For years, wearable health bands have been expensive toys useful almost exclusively to fit people who wanted to get fitter. On their own, wearables may be chic, sophisticated and even produce medically relevant information for the user, but they haven’t been integrated into practical care strategies for other populations.
And with good reason. For one thing, doctors don’t need to know whether an otherwise-healthy patient took 10,000 steps during a run, what their heart rate was on Thursdays in June or even what their pulse ox reading was if they’re not wheezy asthmatics. Just as importantly, today’s EMRs don’t allow for importing and analyzing this data even if it is important for that particular patient.
But as the banners at last week’s mHealth Summit pointed out, we’re headed for the era of the mHealth ecosystem, a world were all the various pieces needed to make patient generated data relevant are in place. That means good things for the future health of all patients, not just fitness nuts. In fact, a Swiss analyst firm is predicting that smart wearable devices will save 1.3 million lives by 2020, largely through reductions in mortality to in-hospital use of such devices, according to mobihealthnews.
New research from Switzerland-based Soreon Research argues that smart wearables, connected directly with smart devices, projects that using wearables for in-hospital monitoring will probably save about 700,000 lives of the 1.3 million it expects to see preserved by 2020. Even better, wearables can then take the modern outside the hospital. “New wearable technology can easily extend monitoring functions beyond the intensive care unit and alert medical professionals to any follow on medical problems a patient may develop,” according to Soreon Research Director Pascal Koenig.
Not surprisingly, given their focus on monitoring aerobic activities, Soreon projects that wearables can be particularly helpful in avoiding cardiovascular disease and obesity. The firm believes that monitoring patients with wearables could prevent 230,000 deaths due to cardiovascular diseases, and reduce obesity related deaths by 150,000.
And that’s just a taste of how omnipresent wearables use may be within a few years. In fact, Soreon believes that patients with chronic conditions will help push up the smart wearables market from $2 billion today to $41 billion, or more than 1000% growth. That’s a pretty staggering growth rate regardless of how you look at it, but particularly given that at the moment, clinical use of smart wearables is largely in the pilot stage.
What few if any pundits are discussing — notably, as I see it — is what software tools hospitals will use to crunch this flood of data that will wash it on top of the astonishing volume of data EMRs are already producing.
True, at the mHealth Summit there were vendors pitching dashboards for just this purpose, who argued that their tools would allow healthcare organizations to manage populations via wearable. And of course tools like Apple HealthKit and Microsoft Health hope to serve as middlemen who can get the job done.
These solutions will definitely offer some value to providers. Still, I’d argue that wearables will not make a huge impact on clinical outcomes until the day what they produce can be managed efficiently within the EMR environment a provider uses, and I don’t see players like Epic and Cerner making big moves in this direction. When the mHealth ecosystem comes together it’s likely to produce everything analysts predict and more, but bringing things together may take much longer than they expect.