Wearables Hold the Key to Connected Health Monitoring

March 08, 2018

Contributor: Christy Pettey

Data from wearables is gaining acceptance in healthcare communities.

Whether privately or publicly funded, there’s no getting away from the rising costs of healthcare. It’s little wonder then that those charged with footing the bill — be they employers, government or individuals — are increasingly looking at technology solutions to help them better manage those costs.

Gartner predicts that, by the end of 2020, 40% of large health systems will shift from digital health pilot programs to full-scale rollouts, up from less than 5% in 2017. According to Alan Antin, research director at Gartner, personal technology solutions can help healthcare providers achieve three crucial goals:

  1. Improve the health of populations
  2. Reduce the per capita cost of healthcare
  3. Improve the patient experience

“At the same time, artificial intelligence (AI) and voice technology are increasing the accessibility of consumer-grade wearable devices, encouraging adoption and making it possible to better serve those in patient-centric healthcare systems,” says Antin.

Increasing accessibility is leading to increased acceptance of wearables

Several factors are accelerating the acceptance of wearable healthcare solutions. First, more and more active clinical trials are incorporating digital health solutions. Secondly, as insurance companies start to offset or fully reimburse the cost of wearable healthcare solutions, patients and providers are keen to benefit. The third factor is the influence of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s digital health software precertification pilot program (FDA Pre-cert) to create a faster path to getting digital health products approved. Of the nine innovators in the medical device and technology sectors participating in the pilot, three (Fitbit, Apple and Samsung) are smartwatch companies.

Other influences are also impacting the popularity of wearables in healthcare ecosystems.

Channels and form factors expand healthcare monitoring opportunities

Two prominent B2B channels for wearable devices are enterprise solutions in corporate wellness and healthcare. Gartner estimates that in 2021, 90% of wellness programs will include fitness trackers, up from 60% in 2017.

“ The next wave of wearable health market growth will come from integrated systems that are able to sense danger signals”

“Health monitoring will continue to improve as other wearable form factors — such as sensor-based rings — reach the market and improve in accuracy,” says Antin. “Other emerging form factors include sensor-embedded textiles, as well as disposable "bandage-like" sensors and biometric patches that will help care providers monitor patients inside and outside of hospitals.”

New user interfaces raise the bar for ease of use

As voice interaction with virtual personal assistants (VPAs) becomes standard on consumer devices and wearables, their functionality will become more personalized, opening up new opportunities for healthcare services. Some services will come straight from the next generation of AI features and could include alerts to health professionals or designated caregivers, as well as predictive algorithms to help prevent or manage lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

Gartner estimates that by 2020, no-touch user interfaces (UIs) will account for about 15% of personal devices, wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) endpoints. A more natural product interface delivered with voice, movement and gesture will increase ease of use and help bring devices into mainstream healthcare use cases.

Wearable solutions will interconnect with electronic health records

To make the leap into a connected health and wellness ecosystem, well-designed wearable solutions need to interoperate with other health data and systems. In particular, integration into the electronic health record (EHR) will complete the connected health ecosystem, enabling nurses, medical assistants and physicians to have a more complete picture of their patients.

The next wave of wearable health market growth will come from integrated systems that are able to sense danger signals, accurately recognize and predict the likelihood of a negative health event, and alert users and providers.

“ It will be vital to provide biometric feedback to a neural network engine for virtual health coaching”

“Moving further along the health and wellness continuum, from exercise and healthy lifestyle tools to disease management solutions, will mean improved UIs and advances in available data and integration,” explains Antin.

He adds, “It will be vital to provide biometric feedback to a neural network engine for virtual health coaching and to integrate other data sources to have a more complete picture of the factors influencing a person's health. Best-in-class systems will incorporate social, environmental and behavioral data to help raise the intelligence of the AI guidance.”

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