Wearable devices: So much more than tracking your steps

By Dodge Communications on February 12th, 2015

The obsession with tracking all aspects of diet and exercise is prevalent in today’s digitally-driven world. Average Joes use heart rate monitors to step up their workouts, desk job workers wear bracelets to track daily steps and dieters rely on mobile apps to monitor nutritional intake. There’s no doubt these tools lead to healthier lifestyles, though this will be the year personal devices are used for more than enhancing appearances—industry analysts have deemed 2015 the year of healthcare wearables. As a result, data analytics and predictive technologies will enable more personalized medicine.

With consumer focus shifting from fitness to healthcare, data from wearable devices and their respective mobile health applications (mHealth apps) will be used by physicians to help inform clinical decisions to benefit their patients—and ultimately impact population health. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the number of these solutions will grow by 25 percent per year, and by 2018, 1.7 billion people worldwide will download a health app. However, simply downloading an app doesn’t mean people will use it to track their health. As such, physicians will be key players in encouraging patients to use their wearable devices and apps so they can receive the most targeted care.

Ultimately, the usefulness of wearables will depend on coordinated efforts among vendors, patients, providers and payers.

So, what are some areas where companies are innovating to improve care? Here are a few of the many examples:

  • Blood sugar testing. Apple, Google and Samsung are creating wearable devices to monitor blood sugar without using a needle prick. The need is strong as 29 million Americans suffer from diabetes and the worldwide market for blood sugar monitoring will grow to 12 billion by 2017. Devices include a Google smart contact lens that measures glucose, and Samsung is working to embed future blood sugar monitoring in smart watches.
  • Sudan Infant Death Syndrome and sleep research. Parenting today is vastly more technological than ever before. No longer are moms and dads relying on just baby monitors to hear if their little one is awake. Today, babies can don wearable devices – like anklets from Sproutling or onesies from Mimo – that provide details on heart rate, sleep behavior, skin temperature and movement. In this industry, some companies are interested in sharing the tracked information anonymously with researchers (with permission), which could provide valuable information for clinicians and parents.
  • Overall health. With a plethora of health apps on the market that all monitor niche areas, Apple HealthKit provides a dashboard that integrates health and fitness data so it’s all in one place. This platform allows users to securely and automatically share specific health information with their providers. Additionally, Samsung Electronics launched the Samsung Digital Health Initiative to “bring developers, healthcare professionals, academics and health enthusiasts together to create a healthier world.” Components of the initiative include Simband, a wearable device that gathers diagnostic information, and Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions (S.A.M.I.), a data broker that enables devices like Simband to upload information to the cloud.

As the industry continues to rely on big data and analytics, wearable devices will assuredly become key players in advancing both mHealth and population health. Success will hinge on patient engagement, provider encouragement and the ability for these devices and apps to work together for the greater good.

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