push, you just can’t get the bike to move.

All of that technology, no matter how cool it is, is pointless if it can’t perform a bike’s basic function – being able to just hop on and go somewhere with relative ease.

The current marriage between health insurance and technology is a lot like that bike. Thanks to government mandates like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) act and The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) act, healthcare organizations have been pushed to modernize their systems, creating room for greater transparency and consumer-focused technologies that improve healthcare quality.

This focus on technology has been a step in the right direction. And health insurance companies have been trying to figure out better ways to use technology, too, often as a way to sweeten incentives. But this has led to some failures, illustrating that, instead of throwing gadgetry at consumers, healthcare institutions need to understand what people actually want first.

The people have spoken: simple is best

A recent Strategy& Analysis study confirmed this, finding that while many people want innovative technology, their immediate priorities are to:

  1. streamline the healthcare process
  2. and have better transparency.

Respondents made it clear they want insurers to meet their basic needs before rolling out transformative features. Examining feature selection, our analysis indicated that 94 percent of respondents chose features that offer basic utility and transparency over advanced or clinical-type features, such as telemedicine or in-home blood testing. Consumers also said they wanted more collaboration between payors and providers, and, surprisingly, said that they were open to receiving health and wellness advice from their insurers. In short, they’re worried more about the clock accurately telling time than about all its bells and whistles.

This isn’t that much of a surprise, especially when there are countless businesses that center around simplifying healthcare (including us). But it does speak to a larger issue of how apps and wearables fit into our lives, especially when it comes to health and fitness.

Technology needs to be cool and relevant

I have over 100 apps in my phone, but I only use about six of those apps in my daily life. And the average person uses less – about three apps – according to this study. The Apple Watch debuted to much fanfare and it was touted as a wearable game-changer, but the overall consensus was that it was a cool gadget that was completely unnecessary. So when people don’t actually use their apps and even Apple couldn’t make an engaging smartwatch (yet), how can healthcare companies successfully combine technology and health?

They need to make technology that actually captivates the user. About 25 percent of adults (an increase compared to previous years) use a fitness tracker or app to manage their health, weight, or exercise. Our president wears a Fitbit. So the opportunity is there, but people just aren’t interested. Just under 30 percent of those surveyed by Technology Advice said that (other than cost) the main hurdle preventing them from using wearable technology that helps with preventative healthcare was that the technology was meh.

This is why we said that Pokémon Go was good for the future of health and wellness, because it did what many health initiatives couldn’t by making exercise engaging and interesting. While being tied to a wildly successful franchise gave it an edge, it still exemplifies the power of a good narrative. And that’s what’s missing from many healthcare technologies. I’m not saying that every healthcare app or wearable needs to be gamified, but companies should be thinking about how they’re crafting a story about the user and their behavior.

Here lies the opportunity

Innovations that make it easier for doctors to monitor patients remotely streamline the healthcare process, like these wearables and apps that keep track of a patient’s post-surgery progress. This type of technology will make it easier for doctors to follow-up and possibly eliminate the need for patients to make an extra trip to the doctor, which will be especially helpful for people with mobility issues or people that can’t afford to travel often.

The Pulsewave® Health Monitor describes itself as “the only FDA cleared, clinical & consumer health monitor that displays the actual heart beat in real time, derives 4 biological results from each noninvasive wrist cuff reading (Heart Rate, Blood Pressure, Respiration Rate and our unique Cardiac Anomaly Scores)”. Because it automatically uploads your vital signs to a cloud, it’s a more convenient way for doctors to diagnose remotely and for people with chronic illnesses to take ownership over their care. Similar technologies are being developed, with a focus on making healthcare accessible to the most marginalized.  

A side-effect of these remote monitoring innovations is how they’ll better preventative care. This is a key opportunity for great storytelling. If app and wearable-makers are able to show the public how their tool fits into someone’s long-term view of their life and personal health (ex: Do X and monitor X and you have a greater chance of sidestepping that family illness), then they’ll be more invested in the technology.

Menstrual and fertility-tracking apps do a good job already of providing health monitoring and help with preventive care in a friendly and easy-to-use interface. It’s just a matter of time until other healthcare technologies follow suit.

 via Clue app via Clue app  via  Flow app via  Flow app


One of my favorite quotes is: “If it’s inaccessible to the poor, it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.” But, when it comes to these healthcare innovations, I want to take it one step further. Everyone deserves to be healthy, and we need to make sure that emerging technologies keep that in mind by being accessible to everyone and taking users’ socioeconomic status, identity, location, and social status into account. And as technology becomes an increasing part of healthcare, we need to consider how it might exclude people that may not have access to the Internet and a computer or who live in an area where fancy medical technology will make them a target for robbers.

As long as companies and healthcare institutions pay attention to the real needs of consumers, there’s no limit to how technology can transform our broken healthcare system. Until then, we’re trying to ride a fancy bike that doesn’t quite move like it should. But together, with a little elbow grease and a lot of innovation, we can make it so that one day unifying the healthcare system with personal health will be a smooth ride.

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