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Wearables and Your Health: Where Do They Intersect?

Wearables and Your Health: Where Do They Intersect?Both sides of the health technology debate

Last week, we talked about what to watch for in the way of wearable technology this year. Now we'll discuss how this innovative form of technology can be used to promote a healthier population. We all know that health insurance payers give out incentives to providers for healthy patients; to obtain these incentives, healthcare providers must gather more data, communicate more effectively with their patients, and get them engaged in managing their own health. Why not use technology to automatically gather this data and send it back to the patient's medical record? This method ensures accuracy, efficiency, timeliness, and accountability -- things that can be sorely lacking in today's healthcare management system.

The use of wearables, once a practice driven solely by individuals hopping on the "cool" factor of a FitBit, is now moving into the realm of employer- driven incentive as part of their health and wellness programs. Research has calculated a clear ROI on those who use wearables vs. those who do not. In fact, as part of a study conducted by Springbuk, employees using wearable technology cost $1,000 less on average for a company than those who didn't. 

Undoubtedly, wearables are ideal for tracking and monitoring ongoing health and daily fitness activities. In fact, many companies are already boasting they can achieve this (you may have heard about Apple's recent announcement of a patent for a device that can gather and process electrocardiographic measurements; or perhaps you've heard of wearable pregnancy trackers). Wearable devices, along with mobile health apps, have made health data collection extremely convenient because they integrate with patients’ daily activities and reflect that activity in a quantifiable way. The information that can be collected from patients can play a critical role in how the world of medical advancement will look in the future, with wearables allowing both patients and care givers to measure a variety of indicators and generate feedback on anything from everyday health to specific markers for disease.

This can also aid in medical research; in effect, future generations can benefit from information gathered directly from users today. Healthcare professionals can gain insight into how diseases progress, which treatments are effective, how symptoms improve with certain treatments, etc. The availability and capability of the data that can be collected is mind numbing if you stop to think about it all.

Bridging the Gap

However, just because the technology is here doesn't mean there aren't other issues or obstacles that can stonewall the real-world integration of these technologies to the Electronic Health Record, such as:

  • Device weight
  • Cost
  • Security issues
  • Privacy concerns
  • Validity
  • Reliability
  • Regulations
  • Vendor bureaucracy

In addition to all that, there are ethical, legal, and social implications that make many healthcare professionals a bit reluctant to welcome wearable data into the electronic medical record, points out Forbes. Of course, there is always the possibility that a physician could be sued, for example, if a patient's exercise pattern changed over time and the doctor failed to address it. Other concerns doctors may have include: How accurate is the wearable on any given day? What if there is a malfunction? What will each doctor do with the mountains of health information received? Is there a quantifiable way to document it all and make sense of it? Will this add to a workload that is already over stressed?

As you can see, many things still stand in the way of achieving a seamless connection between wearables and integration into patient records. It's starting, though. With 274 million wearable electronic devices sold worldwide in 2016 alone, there's no stopping the evolution of a simple fitness tracker into something much more helpful and potentially life saving. Novant Health, for instance, led the way in 2015 when it introduced its electronic patient portal, MyChart, so patients could share data from their fitness tracker with their doctors. This form of patient engagement represents the future of wearable technology integration.


Bringing Wearables into the Main Stream Health Community

With so many questions as to the security, accuracy and regulation of wearable technology and patient records, is it possible to develop standards for what data can be used and validated? Yes. The technology is there, it just has to be paired with policies that will protect patients' rights. Once this happens, though, we can make wearables mainstream to help improve our populations' chronic diseases. Looking ahead to what's on the horizon, it's certainly possible that such wearables can take this all one step further and alert or prevent the consumer from making unhealthy choices during the day. Hey, if Amazon and Maytag can automatically tell you when you are low on a product or an appliance needs service, certainly we can make this commonplace with our wearables!

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Why Wearables Are Important and What To Expect

Why Wearables Are Important and What To ExpectFitbits...Jawbones...Garmin... these are all examples of wearables designed to track our health and activity levels, as well as alert and remind us to do stuff. From smart watches to smart glasses, wearable technology makes up a burgeoning market today: that of IoT (Internet of Things) personal devices. You wear these devices on your body -- most notably your wrist -- to get up to the second updates on everything to do with your health, from heart rate to steps taken.

Wearables represent a critical transformation in the world of technology that is breaking through the barriers of simple computer screens and utilizing technology that you can put on in the morning when you're getting dressed. No cumbersome laptops, no annoying connections to charging cords, and best of all -- they're light weight -- not much heavier than a normal watch. These devices are part of a large money-making opportunity for technology companies, with the sale of wearables slated to increase from 275 million units in 2016 to 477 million units in 2020 -- a $61.7 billion revenue opportunity, according to Gartner.

What to Expect in 2017/2018

There are many new types of wearables on the horizon for 2017, ranging from biometric authentication and mobile health monitoring to virtual personal assistants (VPAs) and smart coaching. Here are just a few more examples of what's coming to store shelves in the next two years:

  • Energy-boosting using harvesting
  • Embedded security
  • Conformal electronics
  • Virtual and augmented reality
  • Accurate motion recognition
  • Wearable processors

 

What Types of Technology to Look For

Because this is such a competitive market, technology providers are looking for ways to stand out. There are many ways they can achieve that in order to boost the user experience and make the most impact in a business sense. One area is in battery life. Right now, this is a concern among wearables users. If battery life can be extended to ensure the user has a superior, hassle-free experience, this could be a game changer in the IoT arena. Another area of improvement is security. With data breaches in the news nearly every day, security is understandably a big concern for users. Decreasing the possibility for confidential data exposure is something many technology provides are implementing in their new devices.

Of course, improvements on design are always an area of focus. Smart watches are the most popular form of wearables right now, but the intention is to move into less obvious forms such as bio patches and electronic skin. As mentioned above, the ability to immerse the user in the technology through augmented reality and virtual reality will also be an important factor. Hand in hand with that is the ability to incorporate object and movement tracking in an effort to boost sensor accuracy.

As they seek firmer footing in a changing marketplace, today's technology providers will push for smaller sizes, more lightweight solutions, less conspicuous construction, and more advanced designs. 

 

Next Up...

Stay tuned for the next blog where we explore why wearables aren't just good for individuals: they're also sought after by employers. Research shows a return on investment by companies promoting the use of wearables as part of their health and wellness programs.

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