Medical Device Vendors Will Inevitably Build Wearables

Posted on May 21, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

As we’ve reported in the past, hospitals are throwing their weight behind the use of wearables at a growing clip. Perhaps the most recent major deal connecting hospital EMRs with wearables data came late last month, when Cedars-Sinai Medical Center announced that it would be running Apple’s HealthKit platform. Cedars-Sinai, one of many leading hospitals piloting this technology, is building an architecture that will ultimately tie 80,000 patients to its Epic system via HealthKit.

But it’s not just software vendors that are jumping into the wearables data market with both feet. No, as important as the marriage of Epic and HealthKit will be to the future of wearables data, the increasing participation of medical device giants in this market is perhaps even more so.

Sure, when fitness bands and health tracking smartphone apps first came onto the market, they were created by smaller firms with a vision, such as the inventors who scored so impressively when they crowdfunded the Pebble smartwatch.  (As is now legendary, Pebble scooped up more than $20M in Kickstarter funding despite shooting for only $500,000.)

The time is coming rapidly, however, when hospitals and doctors will want medical-grade data from monitoring devices. Fairly or not, I’ve heard many a clinician dismiss the current generation of wearables — smartwatches, health apps and fitness monitoring bands alike — as little more than toys.  In other words, while many hospitals are willing to pilot-test HealthKit and other tools that gather wearables data, eventually that data will have to be gathered by sophisticated tools to meet the clinical demands over the long-term.

Thus, it’s no surprise that medical device manufacturing giants like Philips are positioning themselves to leapfrog over existing wearables makers. Why else would Jeroen Tas, CEO of Philips’ healthcare informatics solutions, make a big point of citing the healthcare benefits of wearables over time?

In a recent interview, Tas told the Times of India that the use of wearables combined with cloud-based monitoring approaches are cutting hospital admissions and care costs sharply. In one case, Tas noted, digital monitoring of heart failure patients by six Dutch hospitals over a four-year period led to a 57% cut in the number of nursing days, 52% decrease in hospital admissions and an average 26% savings in cost of care per patient.

In an effort to foster similar results for other hospitals, Philips is building an open digital platform capable of linking to a wide range of wearables, feeds doctors information on their patients, connects patients, relatives and doctors and enables high-end analytics.  That puts it in competition, to one degree or another, with Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung, Google and Apple, just for starters.

But that’s not the fun part.  When things will get really interesting  is when Philips, and fellow giants GE Healthcare and Siemens, start creating devices that doctors and hospitals will see as delivering medical grade data, offering secure data transmission and integrating intelligently with data produced by other hospital medical devices.

While it’s hard to imagine Apple moving in that direction, Siemens must do so, and it will, without a doubt. I look forward to the transformation of the whole wearables “thing” from some high-end experimentation to a firmly-welded approach built by medical device leaders. When Siemens and its colleagues admit that they have to own this market, everything about digital health and remote monitoring will change.