Picture this: You’re a major gift officer on your way to a donor meeting and you’re lost. So, you ask for directions. A heads-up display in your glasses gives you a map to your donor’s front door.
You park your car, pull up the donor’s record — again, on your glasses — and spend a few minutes reviewing the information. You capture the meeting with a camera on your trusty magical glasses and you’re able to devote all your attention to the donor, not to a pen and paper or a recorder.
This really isn’t science fiction. In fact, there’s more emphasis on “science” than “fiction.”
Wearable technology was the new hot trend in the tech world in 2013, and it is only gaining steam. From fitness trackers to heart monitors to smart watches to Google Glass, wearable technology is poised to become as ubiquitous as clothing, and nonprofits need to jump on the bandwagon.
“It’s extremely technically feasible,” said Jackie Mathis, a sales engineer with software firm Kimbia in Austin, Texas and a Google Glass user. Mathis was referring to incorporating Google’s wearable computer, Google Glass, into donor management systems. “The issue is wearable tech as an acceptable part of society. Is society as a whole going to accept the idea of Google Glass, something not just on your wrist but interacting with everyday life? I don’t think it’ll be in the next year.”
Chris Tuttle, a New York City-based technology consultant, said that while nonprofit executives are excited about and want to use Google Glass, “Few have found ways to effectively (use the technology) as of yet due to limitations with Glass.” Some barriers that Tuttle assesses include the technology’s cost (about $1,500); short battery life when using video (less than an hour); inability to easily switch between users; poor sound recording; and, limitations of Glass’s video conferencing technology, Hangout On Air.
While wearable technology might not yet be making major gift officers’ lives easier, it is already being implemented by nonprofits and is saving lives. Nancy Capelle of Wilton, Conn., was 40 years old and physically fit when she had a heart attack. Cardiologists determined she had a rare condition called spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD).
“One of the cardiologists didn’t want me to leave the hospital until I got fitted for a LifeVest,” said Capelle, now 42. “I’d never heard of it before but it sounded good because I was terrified it would happen again. To be able to wear something 24 hours a day that would not only monitor my heart, but be able to shock me if I went into cardiac arrest, for me it was peace of mind.”
Capelle said the device is unobtrusive, about the size of a small purse. Patients generally wear a LifeVest, or wearable defibrillator, for one or two months, and it transmits cardiac data to the manufacturer, which can be accessed by the patient’s medical team. If the patient experiences an abnormal heart rhythm, an alarm sounds, and if the patient fails to turn the alarm off, the vest will defibrillate the patient.
“Wearable monitoring devices reflect the future of ambulatory medicines,” said Clyde Yancy, M.D., chief of cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Ill., and former president of the board of the American Heart Association, in Dallas, Texas. “But we need to allow ourselves to subject the technology to the same bar of testing as medical therapy.”
Yancy believes nonprofits can play an important and unique role in the development of new wearable medical technology. “It is the responsibility of nonprofits to be directly engaged with these technologies,” he said. “Nonprofit involvement is de facto checks and balances. Nonprofits can advocate for the science necessary to validate the technology. I don’t think many nonprofits are distributing the technologies, but they can promote the integrity of information and raise awareness.”
Nonprofit advocacy, by the American Heart Association and others, was integral in preserving the Medicare policy regarding wearable defibrillators. The Durable Medical Equipment Medicare Administrative Contractors of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services considered changing the Medicare policy in 2011 in a way that would restrict access to wearable defibrillators for a number of patients. Due in part to nonprofit advocacy, the draft policy change was withdrawn.
Wearable technology can save lives in other ways, too. When Matt Asner’s autistic son wandered away from the family home, Asner, executive director of Autism Speaks Southern California in Los Angeles, wished his child had been wearing a GPS tracker. Asner’s son was found unharmed a number of hours after it was discovered he was missing.
“(GPS tracking is) something we’re promoting heavily,” he said. “If a child goes missing, I think you have a very short window in which to act and find that child before something dangerous happens. The quicker you get to them, the quicker you know where they are, the quicker you find them and bring them home, the better it will be. The longer a child is out there, the more dangerous the world is to them.”
Autism Speaks does not distribute GPS trackers or help families with the funds to obtain them. Asner said the organization’s partnership with the National Autism Foundation should help families get GPS trackers for their autistic children. The National Autism Foundation did not return requests for comment.
The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation is keeping close watch on the possibilities of wearable technology for its constituents, those suffering from spinal cord injuries or affected by paralysis. It has funded some 15 Quality of Life grants totaling more than $135,000 specific to wearable technology initiatives, including eye tracking technology and head-pointer equipment, both of which enable paralyzed patients to interact hands-free with their environments, as well as voice-activated typing technology.
“Technology offers infinite possibilities to transform the lives of individuals living with paralysis. With the recent advancements in wearable technology, the paralysis community is able to connect and communicate with their family, friends and caregivers,” said Niketa Sheth, senior vice president of Quality of Life at the Reeve Foundation in Short Hills, N.J. “When you give someone the ability to express themselves after years of feeling silent, that is an immeasurable gift.”
Cost is always a factor. “The problem is a lot of (GPS trackers) are expensive,” said Asner. “Families need help to get them.” Another problem is the trackers’ form. Asner said many autistic children “are very particular about what they put against their bodies.” The tracker must be unobtrusive, something that a child won’t mind wearing, and something that won’t fall off. Asner suggested an insert for a child’s shoe.
Wearable defibrillators can cost as much as a new car. According to Capelle, they go for between $40,000 and $60,000 for medium-term use. Capelle’s insurance covered the defibrillator, but for the uninsured, the cost almost certainly puts the technology out of reach.
Nonprofits have more pressing technological needs to tend to, said Jim Lynch of TechSoup Global in San Francisco. “Getting mobile integrated into the workplace is a huge deal,” he said. “This bring-your-own-device thing is happening like crazy. We’re finding that nonprofits aren’t optimizing their websites for mobile. There’s a huge lag in that. When you get to wearables, these are like toys at this point.”
Lynch said nonprofit technology is still in many cases at a basic level, compared to most of the rest of society. “We’re having huge numbers of people still on Windows XP, a 10- or 11-year-old operating system. It’s getting retired soon so it will be an open door for malware. We’re trying to get the word out that you either need to upgrade your OS or have a heavy-duty antivirus program. That’s a battle we’re fighting right this minute.“
Wearable technology might be the future, but it’s not quite the present for nonprofits. That could change soon, said Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, CEO of Austin, Texas consulting firm Community TechKnowledge (CTK). Engelhardt-Cronk believes that wearable tech adoption will be much faster than other technology adoption.
“When I started CTK in 2000, only about 60 percent of the nonprofits I worked with were wired (with websites and email),” she said. “That has changed so much that I feel it’s unpredictable what the adoption rate (of wearable technology) will be. Nonprofits are no longer technophobic. They’re quite often tech embracers.” NPT