Google Glass bids to widen its market through health insurance deal

By February 19, 2014
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Google has just signed an agreement with a large optical health insurance provider to ensure that Google Glass users who have optical lenses fitted to the frames will receive partial reimbursement as for normal eyeglasses.

Is Google Glass on its way to being accepted by the health sector as a medical device in its own right? This at least is what Google seems to be working towards. The tech innovator has just announced that it has signed an agreement with not-for-profit optical health insurance provider VSP Vision Care. By giving the green light for the fitting of prescription lenses to the frames of the Google Glass device, this company, which covers over 60 million people in the United States and Canada, thus becomes one of the first medical insurers to back a wearable device. This might be an important breakthrough, as we hear from J. P. Gownder, principal analyst at independent technology and market research company Forrester Research, that for 2014 “the key business model of the year for wearables is becoming embedded into the [worldwide] healthcare system.”

Another step towards e-health

The agreement between the two companies covers (partial) reimbursement for frames and prescription lenses. VSP will reimburse members based on their prescription plan, with an average reimbursement of $120, plus the cost of buying prescription lenses but, unsurprisingly, it will not subsidize the computer portion of Glass. The move could however help Google Glass to shake off the nerdy, even ‘weirdo’ tag often attached to wearers of the device and enable the company to get closer to the e-health business. However, there is no suggestion that Google is starting to focus on a niche market here. Google’s priority for this collaboration is clearly the need to make these glasses more affordable and thus reach a mass market. “Selling wearable consumer electronics one-on-one to individual consumers is kind of a tough business. By embedding them into the health care system, you can reach a mass market,” stresses J.P. Gownder.

Four new models

Some consumers say they are still wary, both as regards Google Glass functionality and the price. There has been some resistance to Glass, stemming from privacy fears, given the way the device enables users to shoot discreet photos and videos. Some establishments such as movie houses have gone so far as to ban Glass wearers from their premises. To try to overcome the alienating effects of the device, Google has now made a number of adjustments, including aesthetic improvements, to the test version of Glass. The aim is to make the device look more like traditional eye-glasses, so the wearer will look more normal. With this in mind, the Google design team has developed frames for Glass in four styles, and the company also plans to offer two new styles of clip-on sunglasses.

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