Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Technology Primer: Smart Wearables and Health

  • Zhenan Bao
  • Lisa Cadmus-Bertram
  • Charles Odonkor
  • Jessica Rich
  • David A. Simon
  • Ariel D. Stern
| June 05, 2023

Smart wearables in the context of health refer to electronic technologies that are worn on an individual’s body to collect physiological information on a real-time basis to help an individual make health-related decisions. There is no standard definition or classification of smart wearables.

Smart wearables are quickly becoming the next wave of ubiquitous technologies due to their vast market penetration and broad utility. Smart wearables can collect a wide variety of relevant health information from users that may be useful in managing an individual’s health, such as to track heart rate, sleep patterns, heart rhythm, body temperature, blood pressure, energy expenditure, and more. In the healthcare setting, smart wearables may be used to advance preventative health measures (identifying amenable health behaviors such as physical activity), emergency medicine (real-time situational data transfer), and primary care (chronic disease management). Smart wearables have the potential to revolutionize the way that healthcare is done, but major technical and nontechnical limitations exist.

The smart wearables market is rapidly growing. In 2020, about one in five people in the United States used a smartwatch or other fitness tracker. However, diffusion and retention of smart wearables are relatively lacking due to factors such as cost and technical misunderstandings of the technologies.

The emerging role of smart wearables in healthcare is becoming more evident, but the regulation of these technologies is still underdeveloped. Public purpose considerations include challenges related to the protection and security of personal health information, the use of personal health information for marketing purposes, insurance considerations of data gathered, and managing users’ expectations of the technologies.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Felber, Sarith, Dawid Maciorowski, Ariel Higuchi and Amritha Jayanti. “Technology Primer: Smart Wearables and Health.” Edited by Zhenan Bao, Lisa Cadmus-Bertram, Charles Odonkor, DJ Patil, Jessica Rich, David A. Simon and Ariel D. Stern. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, June 5, 2023.

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