In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic drove U.S. consumers to increase spending on electronics, notably laptops, smartphones, and desktop computers.

But the coronavirus era also saw broadband households spending more on connecting health devices, with 42% of U.S. consumers owning digital health tech compared with 33% in 2015, according to research discussed in Supporting Today’s Connected Consumer from Parks Associates. developed for Sutherland, the digital transformation company.

Consumer electronics purchase growth was, “likely driven by new social distancing guidelines brought on by COVID-19, which requires many individuals to work and attend school from home. Among the 26% of US broadband households that purchased a connected device during the COVID-19 crisis (between February 2020 to May 2020), the leading reasons given for purchase were for entertainment, to help someone work from home, and to help someone in the home complete schoolwork remotely,” the report noted.

But clearly, in that #StayHome journey, more consumers were adopting DIY self-care strategies due to either or both their personal concern for being exposed to the very-infectious coronavirus in hospitals and doctor’s offices or their health care providers’ postponing or canceling care to protect staff from contracting the virus from patients.

On average, U.S. households with broadband have at least one connected health device, which could be a smart watch, a fitness tracker (such as Fitbit), connected exercise equipment (like a Peloton and the NordicTrack Vault), a heart rate monitor (like OMRON’s HeartGuide), a weight scale (like Withings smart scales), or a sleep monitor (e.g., Philips’ SmartSleep or ResMed’s myAir). [I’ll be touching base to get updates with all of these connected health vendors, among others, this week at #CES2012).

Parks Associates’ research identified other categories of consumer electronics growth in the 2020 year of the coronavirus, including:

  • Smart home devices, growing to 30% of U.S. broadband households in 2020 from 17% in 2015
  • Smart appliances, increasing to at least one per broadband household from 33% of homes in 2015 to 42% in 2020.

Beyond providing useful market statistics, the report’s focus is on “supporting connected consumers,” tracking peoples’ needs across the continuum of pre-purchase through installation and implementation in the home setting.

Pre-purchase, prospective connected device buyers consider a product’s value, privacy and security issues, and technical complexity.

Once purchased, most consumers set up devices themselves. Key challenges facing people doing their own set-up include problems connecting with Wi-Fi networks (which is among the top technical problems consumer experience), inter-connectivity between devices due to industry fragmentation and lack of adoption of standards, and short battery life. These issues are not a one-and-done as, over time, consumers can experience poor support which can diminish the brand’s value.

Finally, security and privacy concerns are a barrier to peoples’ adoption and continued use of connected devices. Breaches immediately result in poor user experience and eventual consumer apprehension in purchasing connecting technologies. Parks points to at least three barriers to consumer health privacy. including questions such as,

  • What bits of my personal data will my device share?
  • Is my device listening?
  • Who can hack into my device?

As more connected home devices populate the growing Internet of Healthy Things at home, these privacy and security questions will become more transparent and obvious to patients adapting their homes as their hubs for health/care.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  There are many layers to literacy in the digital age; thirteen of them are shown here based on Kathy Schrock’s meta-analysis on the topic.

Parks Associates’ trio of pillars that build consumer trust in connected devices also works for digital health tech, especially when considering the many layers of literacy on which connected consumers’ health engagement depends:

  • Digital literacy, which is the how-to use the internet and mobile apps for health care self-care, and access to broadband connectivity
  • Data literacy, the ability to comprehensive one’s “numbers” displayed in lab test results and other patient-facing clinical communications
  • Financial literacy, especially key to U.S. health citizens’ health engagement given growing financial exposure to health care costs (e.g., high deductibles, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket copayments)
  • Medical literacy, such as understanding medical instructions following up procedures, lab tests, and inpatient discharges to the home
  • Privacy literacy, understanding HIPAA and the importance of personal health data security and control; and, of course,
  • Foundational literacy – the reading, writing, and arithmetic basics that form traditional definitions of “literacy.”

The wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was accompanied by several converging crises including economic downturns in world economies and the growing realization of social divides for justice, health equity, and digital inclusion. Most basic in the latter has been the lack of broadband connectivity preventing some people from the digital transformation from which other “have’s” in society benefited: the ability to work from home, attend school from home, exercise at home, and access medical services through virtual care platforms like telemedicine.

As we kick of the annual CES (#CES2021), we must stay mindful that without internet connectivity, a growing digital divide will keep people from fully exercising their health citizenship and engagement, exacerbating inequity and poorer health outcomes.

Please follow my posts here on Health Populi all this week during the consumer electronics show (100% virtual!) at and my tweets @HealthyThinker.