Health Technology

Mobile health: What you need to know to keep up with evolving consumer needs

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Google launched its much anticipated Android Wearable 2.0 watch platform earlier this month, with improved fitness tracking a focal point.  The move follows a similar push from Apple last fall when the smartwatch leader made health and fitness front and center for its latest wrist wearables.

This focus on health makes a great deal of sense for smartwatch marketers, as mobile health is an area of burgeoning consumer interest and immense market opportunities. According to data from GfK Consumer Life,  about three in ten Americans (29%) today monitor their health and fitness using an online or mobile app or through a fitness band, clip or smartwatch. And nearly half (46%) of those who don’t are interested in future adoption. Health tracking and monitoring is by far the top activity, not only for fitness trackers but for smartwatches in general, and it’s the only feature that truly sets smartwatches apart from smartphones in the consumer’s mind – at least for now.

While the demand for mobile health solutions is gathering steam, consumer needs are also evolving. Our research reveals opportunity areas that point to the future direction of mobile health.

Gamify to motivate

While consumers recognize the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, many struggle to follow through with action. The persistent, wide gap between health attitudes and behaviors signals the need for products that help consumers stay motivated and make behavioral change more attainable.

For many, digital health is seen as the clear solution for motivation. Indeed, motivating oneself to exercise and eat healthy is a top reason why Americans use digital health solutions today. It’s an even more compelling driver for future adoption.

While tracking progress itself can help motivate behaviors, opportunities go well beyond basic quantification. The sensational success of Pokémon Go as an accidental fitness facilitator last summer is a testament to the power of gamification. The likes of Apple and Fitbit are also betting on gamification in the form of competition with friends, families and other users to encourage engagement.

Move beyond quantification to personalized coaching

Data without insights has limited benefits. People who used to track their health and fitness but no longer do so tend to cite ‘not knowing what to do with the information collected’ as a reason for diminished interest. Ultimately, quantification should be the means, not the end result of health solutions.

As mobile health matures, we can expect consumer demand to move beyond self-quantifying for actionable insights and real-time, personalized coaching to accomplish real results. Already, over a quarter of Leading Edge Consumers[1] (vs. 16% of all adults) have received customized, data-based advice about their physical or mental health online, via an app or wearable devices in the past month.

Data accuracy and privacy present challenges and opportunities

The accuracy of Fitbit was questioned last spring in a public way when the company faced a class-action lawsuit. The accusation perhaps didn’t come across as a shocker to many consumers. Almost four in ten Americans admit they are skeptical about the data accuracy of health trackers and other wearables, according to a recent GfK Consumer Life survey.

Data privacy is another area of heightened consumer concerns and a major barrier to the adoption of digital tracking solutions. The expectations for data accuracy and security will only rise as mobile health becomes more integrated with healthcare. While these concerns may present challenges to device makers and service providers, those well-positioned on these fronts can also score a true advantage.

The future of integrated health management

Consumers’ health needs are complex and multi-faceted. The demand for weight management continues to soar as obesity rates reach new highs. The importance of mental health is ever more top of mind in a high-stress world. An aging population is driving the rise of chronic conditions that require constant management.

Current digital health solutions tend to be lifestyle focused and track fitness, diet, sleep and stress separately. The progression of the industry, technology and consumer demand should propel the emergence of integrated solutions that synthesize various types of data (both medical and lifestyle) from multiple sources for holistic health management. For instance, if your fitness band knows that you had a poor night’s sleep, it may suggest that a heavy dinner the night before was to blame and recommend lighter meals or taking a walk after dinner to remedy the situation.

In summary, mobile health is a space of exciting opportunities, but also one evolving with growing competition and raised expectations. To fully capitalize on this market, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve and on top of emerging needs. In particular, personalization, security and integration will become more of an industry mandate than they have in the past.

Veronica Chen is a Vice President at GfK Consumer Life. To share your thoughts, please email veronica.chen@gfk.com or leave a comment below.

[1] GfK’s proprietary Leading Edge Consumers (LEC) segmentation identifies consumers most likely to be early adopters and influencers in a given category.

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