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Making fitness trackers last requires team effort

Brian Eastwood | Aug. 12, 2014
Roughly one in three consumers who starts using a fitness tracker stops using it within a year. Research from IDC says the top reason for device abandonment isn't battery life, comfort or functionality.

Roughly one in three consumers who starts using a fitness tracker stops using it within a year. Research from IDC says the top reason for device abandonment isn't battery life, comfort or functionality.

Above all, consumers stop using fitness trackers because they lose interest in them.

That matters. Reform efforts in the United States emphasize collaborative care as a means of shifting healthcare's focus from treating sickness to promoting wellness. Fitness trackers which can measure progress toward a goal such as pounds lost, steps walked and hours slept can be a key tool for patients, providers and payers, offering real-time feedback on short-term goals and a measurable set of data against which to set long-term goals and to offer tangible incentives for reaching those milestones.

If consumers give up on their fitness trackers, though, it's not likely to be long before they give up on their fitness initiatives as well.

Consumers Using Fitness Trackers Aren't Necessarily the Ones Who Need Them

One challenge, says Lynne Dunbrack, research vice president for IDC Health Insights, stems from American's need for instant gratification. Even without a fitness tracker, we all know that eating right and exercising puts us on the right track, but in a culture of "everything fast and quick," it's hard to get patients to see past direct-to-consumer diets and pills and plan for their long-term health.

In addition, most device users are young, wealthy and healthy a marked contrast to the demography of most health and wellness programs, which target those with chronic conditions. "These consumers are typically older, more sedentary, and perhaps with lower rates of health and medical literacy," Dunbrack writes in an IDC report, Fitness Activity Trackers, Improving Health One Step at a Time. "Education about the benefits of wearables will be required to encourage the consumers who would benefit most from wearables to actually use them."

That's where active engagement comes into play, Dunbrack says. Because the average consumer isn't all that attuned to his or her health, successful wellness and fitness programs offer intrinsic and extrinsic motivators ranging from discounted gym membership to coupons for healthy foods to reduced insurance premiums along with coaching and context. (Some devices offer paid coaching programs; others have free coaching apps. Larger employers and insurers can also partner with nutrition coaches.)

Interest will be high at first as it is whenever you hand someone a new gadget but participants need to see that the program, and the fitness tracker they're using in the program, gives them actionable information to incite behavior change. Looking at the device, Dunbrack says, they'll ask, "What else does this do? What value am I getting out of this?"

 

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