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Should Social Media Have a Place?

This is a question that seems to pop up a lot: Is there a place for social media in a “boring” business like insurance, plumbing or trucking?

While I do believe nearly any business can benefit from some social media presence, we do need to take a rational look as to whether it should really be a priority in the marketing mix for a “boring” business.

Are you a conversational business?

Let’s re-frame this word “boring” and put it this way: “Do people normally talk about you over the dinner table or at a party?” If the answer is “yes,” then social media should probably be a top priority for you. If it’s no … well, look at your budget options carefully to see where social media might fit in.

There have been a number of studies out there about the “conversationability” of a business and the connection to social media success. Not surprisingly, there is a hierarchy of conversationability – more remarkable products like sports teams and Hollywood movies are talked about twice as much as less remarkable brands like banks and over-the-counter medicine.

In a study of organic Facebook reach conducted by AgoraPulse, the company found that, across 8,000 companies, there was definitely a pecking order of conversationability. Organic reach is the content that is naturally connecting to customers without any promotion. Here is a list of the industry categories with the highest organic reach:

Amateur sports teams

Farming/agriculture

Fashion designer

Professional athletes

Music industry

Building products

Professional sports teams

Photographers

Zoos and animal-related businesses

Television programs

And here are the industries with the lowest Facebook organic reach:

Appliances

Books

Telecommunications

Household supplies

Tools and equipment

Phone/tablet

Chef

Musical instruments

Industrials

Transportation and freight

There is an implicit hierarchy of conversation popularity across industries. If you are in sports, entertainment or any of the other industries in the first list, there is an implied, fervent fascination with your content. There is something that people find naturally remarkable about you that gets rewarded with content transmission. If you’re in the second list or somewhere in between, you have less of an organic opportunity for social sharing … not necessarily because of the job you’re doing with your content, but because your products just aren’t naturally conversational.

Are you conversational … or could you be?

There is another option. If you’re in an industry with relatively low organic reach, can you become remarkable? It doesn’t come easily or cheaply, but it is possible, as evidenced by the series of “Will It Blend?” videos produced by BlendTec blenders. A blender isn’t the most remarkable product, but the brand made it so through its wacky challenge … ripping apart the most unusual things (golf balls, an Apple watch) in its powerful blender.

One of my favorite examples of a company overcoming a low place on the remarkability continuum is the Chipotle restaurant chain, which sells burritos and tacos—nearly commodity products in the food business.

Chipotle began producing two-minute animated mini-movies telling a story of the restaurant as an oasis of natural goodness in an otherwise bleak and dystopian world of processed food. The first episode, a clay animation video with a soundtrack of Willie Nelson singing a Coldplay song, was extraordinarily popular with Chipotle’s youthful audience and garnered nearly 9 million views in a year. The next year, the company went a step further by creating a free smartphone game to go with a new video. It had 4 million views in the first week.

Reality check: All this was created to sell burritos. It wasn’t easy to become a conversational brand. It wasn’t cheap, either. But it worked, and Chipotle’s stock and market share soared. That’s the nice thing about remarkability: You can apply it to almost anything.

The key to finding your remarkability is to think about what makes you surprising, interesting, or novel. In my book Social Media Explained, I suggest that marketing strategy needs to begin by finishing this sentence: “Only we …” That’s a tough task, but it’s the essential path to discovering your remarkability.

In the case of Chipotle, the “only we” was creating a story of health and sustainability, a story far bigger than mere burritos and tacos. They broke a pattern of what people expected from fast food.

But wait…there’s more

At this point, you might be thinking, “My business is boring and unremarkable and I’m not about to be a Blend-Tec or Chipotle. Why would I participate in social media?”

There are a lot of reasons, and here are a few:

Public relations – It’s likely that some aspect of social media has to be incorporated into any plan for media relations, crisis planning, event planning and community relations.

Word-of-mouth advocacy – Social media opens up an entirely new way of identifying and nurturing powerful online advocates for your brand.

Cost savings – Social media represents an extremely cost-effective communication channel. Most research shows that, in terms of many traditional measures, the results are as good, or better, than paid advertising. There are many opportunities to leverage existing content and marketing materials across vast new audiences.

Customer service – You may not have a choice about this really. Social media has become a very popular way to complain about poor products and services. It’s the new 800 number. Are you going to answer the call?

HR and recruiting – Social media, and particularly LinkedIn, has transformed the human resources function. One professional told me that a candidate’s “social media footprint” was more important today than a resume! Whether you are trying to find talent or be found, social media is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Internal process improvement – Tapping into the free tools and information on the web can help unleash employee productivity, collaboration and problem-solving.

Lead generation – Even setting up a simple Twitter search can help you find customers looking for your products and services…even if you’re boring.

Reputation management – The largest brands have social media “war rooms” set up so they can monitor conversations and sentiment about their products and brands in real time, at any spot in the world. Today, you need to be tuned in to the conversations and respond quickly or risk problems going viral.

Research and development – An active customer community can be a gold mine of new ideas and suggestions for products and innovations.

SearchGoogle is now showing tweets more prominently in search results. And you are just as likely to be discovered via your LinkedIn profile, blog post or video as on a website. An entire generation is finding businesses and services through Facebook search.

Social proof – In a world of overwhelming information density, we may look to clues from others to make a decision. How many positive reviews do you have? How many “likes” or followers do you have? It might sound weird, but people make decisions to connect to a company based on these badges of social proof (there is an entire chapter on the connection between social proof and content success in my book The Content Code).

The Trade Show Dilemma – Have you ever had to sit at a booth during a large industry trade show? Why did you do it? Because if we weren’t there, people would think something was wrong. We would be ostentatiously absent. In this day and age, not being on Facebook or Twitter sends the same message. It shows you “don’t get it.”

The Net Generation – Your next pool of employees, customers and competitors prefer to use the social web over any other form of communication. You might enjoy reading a paper copy of the Wall Street Journal each morning, or even looking at an online version of your favorite news site. But nearly half of Americans under the age of 21 cite Facebook as their primary source of news. The social web is where a generation is going to connect, learn and discover. Ignore this at your peril!

So the short answer is “yes.” There is a place for social media, even in a boring business, but your “conversationability” may influence how much effort you put into it. Comments?

This article was first posted on business2community.com

Ready for a New Consumer Channel?

How long is it until my smart bowl tells my Apple Watch how many grams of Fruity Oat Puffs I consumed this morning? The watch could then contact my life or health insurer, which may notify me or my healthcare provider, sending a text to my smartphone reminding me that I’m on target to reach my life and wellness goals…if I can avoid eating a second bowl. The circuit will then be complete. Digitized automated processes flowing real-time through a channel into the insurance and healthcare value chain, beginning with behaviors and ending in better life and health outcomes. I’m all in!

This is reality today! Just look at John Hancock’s recent introduction of a health activities rewards program utilizing mobile apps and wearables to improve mortality and lower life insurance premiums for participants.

We are rapidly moving into a new age of digital delivery for every area of insurance, not just healthcare. The digital windows are opening faster than we can gather the information that is flooding in. The proliferation of sensors and the Internet of Things will forever change our business models and our system architectures. The Apple Watch, like my smartphone, is another window into my habits and preferences, and it will be a valued source of feedback for any insurer that becomes digitally ready to capitalize on it. The key to digital readiness, however, is to tackle preparations in the proper order.

Focusing on an individual channel and technologies should take a backseat to foundational tasks such as preparing the core data environment. In many cases, an organization needs to do a much larger enterprise-wide assessment to make sure certain digital initiatives are built upon a solid backbone of system and server readiness. These are not steps backward. They are surefooted steps forward to create new systems and rewrite processes in a manner that will serve the entire organization.

It’s important to remember that great benefits (cost savings, efficiencies) can be found when looking at technology threads across the value chain, whether you are looking at data storage or mobile integration. Who, inside and outside the organization, will benefit from digital transformation? Mobile technology is an excellent example because it touches a broad set of services — from telematics to “gamification,” customer service to agent service, billing to claims, marketing message delivery to weather and property alerts. Digital preparedness, from the bottom up, will include strategies that reach into every corner of carrier operations. With all of the digital possibilities, starting at the core becomes a clear necessity.

There is evidence that many organizations are laying the proper groundwork. For example, in a 2014 Celent survey of North American P&C CIOs, the top three digital priorities were:

  • Industrializing business processes,
  • Streamlining communications with customers in an online portal, and
  • Being able to sell insurance products online.

At first, these don’t seem to fit with 2015 smart watch and drone use headlines, but they do fit with a wise approach to establishing digital readiness. Any enterprise digital strategy aimed toward personal device technologies needs established online capabilities, mature automated business processes and modern data warehousing. Insurers can begin by consolidating siloed systems. This makes “one customer view” across systems and products possible. Transforming online quoting, underwriting and selling technologies is a logical next step, if it is still needed.

These base capabilities speak directly to insurance business objectives regarding growth, loyalty, retention, cost reduction and process optimization. If an insurer succeeds at these crucial first steps, it is a much shorter route from core digital readiness to capitalizing on Apple Watch data opportunities (and any other data opportunities).

If the Apple Watch can do one thing for the insurance organization, it can be a driver to accomplish digital readiness goals. Smart watch headlines should be a signal to the C-suite that the Internet of Things will be the fuel of real-time data and competitive analytics for years to come. Any technology promising a closer tie to customers is one in which we should all be interested.

4 Technologies That Are Changing Risk

This summarizes a session from RIMS that was headlined by Google Risk Manager Kelly Crowder as well as Google Global Safety Manager Erike Young. I served as the event host and moderator, teeing up the subject matter. We focused on four major areas of technology that are driving transformative change in the way we do things and, thus, changing risk. Disruptive technology, as the panel pointed out, forces risk managers and insurers to imagine and forecast how various advancements affect: safety; risk assessment; regulatory and legal parameters; and insurance implications.

Albert Einstein set the course for the future when he said: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Ideas can reach beyond probable or practical restraints.

Google takes that notion to heart at Google X, a semi-secret lab located in Silicon Valley that aims via research and development to advance scientific knowledge and fuel discoveries that can change the world. “What if” abstract concepts, also known to Google as “moonshots,” are tireless experiments that often fail but that occasionally produce disruptive technology. The mantra is “fail fast, fail often, fail forward.” Learn and change. Sergey Brin, one of Google’s co-founders, and scientist Astro Teller (Captain of Moonshots) seek to improve existing technologies by a factor of 10. Google began with the self-driving car in 2010. Google X now includes a life sciences division involved in bionics.

As with the radical transportation shift to horseless carriages 130 years ago, the technologies are changing risk in profound ways, but the positive and negative impact of new technology can be hard to predict.

Starting with Botsourcing and Robotics, the panel highlighted the trend of companies to utilize robots and artificial intelligence for a wide array of service industries, manufacturers, medical providers and first responders, which seek safer, more efficient and cost-effective ways of serving clients or conducting business. While more dangerous occupational risks and blue-collar jobs are expected to be safer and more efficient, it remains uncertain whether the demand for labor will continue to grow as technology marches forward. Within 10 years, more than 40% of the workforce is expected to be affected by or replaced with robotics.

One positive sign noted in the presentation is that many American companies using robotics and 3D printing technologies, are transferring production facilities from overseas back to the U.S. and creating homeland jobs in the process. New job skills will become necessary to sustain broad-based prosperity. With respect to the highly advanced robots expected to integrate into society, the panel if their cognition will ever replace emotionally oriented skills. Will the warmth of human interaction remain a value in the future?

Another area of advancement is Surveillance and Wearable Biometrics. The Internet of Things represents the embedding of physical objects with sensors and connectivity. Devices like smart thermostats, as Google pointed out, are able to learn from our behavior patterns to anticipate our needs at home or work on a 24- hour basis. Our security and monitoring systems are tied to public safety, medical providers and our smartphones. Data collection is growing at an enormous pace, effectively tracking our every move. This, as pointed out, has created concern for privacy and for the increasing vulnerability to cyber threats.

Fixed and mobile surveillance cameras have facial identification technology. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s), also known as drones, can be preprogrammed to operate autonomously, although the panel pointed out that current FAA restrictions require an operator following visual line-of sight rules below 400 feet of altitude. It’s expected that, within the next few years, there will be autonomous drone surveillance and product delivery systems.

Utilities can use drones to monitor power transmission lines at 1/10th the cost of a helicopter and with safety and efficiency impossible with helicopters. Public safety departments can use UAVs to assess damages as well as risks. Four U.S. insurers are currently using human-operated drones to assess property damage claims arising from natural disasters. The panel showed photos of UAVs that look like insects that are the size of a fingertip.

Wearable biometrics are much more sophisticated than Apple watches and Fitbits. Google explained the company’s quest to improve health monitoring systems. With 9.3% of the U.S. population alone (29 million) suffering from diabetes, Google sells a revolutionary contact lens, developed with Novartis, that monitors glucose levels and corrects vision similar to an autofocus camera. Other panel photos show tattoo-like patches thinner than a human hair that stick to the skin. Using microfluidic construction, these nearly invisible patches monitor EKG and EEG bodily functions and transmit the data 24/7 wirelessly. Similar monitors, known as smarty pants, can be sewn into underclothes and bras.

Exoskeleton Technologies are being developed by more than a dozen major manufacturers, as the panel demonstrated, and their products are expanding human capacity and endurance far beyond most expectations. These are wearable machines that combine human intelligence and machine power to achieve nearly any conceivable task without falling. Used by the military, public safety, hazmat teams and industries and for medical rehabilitation, exoskeletons let humans perform feats that would have been physically impossible a few years ago. Neuro interfaces with bio-logical signals allow paraplegics to relearn lost functions. Some patients can actually experience running a four-minute mile or play certain sports. Lifting is painless and commonplace with weights of 40 to 60 pounds, with new technology allowing a person to run without falling down with 200 pounds of weight on their back. A la “Iron Man,” exoskeleton suits are being designed into wearable fabrics with micro energy packs.

This area of technology has the greatest potential of protecting workers from soft tissue strains and back injuries. In addition, it serves a dual purpose of advancing an injured worker’s rehabilitation and recovery process without the inherent risk of getting reinjured. As pointed out, experts expect industrial injuries to be reduced as much as 70% as exoskeleton technology is woven into the workplace as personal protective equipment (PPE). Perhaps a bigger question, with an aging workforce and population, is the unknown cost and whether employers, insurers or individuals will bear the expense.

The fourth and final technology covered by the panel was Autonomous Transportation Systems and Devices. Google pioneered self-driving vehicles and leads in the development of its associated technology, but autonomous vehicles are now being produced and tested by a growing number of manufacturers. In March 2015, Delphi sent a driverless Audi SUV on a 3,400-mile trip through 15 states from San Francisco to New York City in eight days without an accident. Auto manufacturers are approaching self-driving features on an incremental basis with self-braking, self-parking and other autonomous safety-related features. Google has inspired a jump to a fully autonomous vehicle with no steering wheel or brake. These self-driving vehicles perform 7,000 safety processes per second at high speeds with far safer results than any human driver.

The impact of self-driving vehicles, including trucks, is expected to be commonplace within 20 years or sooner. A recent national survey of drivers indicated 44% are looking forward to autonomous vehicles. Respondents cited safety as their first priority. Their second reason was their expectation that they would not be paying for car insurance, which averages $820 per licensed vehicle per year in the U.S. Statisticians expected a drastic reduction of injuries as well as reduced violations like DUI, speeding and running red lights. With 35,000 motor vehicle deaths each year in the U.S., increased safety coupled with increased freeway efficiencies of ultimately more than 10 fold are issues that will make this a disruptive technology that will seem long overdue.

As the Google risk management team pointed out, insurers don’t know how to react or respond to the inevitable switch to autonomous vehicles. Even on a road test basis, auto insurance underwriters are scratching their heads trying to assess the risk implications.

As the panel pointed out to the inquisitive audience during the Q&A session, it may be relatively simple to determine the impact of new technology from a measurable, scientific basis. But the big challenge for risk managers is imagining the implications these various technological advancements will have on our organizations, workforce and insurers. Auto insurers have at least $500 billion in annual premiums at stake in the U.S. alone. What will happen to that revenue when we shed our need to get behind the wheel every day?

Google also pointed out that each of the technological areas cover a wide range of regulatory implications. While they attempt to notify every conceivable regulatory entity as they develop and test new products, it’s clear that there often aren’t clear legal or regulatory guidelines in place. How will regulators be able to promulgate new rules, regulations and laws as these science fiction-like inventions come to reality?

As Dr. Seuss said so profoundly, “Think and Wonder. Wonder and Think.”

ITL and its 400-plus thought leaders are providing the kind of wisdom and insight we will need to help bring all the parties together to solve these challenges. We welcome you to the conversation.

RIMS 2015

The Case for Connected Wearables

It was an event maybe even more anticipated than Neil Armstrong’s Moon shot in 1969. I had never tuned into one before, yet there I was, sitting in my pajamas at 1 a.m., frantically trying to get back onto the streaming podcast that my iPad had just dropped, as millions of other nerds the world over were trying to do the same thing.

Apple’s product announcement event on Sept. 9, 2014, had drawn unprecedented interest. I certainly was expecting Apple to “do it again” – you know, change the world in a subtle yet pervasive way, as I am sure many others struggling to get onto the live webcast also believed would happen. After all, the company that Steve built had done it with iTunes, with the iPhone and with the iPad. And now we all wanted to see if Apple’s first wearable device – the Apple Watch, was going to change our lives in the same way.
apple

Well, we definitely saw something that early morning in September, but the realization of the promise still lies ahead, with the first retail delivery of Apple Watches not until late April 2015. What is certain is that Apple has successfully moved the idea of a connected wrist health and fitness tracker from the niche arena of health-conscious individuals to the mainstream “Joe Public.”

Interestingly, even if Apple falls short this time, it has set in motion a great race with Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Fitbit and many others to fulfill and surpass the vision that we all saw in September. In 2014, world-wide revenue from the sale of wearables was roughly $4.5 billion, but, in 2015, expectations are sky-high. Some experts predict sales will increase as much as three times, fueled in the most part by the Apple Watch.

So why are wearables a good thing for insurance?

watch

The rise of wearable fitness trackers as part of corporate wellness programs has been an emerging trend over the last 10 years. In the past, enlightened companies were giving out Fitbits to help employees track their own fitness. More recently, companies have been trading program participation and fitness data captured from such programs for discounts on their corporate health insurance. For example, Appirio, a San Francisco-based cloud computing consultancy, was able to get a 5% discount ($300,000) off its insurance bill in 2014, while BP America distributed around 16,000 Fitbits to employees as part of an integrated wellness program and claim to have put a brake on corporate healthcare cost increases by slowing them to below the U.S. national growth rate in 2013.

A key ingredient to the success of these programs is the engagement of the members, so that healthy behaviors are encouraged and rewarded. In the BP example, the Fitbit data was easy to “gamify” because of the connected nature of the device. Members competed on a number of challenges, including the “1 million step” challenge, simply by wirelessly “syncing” their devices. Cory Slagle, the spouse of a BP employee, was able to trim $1,200 off his insurance bill through participation in this program — dropping nearly 32 kilograms and 10 pants sizes and reducing his high blood pressure and cholesterol back to normal range in just 12 months.

Vitality of South Africa has recognized the importance of a holistic health and wellness program for well over a decade and has built up an impressive array of statistics, including:

–Participation in health and fitness programs reduces health claims by 16%
–Logging fitness activities reduces risk by 22% for the unhealthiest category of participants
–Participating members are as much as 64% less likely to lapse on their insurance as non-participants are
–Participating members have as much as a 53% lower mortality rate than non-participants

The only trouble is that participation in such programs remains minuscule, with opt-in rates in some cases of just 5% for those eligible to join. Despite the programs’ value propositions being augmented with an affinity network of providers supplying goods and services at a discount for participating members, opt-in rates and persistency remain problematic.

A recent survey by PWC found that, if the connected wearable device was free to the member, then about two-thirds said they would wear a smart watch or fitness band provided by their employer or insurer. Cigna completed a connected wearable pilot in 2013 involving 600 subjects, which indicated 80% of the participants were “more motivated to manage their health at the end of the study than at the beginning.” In the U.S., United Health, Cigna and Humana have already created programs to integrate connected wearables into their policies, to create reward systems based on data sharing. In one innovative program, a “wager” penalty system was found to be three times more effective in motivating healthy behavior than the typical rewards these programs offer. The “wager” involved the member’s signing up to achieve and then maintain reasonable fitness targets over the course of the year to avoid having the cost of the health screening be deducted from their salary.

A key hurdle to overcome with the data generated from connected wearables is privacy and security. Individuals want to know what insights are being generated from the data being collected and want to selectively share with the program based on the perceived value they get back. They also need to know that the data continues to be secure and private once shared. Apple is working this angle through its HealthKit, which is positioned as the data control room for consolidating and securely sharing health- and fitness-related data to selected parties. There are already in-the-field health trials in progress with Stanford and Duke universities that are being powered by HealthKit. Google, Samsung and several others have also launched similar competing frameworks, so the data privacy issue is understood and being addressed by the technology companies offering products in this space.

I want to mention an innovative, data-driven, life insurance program that currently doesn’t use any wearables but easily could. AllLife of South Africa provides affordable life and disability insurance to policyholders who suffer from manageable chronic diseases, such as HIV and diabetes, and who sign up to a strict medical program. Patients get monthly health checks and receive personalized advice on managing their conditions. Data driving the program is pulled directly from medical providers, based on client permission. If a client fails to follow or stops the treatment, then the benefits will be lowered or the policy will be canceled after a warning. The company assesses its risk continuously during the policy period, contrasting with the approach of other companies, which typically only assess risk once, in the beginning. This approach allows AllLife to profitably serve an overlooked market segment and improve the health and outlook for its customers. It plans to cover more than 300,000 HIV patients by 2016.

The video of AllLife’s CEO, Ross Beerman, on YouTube is quite inspirational, and I recommend you see it. He says, “Our clients get healthier just by being our clients.” He also mentions the challenges of building an administration system to support AllLife’s customer-engagement model.

In summary, several intersecting trends have conspired to make this the perfect time to consider the launch of insurance programs and products powered by the new insights from the data being made available through wearable fitness and health trackers:

The whole fitness and healthy lifestyle perspective has entered into the mainstream culture
Devices like the Apple Watch have become fashionable, objects of desire
The data from these devices is easy to capture and share – no forms to fill in
–The data is of clinical quality, in at least some cases, and therefore useful for actuarial models
–Insurers have already started to jump on the idea of “telematics” for humans for risk pricing
–Feedback from this data is able to positively modify behavior to reduce health risks and improve the quality of life for those participating

I am still undecided if I’m going to be up at 1am again, this time outside the Apple Store, waiting for the Apple Watch to go on sale. However, the line outside the Apple Store that night could be very fertile ground for agents selling polices driven by the data these new devices will provide, if only companies act now and get their programs in place.

Thanks for reading, and see you in the gym 🙂

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 edition of Asia Insurance Review.

Let’s Tone Down Hope for ‘Wearables’

There is an old line in Silicon Valley: “Never confuse a clear view with a short distance.” We should keep that in mind as we think about wearable devices such as the Apple watch that are designed, among other things, to help us monitor and improve our health. The view is crystal clear, but we’re still a long way from getting to the destination.

The vision is idyllic: Some day, a wearable device will monitor all our vital signs and relay the information second by second to a healthcare provider, where some combination of computers and doctors will monitor it. We’ll know two weeks ahead of time that we’re about to have a heart attack and will be able to head it off. Doctors, who currently spend only about seven minutes a year with the average patient, will mine the stream of information, spot chronic issues in more people and get them treatment for, say, high blood pressure. Our knowledge about health will increase exponentially because so many aspects of so many people will be tracked, and in real time.

Researchers say the change in health will be like what has happened with cars. We used to wait until we saw steam coming out from under the hood, then fix whatever was wrong. Those cars lasted 60,000 or 70,000 miles. Now we have sensors all over the place in cars, learn about problems before they become acute and gather voluminous data on what works and what doesn’t, so cars can keep getting better. As a result, many cars last more than 200,000 miles. With people, once we can get those sensors “under the hood,” we should also see huge improvements in health and life expectancy – engine performance, too.

But three major things have to happen before we achieve that idyllic vision, and only one is even close to reality.

The one change that could at least plausibly happen soon is that people adopt wearables en masse. No more of this buy a Fitbit, wear it for a couple of months and then set it aside. At least millions of people, and maybe tens of millions, will have to buy wearable devices and keep them on 24/7 for basically forever, just to really get the movement started. That sort of adoption will require smaller and better-designed wearables and far better battery life – the early line on the Apple watch is that it won’t even go a full day on a charge. Makers of wearables will also have to agree on standards so that all health data can be integrated into any software and analyzed by any healthcare provider. At the moment, every wearable maker wants to own the standard, and standards fights can take years to sort out, but with Apple working its magic on consumers and with Microsoft introducing a well-regarded device, it’s at least possible to imagine mass adoption within a few years.

That’s the easiest problem.

The most severe problem is that wearables aren’t yet close to collecting the really useful information. Wearables can monitor your pulse and provide a reasonable estimate of how many steps you take, but that’s not the good stuff, as far as medicine is concerned.

I got a tutorial on this almost 15 years ago from Astro Teller, who cofounded Body Media, a pioneer in the wearables field. He said the data he really needed was blood pressure and information from blood tests. Astro is a seriously smart fellow – the grandson of the principal developer of the hydrogen bomb, Edward Teller, Astro has since 2010 been directing the Google X laboratory, meaning he has the Google Glass, driverless car and many other cutting-edge projects reporting to him – but Body Media never cracked the code before being acquired by Jawbone for $110 million, principally for its patents, in 2013. While there are glimmerings of progress all over, no breakthrough seems especially close.

Google, for one, has a project in the Google X lab that puts sensors in contact lenses that can measure blood sugar and send a constant, wireless signal to a wearable device, giving diabetics a noninvasive way to monitor themselves. But the technology must now be calibrated for different conditions. What if the wearer is crying? What if the weather is dry? What if it’s raining? It’s not clear how close to market the technology is.

Others talk about having people swallow sensors that would roam the bloodstream and report on all kinds of conditions, including watching out for cancer, but those are far enough out that they still read like science fiction.

A company has a prototype of a device that would measure blood pressure constantly, but, even if that proves workable, the device needs to go through multiple iterations and become tiny enough that it can fit into a general-use device – people may wear one health-related device on an arm, but they won’t wear two or three or four.

The final hurdle that has to be cleared is doctors and other practitioners. When I talk to doctors about the idyllic vision for the future of healthcare, they look at me like I have two heads. They’re feeling swamped just trying to keep up in a world where they see the average patient a few minutes a year, and their problems will only get worse if talk of a physician shortage proves true. Now we want them to go from seven minutes a year to 525,600 (the number of minutes in a year) for each patient? Yeah, right.

Even if doctors and other practitioners sign up for this new world of healthcare, every support system will have to change. Computer systems will have to be set up to do the vast majority of monitoring. Software will have to be written. A new class of data analysts will have to be developed. Health practices will have to reshape themselves around data streams. Insurers will have to adjust coverage. Courts will have to sort out where liability for mistakes falls – with a programmer, a doctor, someone else?

You could start the clock now on all these changes in medical practices, and they’d still take years to sort out.

The key issue to monitor in the progress of wearables is the sensors. Once someone can easily capture blood pressure information or conduct some important blood test without breaking the skin, well, then we’re talking. At that point, consumer adoption will be a solvable problem. So will adoption by medical professionals, though that will be a long slog.

In the meantime, we will soon be able to buy our Apple watches, and we’ll have fun with them. We might even get a little healthier if we keep wearing the things and somehow feel the need to walk a bit more. But that shiny vision of a world where care, insurance and everything else about health changes because of wearables? That’s still a long way out there.