Wearable tech: the key to changing the patient experience?
Rio Longacre | June 9, 2014
Wearable technologies are on the ascent and revolutionizing the healthcare industry. If you’re looking for some proof, Credit Suisse recently crowned wearables “the next big thing,” forecasting market growth from less than five billion today to more than $50 billion over the next three to five years.
At the same time, cost cutting is in the air as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) rollout accelerates, sending shock waves across the healthcare industry. In a watershed moment not long ago, Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) actually announced via a New York Times’ op-ed that it had decided not to include a newly approved cancer drug on formulary. “Ignoring the cost of care is no longer tenable,” MSK states. Clearly change is in the air.
On the face of it, MSK’s announcement would have been unthinkable several years ago. But let’s not forget the ACA has two overarching goals: cover almost everyone, and slow the growth of medical costs. As a result, healthcare industry leaders are beginning to prepare for a move to value-based payments (i.e., cutting costs).
Wearables open up the conversation
Many in the industry are beginning to see wearable technologies as a potential solution to help bend the arc of healthcare spending. A recent post appearing in the industry journal FirstWord Pharma opined that wearable technology offers the potential to open up conversations between patients and physicians, prioritizing treatment and resulting in more favorable outcomes. “Such a shift could prove significant if it has the potential to free up scarce healthcare resources, reduce costs, improve patient compliance and ultimately drive an improvement on outcomes,” says FirstWord Pharma.
Worn, patched, or ingested: putting healthcare into patients’ hands
Always-on devices that collect information and offer cloud connectivity to patients, providers, and payers potentially revolutionize the way patients are treated and disease is managed. In the age of the smartphone, the logical hub for a variety of wearable devices is the mobile device. To be truly “patient-centric,” wearable technologies must interface with the actual patient in a seamless experience, pointing to a future that includes wearable devices paired with smartphones.
A pioneer in the wearable technology space, Proteus Digital Health is developing solutions that include a combination of wearable and ingestible sensors that work together to gather information about medication-taking, activity, and rest patterns. Their “Digital Health Feedback System” combines an ingestible sensor that is swallowed, along with a body-worn disposable patch to capture signals that syncs with a smartphone app via Bluetooth.
Solutions like Proteus’ Digital Health Feedback System offer game-changing potential to help manage chronic illness. "The thing about chronic illness, it's not something that can be solved at one appointment, it's something that you have to manage and deal with every single day of your life," explained Arna Ionescu, Director of Product Development and User Experience at Proteus. "So we are creating tools that can go in peoples' hands and help them deal with those chronic illnesses."
Medical devices are morphing into wearables
It’s an understatement to say the wearables market in healthcare is still more or less in its infancy. IMS Research notes that at present, the market is dominated by continuous glucose monitors and fitness and heart-rate monitors. The same report also calls out "increasing demand for actionable, real-time data in a range of applications," citing this as the primary reason for anticipated market growth, particularly in the health IT market.
According to Theo Ahadome, senior analyst at IMS Research, “there is increasing clinical evidence of the value of continuous physiological data in managing chronic diseases and monitoring patients' post-hospitalization." It should thus come as no surprise that a growing number of medical devices are now morphing into wearables, such as pulse oximeters, glucose, ECG monitors, and blood pressure monitors.
"The global market for wearable technology is expected to triple to $6 billion by 2016—and that’s a conservative estimate."
Where do we go from here?
In terms of the adoption of wearables, many cite limited technology and the need for FDA approval as the two greatest barriers to success. Adoption of such technologies also carries significant risks that must be addressed. For example, will insurance companies use this new-found data to raise premium rates for specific persons or groups? Speaking of data, HIPAA and other consumer protection laws are in place to protect patients’ data and ensure it is kept private and secure. To stay compliant with regulations and avoid sticky legal issues (not to mention very bad PR), anyone who brings a wearable technology to market had better be sure the data it collects is stored in a reliable manner. (Source)
Historically, the healthcare-tech market has been mostly geared toward physicians. The nature of wearables suggests the next wave of health-tech revolution could very well reverse this model to zero in on patients. As these new technologies are rolled out and adopted, there will be major consequences on the way disease is treated and managed, with an emphasis on data collection and quality over volume of services.
Offering the promise of improved disease management and reduced hospitalizations, these emerging wearable technologies paint a compelling vision of more positive patient outcomes over the long term and, ultimately, lower costs. From the healthcare industry’s perspective, it could be argued that the ultimate success or failure of these technologies will hinge on their ability to deliver on the promise of keeping patients happy, well, and out of the hospital.
Rio Longacre is a customer experience executive in Slalom’s Denver office. Rio has more than 15 years of professional experience across strategy, technology, data services, and media.