Putting patients increasingly in control of their well-being and health care outcomes has truly come of age.
It is through technology that the ability to automatically monitor, track and report a health condition has become attainable, and this is another positive step toward equipping consumers to be in charge of their health. This technology will be a large factor fueling the self-care revolution.
These tools have been gaining significant momentum and attention — and positively disrupting how we interact with our personal health and well-being. Here are a few of the more innovative applications being deployed and a look into the future.
For this article, a wearable is defined as a device with sensors and processing capability that monitors a variety of bodily functions and supports health-related services with the least amount of user interaction possible. Good examples include the following:
• Fitbit and similar devices designed to help users track their steps or activity with the idea of promoting healthy behaviors.
• Many smartwatches offer connected health monitoring and information and are fast becoming more than expensive jewelry.
• BeBop Sensors and other fabric-embedded sensors capable of measuring various human motions and activities.
Keeping this definition in mind, wearables offer considerable application opportunities across the spectrum of health and wellness as long as the information and data created by these devices can be turned into actionable intelligence and insights. Reliability of the data captured and the actual interpretation of the streams of data into useful health-based knowledge will be keys to the technology’s acceptance and credibility.
Some wearables have already achieved this trusted status. Pharmaceutical companies have begun enlisting Fitbits and other devices to bring drugs to market faster. Providing the ability to gather around-the-clock data in hopes of improving trials and gaining more expedient information about how the drug is working, wearable technology holds excellent promise for drug researchers. It has been reported by the National Institutes of Health that nearly 300 clinical trials have employed wearables.
Wearables are also becoming widely accepted and used by a variety of demographic groups for different reasons.
Applying the two consumer examples used in our series of articles this year, Monica the Millennial uses Fitbit to track her running and fitness goals. She can seamlessly transmit her health information to her own electronic health record and fitness-tracking apps to monitor her progress and measure her success. She is considering an Apple smartwatch but will wait to see what improvements are made as a result of the recently announced Apple Watch developer tool kit, which will allow software developers to leverage deeper access to the smartwatch’s key components, including its motion sensors and heart rate monitor.
The Rileys — the senior couple who have begun only recently to use newer technologies — may be more comfortable with fabric-embedded options. Seniors such as the Rileys could rely on wearable devices to monitor their health conditions, gain rewards from their pharmacy or other financial benefit for adherence and positive outcomes, and keep their healthcare team informed of their progress. Mrs. Riley learned about them from a friend who had a hospital stay recently and was informed that the facility was equipped with BeBop Sensors in the hospital bed sheets to monitor and provide patient health information.
Another example demonstrating the reach of wearables comes as a result of Fitbit Inc. adding HIPAA compliance to its device. Target Corp. is offering activity trackers from Fitbit to its 335,000 U.S. employees as it looks for ways to improve employee fitness and reduce health care costs.
Information about a person’s health and wellness from even the most sophisticated of computer platforms cannot replace dedicated physicians or health care specialists anytime soon. Wearable developers need to consider how their devices and associated software platforms can help individuals engage with their current providers to encourage more collaboration, which is commonly referred to as patient-centered care. Health care professionals will then be able to follow up remotely by looking directly at a patient’s data without having to meet with the patient at all (this is evidenced by current momentum building within the telehealth service offerings).
Eight years ago, editors of Wired magazine coined the phrase “quantified self.” They predicted a world where people would seek self-knowledge through self-monitoring. And that future is now.
It is clear that the power of wearables will continue to grow quickly as software developers rapidly create new applications and consumers, as well as health care professionals, become more comfortable with the technology. However, as previously mentioned, the reliability of the data gathered is tantamount to any health care-focused technology’s long-term success along with the ability to translate a deluge of information into usable, instructive knowledge.
Dave Wendland is co-owner and vice president of Hamacher Resource Group Inc., a research, marketing and category management firm specializing in consumer health care at retail.