The conversation about wearables in health care is no longer limited to activity trackers. Consumers and health care professionals now make use of all kinds of wearables.
Insurers and employers have taken note of how wearables can enhance wellness efforts. For example, last year the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association announced plans to include the Fitbit in its Blue365 health and wellness program.
The percentage of health care consumers who use wearables has nearly quadrupled, up from just 9% in 2014 to 33% in 2018, an Accenture survey found. And supply and demand are still growing. Consider the following stats about wearables in health care:
- The Stanford Medicine 2018 Health Trends Report found that of the health care patents filed by tech companies between 2015 and 2017, 23% were for wearable devices.
- More than 80% of consumers are willing to wear technology that measures health data, according to the Accenture survey.
- The United States is the largest player in a global market for medical wearables projected to top $12 billion by 2021.
So, beyond the fact your employees are probably sporting sports watches or Fitbits, what can you make of all this?
Sophistication and Prevention
Generally, it’s clear what constitutes wearables in health care. Everyone has seen smart watches, fitness trackers and glucometers. But what about digital medication that tracks whether the patient is taking it correctly? Or a smart patch that can monitor and treat injuries? Though extreme, those are real examples.
And they already play a powerful role in prevention. At its annual meeting in 2018, the World Economic Forum hosted health care and technology leaders to discuss the role of wearables in preventive care. They spoke to wearables’ usefulness in clinically monitoring vital signs and effectively shifting health care delivery from reactive to preventive. Data collected via wearables could, for example, help catch early signs of a heart attack.
Engagement and Transformation
Even when they mostly just tracked steps, wearables have always fostered patient-employee engagement. Now they go as far as providing real-time data. Patients use this instant feedback to help guide them toward better habits; research from the Journal of Medical Internet Research suggests that using wearables improves adherence to diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol medications.
For providers and insurers, wearables provide a way to track patterns and progress (or lack thereof). If patients are struggling in their recovery, a well-placed wearable can gather data indicating they may need to be paired with a health coach or case manager — and then it can pass the data on to that medical professional almost in real time. Contrast that with using months-old claims data to try making decisions. Everyone benefits: Engaged patients, working with their clinicians, can learn how to change their behaviors to improve health outcomes. Payers can access data that helps them offer the support patients and providers need. And provider groups and health systems can draw on new datasets to improve population health.
Aligned With Value-Based Care
Wearable technology enables earlier intervention and, as a result, more efficient care and better outcomes. That aligns perfectly with value-based care implementation — so much so, in fact, that the prospect of joining forces with value-based care is leading wearables manufacturers to delve deeper than ever into the health care market.
Data generated by wearables in health care gives physicians a clearer view of their patients’ health between appointments, because care doesn’t stop in between appointments. When clinicians can actively monitor patients with — or at risk for — chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease throughout treatment, it makes earlier intervention possible, which lowers costs and helps your employees avoid dangerous complications.
Wearable devices provide a continuous, objective, noninvasive and relatively inexpensive way for payers and providers to gather actionable data. Being able to efficiently use that data to improve outcomes and lower costs would be transformative. But right now, we’re still in a transitional period — not just with value-based care, but also with our use of wearables in health care.
Think evolution, not revolution. Everyone understands the importance of data, and that’s why a lot is being collected right now. But providers and health care facilities are still trying to determine the best ways to manage all that data. Hospital and provider groups often lack the tools to capture and use the constant stream of patient-reported data from wearables. In many cases, insurance reimbursement hasn’t caught up. But these are growing pains — it just happens that value-based care and the use of wearables in health care are reaching adolescence at the same time.