Health IT Pulse

Nov 5 2015   2:02PM GMT

For those who need it most, wearables may be out of reach

Kristen Lee Kristen Lee Profile: Kristen Lee

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It seems fitting that the rise in popularity of wearables comes at a time when Americans are facing such chronic diseases like diabetes, which the International Diabetes Federation estimates will affect one in 10 adults by 2030. Not only that but more than 80% of diabetes deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization.

So, it’s good that wearables that so often motivate people to stay active, lose weight and monitor their health are out there for anyone and everyone to buy and use, right? 2014 was dubbed “the year of the wearable” after all.

But the truth is that the people who need wearables the most can’t afford them, a Forbes article said.

In fact, a 2014 CDC study shows an obesity disparity among varying racial groups in the United States, with the highest rates of obesity in the South and the most cases found in African-Americans followed by Hispanics. These numbers presents huge implications for future individual health costs, the article points out, because obesity often leads to other significant health problems like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

As it turns out, this sort of finding isn’t new to the healthcare technology space. In fact, a recent study found that online health tools may actually contribute to health disparities.

And when it comes to doctors prescribing wearables to address such serious health problems, the cost can be anything but affordable.

Forbes interviewed a doctor in the Deep South who uses Mobile Cardiac Outpatient Telemetry with his patients. This wearable system monitors weight and heart rates and delivers a printout to physicians. However, the cost to use this wearable is $350 per month, and insurance coverage of such devices has been extremely limited thus far.

“But, even with expanded health insurance, low-income families are still not guaranteed access to health care services that offer wearables,” the article said.

A report by the NPD Group found that one in 10 U.S. adults now own a fitness tracker. Of those owners, 36% were between the ages of 35 and 54, and 41% had an average income of more than $100,000. However, after the first few months, at least a third ditched their wearable device, the Forbes article said.

The article points out that it’s difficult to get companies to work on these devices and make them more affordable for lower income — and more vulnerable — populations because these companies think lower income populations won’t walk into a store or go to Amazon.com to buy a wearable. However, studies say otherwise, the article said.

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