The implications of wearable technology for healthcare organisations

Last year we compiled a report on the wearable tech market enlightening businesses on what they need to know about this fast evolving and progressively popular market. Its no longer just apps for smartphones but apps for wearable tech and increasingly what are the implications in a business setting; arguably none of which are more interesting or important than within healthcare.

Wearable technology encompasses a whole range of clothes, accessories and devices that incorporate computer and electronic elements that are designed to be worn by the user which, in theory at least, makes it much more convenient than traditional hand-held technology such as smartphones, tablets and MP3 devices for example.

The use of wearable tech within the healthcare industry, particularly by the mass consumer market has been embraced like no other. Now, more than ever, consumers are taking responsibility for their own health and fitness through devices like Apple Watch, Fitbit, Ralph Lauren’s PoloTech shirt and the Garmin Forerunner Smartwatch. Such technology is bringing a new emphasis to our everyday lifestyles; we’re more health conscious and we’re recording it and tracking it through the enablement of such tech.

1. Smarter business

With the growing and more frequent use of wearable tech, as a society we’re collecting data, and lots of it. This has obvious implications for healthcare organisations that can leverage this data for more intelligent and smarter care in a remote and virtual way, positively impacting how healthcare organisations operate internally and upon their ‘enterprise mobility’. We’re moving towards being paper-lite and hopefully, one day, paperless – we explored this and the growth of the self-care trend in two blogs last month. Through the better running of healthcare organisations through increased use of mobile sensors more widely, McKinsey claims an astronomical $2trn could be saved worldwide each year by 2025, with a 10-20% cut in the cost of treating chronic diseases.

2. Education

Since we conducted our survey on wearable tech last year the market will undoubtedly have progressed. The Apple Watch was yet to launch and as a result the wearable tech market was somewhat less high profile to the masses. That’s not to say the insights gained don’t still hold relevance in the marketplace. Within our survey we asked we asked our 500 respondents whether they would be comfortable with a doctor using wearable tech that could record during medical examinations – the majority specified that they didn’t know, highlighting education and awareness around wearable tech was an area to be addressed.

And yet we could argue this still remains. The healthcare market is one that involves everybody; from infants to old aged pensioners and everybody in between. As a result awareness levels will undoubtedly vary and within this demographic we’ll have innovators, adopters, those in the early majority, those in the late majority, laggards and those who don’t come on board at all in regards to tech adoption. The point is this – as an innovator accustomed to the latest gadgetry you’re likely to feel a lot less hesitant about GP’s using wearable tech than if you had never become familiar with it at all.

In addition to this, research by Endeavour Partners found that over a third of users of wearable tech abandon within the first 6 months of usage. This is affirmed by a report in Forbes which outlines that more than half abandon such tech in the same period within the healthcare industry which is obviously concerning when such devices are assisting in a patient’s care and management of illness.

With these points in mind, healthcare organisations must make education a priority to not only minimise uncertainty but also to encourage prolonged and consistent usage of such tech. Think creative incentives, forums, effective Marketing and educated physicians who can put patients mind at ease around privacy and data protection concerns.

3. Improved patient care

We’re seeing some great uses of wearable tech within the healthcare industry that is leading to the better care of patients in a number of different ways. Take Stamford University Medical Centre – they are using wearables as ‘tools on their job’, forming part of their treatment using Eyes-On Glasses from Evena Medical to get real time and hand-free vascular imaging while they work. This effectively offers them a map of the patient’s veins, helping to select appropriate veins and insert needles into them more accurately than ever before through the preciseness and intelligence that digital brings.

Wearable tech is also enabling healthcare professionals to benefit from the closer and more intuitive monitoring of their patients. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine presented some promising results to help those living with diabetes through an automated and wearable system called a ‘bionic pancreas’ that monitors a user’s insulin levels. In a similar vein, we’re also seeing new smart technologies breaking through such as the Intelligent Asthma Management Kit with an accompanying app to retrieve real time data and HealthPatch MD; a smart patch to help healthcare professional keep tabs on their patient’s vital information. The use of wearable tech in this way is facilitating for not only greater insights on their patients but is also prompting a change to the doctor/patient relationship. Electronic monitoring with increasingly advanced communication channels means remote and virtual care – over time we could see much less frequent use of the traditional GP surgery.

The wearable technology market is still in its relative infancy yet is one with growing widespread applicability; we’re expecting 5m patients worldwide to be using wearable tech by next year as predicted by the Healthcare Infection Society. Of course there are barriers to overcome, particularly in the healthcare industry; think HIPPA compliance, potential FDA regulations, interoperability with existing EHRs and patient adherence costs to name but a few. That being said, it is a market with a very optimistic outlook both in terms of market growth and the benefits it can offer to patients and healthcare professionals alike. PWC’s Health Research Institute findings outline that the use of health and wellness apps, many of which are associated with wearable tech, are up 16% from last year to 28% of consumers. In addition, they found that nearly two thirds of physicians would prescribe an app to manage chronic diseases with over 79% believing mobile devices, including wearable tech, can improve coordinating care with physicians. With the backing of healthcare organisations and the buy-in of patients alike we can expect to see accelerated growth and some very obvious and positive change. Watch this space.