3 Mistakes to Avoid in Wearable Design for Older Adults

Image by Robert Scoble

Image by Robert Scoble

Brittany Weinberg is project manager and influence specialist for the MedStar Center for Health Influence and Engagement at the MedStar Institute for Innovation (MI2), and today she shares a guest post with Zansors on wearables for an older population. There are common pitfalls innovators need to understand––and avoid––in order to successfully support older adults who often have one or more chronic conditions.

Stakes are high when we consider wearables for older adults. On one hand, the healthcare support a wearable can provide this population is an immense opportunity to affect quality of life and overall health. On the other hand, it’s a demographic that requires special considerations, and often involves large government stakeholders like Medicare.

This presents obstacles to innovators that have not been fully explored. Best practices are yet to be defined in this new space, so it’s clear common mistakes are not generally due to a lack of trying or caring. It is difficult as an innovator to balance the daily tasks of designing a product and running a company while also seeing the broader, macro landscape of wearable technology, particularly as it relates to an older generation. In the meantime, here are three mistakes that are common yet avoidable if you know what to look for.

Mistake #1: Not Understanding Regulations

Rules and regulations are responding to the evolving nature of technology and ever-changing landscape of healthcare. Innovators should understand current regulations, particularly around Medicare and Medicaid, and plan for regulation changes, so that they can anticipate emerging trends and hack existing trends.

  • Understanding the regulations helps innovators designing wearables:
  • Appreciate current trends and anticipate changes
  • Recognize where regulations are spurring (and funding) innovations
  • Identify opportunities for regulatory hacking 

Recently, 1776 spent an entire day discussing hacking regulations. Where are the gaps? Where can innovators utilize their experience, creativity, and technology to create solutions to for the problems of today (and yesterday)? And why should innovators hack regulations?

Want to learn more about regulatory hacking? Listen to this great podcast on regulatory hacking.

So, what does this mean for your wearable?

You’ll need to stay up-to-date on rules and regulations that directly or indirectly impact your wearable, and maintain enough flexibility in your product design to respond to regulation changes and opportunities as well as regulation hack opportunities.

Mistake #2: Undervaluing Empathy in Your Design Process

You may think you know, but do you really know?

Many older adults suffer or will suffer from one or more chronic conditions, which likely impacts your wearable design. It is imperative to then incorporate empathy into your design process, as Forbes explains in their article, “Design Thinking: A Unified Framework For Innovation.”

Ask your users questions that will reveal insights on how they may use your wearable and the benefits your wearable would bring to them. For example: Will you describe the problems you encounter when ABC? What workarounds are you using to accomplish your XYZ goals? If you could remove an obstacle from XYZ, what would it be? What do you wish you could change right now? And what is your desired state (i.e. what is best-case scenario)?

Experience the product with your users. Ask them to help you see their obstacles for yourself and to show you how they currently solve problems. Walk their walk, live their story, learn their perspective as if it is your own. Only then can you begin to design a wearable that meets their needs and in a sustainable manner. As many of us are deeply aware, abandonment rate of wearables is still a concern, and that is true for older users as well.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between the purchaser of the wearable and the users of the wearable. Even within “users” of the wearable, there are different categories: Those who wear it to generate data (i.e. the older adult), those who review/collect the data, those who respond accordingly to the data, and more.

What does this mean for your wearable?

You’ll want to start user testing as early as possible. As developers of Path Feel and Path Finder found, user testing may confirm your understanding of how the user would interact with the product and it may reveal some tweaks that need to be made. Also, recognize the different stakeholders that will touch your wearable: the purchaser, the wearer/user, the reviewer/collector of the data, those responding to the data, etc.

Read more on this topic in AARP’s report on 50+ consumers of activity and sleep trackers.

Mistake #3: Not Using Wearables to Bring Together Multiple Stakeholders

Wearables have the unique attributes of collecting important information in real time, sharing it with appropriate parties, and impacting behaviors in order to improve lives. This is especially important for innovating for vulnerable older adults, because of quality of life repercussions. These attributes can be the “bring-together-er” of many stakeholders, including regulators, healthcare providers, family caregivers, architects, wellness coaches, and members of the community.

The aforementioned attributes are ripe for bringing stakeholders together to tackle some of the aging field’s biggest issue:

Goals of Medicare “Triple Aim”

What does this mean for your wearable?

As you design your wearable, consider expanding the scope of stakeholders that you originally had in mind. Incorporate them into your design, so that your wearable is not simply a quick fix for a sticky problem, but rather a scalable, sound solution that has multiple players involved and has the potential to improve the lives of older adults everywhere.

So what does this all mean? The way we identify these common pitfalls is by learning from what’s already on the market, listening to consumers and witnessing first-hand what doesn’t work. It’s our collective experience that shows us the way, which means collaboration among innovators is critical to realizing the potential that wearables presents to the healthcare market.

And, that is the reason it is imperative to surround yourself with a talented, passionate team. As we like to say the MedStar Institute for Innovation:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. – African Proverb
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