Return of the Guru

Consumers Want Health/Wellness Devices, But Safety and Privacy are Issues

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, July 28, 2011

A recent study by IBM concludes that consumers have a growing appetite for health and wellness devices, and this represents a burgeoning market opportunity for device manufacturers that has barely been tapped.

According to IBM, wellness devices will increasingly be used to fill the information gap for consumers that are relatively healthy, but need devices that provide information to help them gain greater control over their conditions and lead healthier lives. The devices will plan, predict and monitor information, feeding it directly to caregivers and clinicians as well as support networks. Users will connect them via broadband, wireless and wired connections. 

Conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value, the study indicates that the growing demand for devices is driven by “information seekers” (people who will increasingly turn to technology to help manage health-related challenges to reach their wellness goals). 

The study surveyed more than 1,300 consumers currently using health and wellness devices and found demand for “a new generation of health devices, greater simplicity and better information sharing.” 

This information is obviously good news for health insurers and any others who pay medical claims—but not so fast.  Demand alone is not enough to drive the market, especially when significant hurdles must be cleared.  There is a definite safety issue with any mobile device that monitors and transmits what are essentially confidential data.  As I noted in another recent blog, recent research has shown that the wireless connections on these medical devices leave them vulnerable to attack—either personal (against the device user) or data-related. 

The other bugaboo that is routinely ignored in such hopeful reports is the problem of personal privacy.  How comfortable will consumers be, knowing that their sensitive medical information may be easily accessed via wireless hacking that remains a serious problem in our Internet-connected world?  An even more thorny issue is that these devices could also be used to track the whereabouts of the individual using them, meaning that Big Brother—even if he is your medical professional—will definitely be watching you. 

Continuous monitoring to help catch health problems early or to increase general health is obviously an appealing concept to insurers and insureds alike, but like all wireless technology, it cannot be said to be secure.  As the technology continues to develop and finds its way to the market, some serious objections will have to be answered. 

Perhaps the “information seekers” are willing to play fast and loose with their personal information and privacy, but some of us are just not that trusting in the technology and those who will use it.  It may well be that use of such devices will be strongest among younger consumers who seem to have more faith in the integrity of their fellow man or woman, but the unfortunate part is that the devices are undoubtedly far more critical for older individuals who are more at risk for health problems.

Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at ara@aratremblytechnology.com.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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