This June Fitbit, Inc.’s IPO became the third largest U.S IPO of 2015, opening with a stock at $30.50, raising $732 million and selling a total of 36.6 million shares. The wearable device manufacturer is now valued at about $4.1 billion. The early success of Fitbit’s fitness-tracker hints at a bright future for wearables in the healthcare space. However, it also poses a new question: will its popularity convert into positive changes in population health?
Many employers are jumping on the Fitbit bandwagon, buying the devices for their employees in order to help reduce rising health insurance costs. Implementing wearable fitness-trackers to improve population health looks like a good idea at face value. The massive number of consumers interested in Fitbit’s product does bode well for better patient engagement within traditional healthcare. Recently, Cigna Corp. gave activity-tracking arm bands to 600 employees considered at risk of diabetes. A majority of the participants, 86%, said they were more motivated to be active.
However, there is one issue poking a hole in the fitness-tracker success story: a lack of sustained engagement. According to a market study, more than half of U.S. consumers who have owned an activity tracker have stopped using it, and a third of these consumers stopped using the device within six months of receiving it.
In another study Fitbit users saw a moderate increase in activity overall, but not enough to meet a weekly goal (users of a regular pedometer saw no statistically significant change). Their product allows users to monitor daily activity habits and encourages improvements. Unfortunately, once the user learns how to increase daily steps, they no longer have a need for the Fitbit. For long term success in the healthcare industry, Fitbit must engage users past the 6 month period and begin to offer services that users continually want and need.
Fitbit’s future success will be decided by how the company chooses to innovate. Monitoring data directly related to chronic disease, ranging from blood glucose levels to blood pressure and weight, and integrating this information into healthcare technology platforms could be a smart, engaging move in the wearables industry. When this integration of data occurs, mobile health devices will begin to solve the problem of treating chronic disease in the population.