Thanks to initiatives like Meaningful Use, electronic health record (EHR) system implementation is nearly universal, with 93 percent of hospitals reporting its use. Now that digital record keeping is the industry norm, patients and providers are looking for something more.
Enter healthcare wearables.
What are healthcare wearables?
The healthcare wearables market is expected to hit $60 billion by 2023 and $150 billion by 2027, making it an ideal space to launch new products.
From FitBit and the Apple Watch to glucose monitors and pacemaker implants, patients are adopting wearable devices to monitor their own health and wellness. These accessories are often compatible with multiple apps and websites, making it easy and convenient for patients to keep track of their physical activity, food intake, and other health information. Interoperability between FitBit and MyFitnessPal, for instance, enables users to view activity levels and calories burned right next to caloric intake and other nutrition information.
Remote monitoring devices are a little different and includes implantable technology like heart rate and glucose monitors. Where health trackers are generally used as preventative and recreational wellness management, remote monitoring devices are geared toward management of chronic conditions like diabetes. With chronic condition management accounting for 75 percent of healthcare costs in 2016, remote patient monitoring could drastically reduce care costs while improving patient outcomes. An estimated 5 million people will be remotely monitored by physicians by 2023.
Despite their widespread adoption and market-wide visibility, health trackers and remote monitoring devices are only projected to make up $20 billion of the 2023 market. The other $40 billion is predicted to be earned by assistive hearables. This is a very diverse market, with devices ranging from wireless earbuds to hearing aids. While many hearable devices are elective, the new wave of technology will be a combinations of hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers, and earbuds, taking on a multipurpose role – from vital sign and activity tracking to augmented hearing and translation capabilities. More than ever, patients and consumers want access to integrated technology that is both fun and functional.
Impact of wearable devices on patient health
One of the most well-known applications for mobile healthcare technology is the implantable device. Blood glucose monitors, for example, deliver real-time and trended data to providers. This aids in identifying patterns in patient health and behavior and can also improve chronic care management.
Wearables are also changing the way providers diagnose illnesses like cancer. The iTBra is a set of patches worn as a bra insert, monitoring metabolic changes in body heat that correlate to the growth of mammary tumors. This technology is particularly useful for patients with dense breast tissue, who are more likely to develop tumors and for whom mammograms are harder to read. Non-invasive technology like the iTBra could lower the number of unnecessary and invasive breast biopsies provided every year.
A lesser-known wearable technology is an FDA-approved pill that can track patient adherence to prescription medications. The pills are equipped with a sensor that transmits signals to a patch worn by the patient, which then sends information to a mobile app. Trackable prescriptions can aid providers in ensuring that patients are remembering to take their medications. This technology would be particularly beneficial to patients with mental illness or lapses in memory.
Challenges in adoption of wearable technology
Despite the vast capabilities for wearable and mobile healthcare technology, market growth is hindered by several barriers. One of the most predictable barriers to widespread wearables use is the cost. For many patients, a brand new Apple watch or FitBit is not in the budget, and is considered a nonessential luxury rather than a useful health and wellness expense. To overcome this barrier, some employers are offering programs where employees receive fitness trackers for free – incentivizing a focus on wellness and prevention, and potentially lowering care costs.
Similarly, once patients and providers have access to these devices, they have to work them into their lifestyles and daily workflows. If a device is too difficult to remember, it is functionally useless. Watch-like fitness trackers succeed in this area, as many patients are accustomed to wearing watches and don’t often take them off except to avoid water exposure. These devices are also multi-functional, improving the likelihood that users will rely on them for a variety of tasks, and more seamlessly integrate the devices into their daily lives.
A third barrier primarily impacts providers – patient data safety. Under HIPAA, healthcare providers are legally obligated to maintain privacy and security surrounding patient health and medical information. This leads to friction when using wearables, which are often interoperable across professional and recreational wellness platforms. Secure data transmission is difficult even between care facilities. Once patients are collecting and sharing their own information, it is trickier to ensure data integrity.
Additionally, patients should be informed about how their medical information will be collected, stored, and transmitted, and how that data will be used. Wearable devices empower patients to make informed decisions about their own care, whether in regard to physical activity, prescription management, or chronic condition monitoring.
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