How Wearable Tech Could Transform Health CareAugust 4, 2015 No Comments
Wearable tech like the FitBit, the Apple Watch, heart-rate monitors, and pedometers are currently the domain of the tech-savvy and the fitness-obsessed. But all that could soon change. Physicians say wearable devices have a lot of potential to improve health care for people with chronic physical and mental illness.
Most patients today get only minimal face time with their doctors each year. But wearable devices could provide health care providers with a constant stream of data regarding a patient’s condition, allowing doctors to monitor patients and tweak their care from afar. Wearable devices could also help patients better manage their own health by helping them remember to take medications, exercise more, or eat right.
Which Patients Could Wearable Tech Help?
Physicians are already investigating the potential for wearable tech to help their patients get healthier and stay that way. Dr. Amy Wheeler, who provides primary care at Massachusetts General Hospital, has already led a study into the benefits of wearable devices for overweight patients with Type 2 diabetes.
For her study, Dr. Wheeler and colleagues outfitted 126 patients who have Type 2 diabetes with pedometers that recorded how many steps each patient took each day and used a special software program to tabulate each patient’s progress toward his or her exercise goals. The software used patients’ daily exercise progress, electronic medical records, and local weather data to determine when and how to motivate the study participants with personalized health and wellness tips. The study found that those participants who received the tips controlled their blood sugar levels better than those who received no tips.
Other physicians are using similar wearable devices to help patients recover from heart surgery. Patients who move around more the day after heart surgery recover faster. Cardiologist Dr. Eric Topol of San Diego’s Scripps Clinic gives his patients wearable electrocardiograms that can transmit a steady stream of data about the patients’ conditions as they go about their normal daily activities. The data gives Dr. Topol valuable insights into his patients’ condition that can help him deliver a higher quality of care.
Wearable Tech and the Future of Health Care
Many health care providers believe that wearable tech could play a big role in the future of the health care industry. By 2020, the market for wearable health tech is expected to balloon by 65 percent, up to $41 billion from just $2 billion in 2014. The next five years could see remote patient monitoring and home health care software help cut hospital costs by 16 percent, and over the next 25 years, could save the health care system a whopping $200 billion.
The average patient spends about 15 minutes a year face-to-face with his or her doctor, but that’s not enough for patients who are managing chronic physical and mental illness. For these patients, wearable tech could mean the ability to monitor their own health at home, and transmit data to a physician who could write prescriptions or recommend lifestyle changes accordingly. Wearable devices could:
- Help providers more easily create and manage individualized care plans for patients
- Allow patients to take the lead in diagnosing simple medical conditions with at-home tests
- Increase interactions between patients and providers, with e-visits replacing more than 10 percent of in-person visits
- Empower patients to self-manage chronic illness
- Enable closer collaboration between different providers
Wearable health devices could make it easier for patients to manage their conditions at home, by providing them with notifications, reminders, and tips that can help them remember to take their medication, get in their recommended daily exercise, or eat a healthier diet. Both patients and providers want wearable health tech, with 80 percent of consumers saying that increasing the ease and convenience of health care delivery is an important benefit of wearable devices, and 88 percent of physicians approving of devices that could allow patients to better monitor their health at home. By 2018, 70 percent of health care organizations around the world are expected to invest in wearable tech, apps, virtual care, and remote monitoring.
Fitness fanatics have already started harnessing the power of wearable tech to help them meet their fitness and nutrition goals. Now health care providers want in on the game; they believe that wearable devices are just what are needed to improve patient care in an environment in which chronic disease is rampant and doctors struggle to get adequate face time with patients. Consumers agree. Within the next few years, you could be using a pedometer, personal EKG, or other device to help your doctor personalize your care.
Marjorie McAtee is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on numerous websites including BakPakGuide.com, Listosaur.com, Slogr.com, and SanDiegoFreePress.org. She is a graduate of Hollins University and is currently working toward a Master of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing at West Virginia University. Her literary work has appeared in publications including Amarillo Bay, Flashquake, Center: A Journal of the Literary Arts, and The Blotter.DIGITAL HEALTH, Inside the Briefcase