Wearables: Platforms for health innovation

The last five years have given rise to a wearable technology renaissance driven by the promise of the platform. Digital wearable devices with embedded platforms, such as Fitbit, Apple Watch and Microsoft Band, allow for two-way communication between the wearable and another device, such as a smartphone.

For consumers, the platform approach to wearables allows them to configure and update their devices continuously. It also enables device manufacturers to add new functionality in real time without requiring the user to purchase a new device. In addition, third-party software developers can transmit data to and/or from the wearable device or smartphone in order to enhance consumer experience with insights, capabilities and services. In doing so, the platform has shifted wearable devices from producing finite data to delivering continuous data, in just a few years.

Mainstream wearables today are seen primarily as lifestyle devices, sported by cultural icons ranging from Beyoncé to President Obama. However, because of the extensibility of platforms, additional functionality is giving rise to new features possible that make these devices not only powerful tools that deliver relevant health insights to consumers, but also tools of convenience for an on-demand, on-the-go population. Consider that the Samsung Gear S2 and Apple Watch can now both be used to make payments in retail stores and receive text messages or emails, and the Garmin vívoactive HR and Microsoft Band automatically track your golf stroke count, location on the golf course, and your distance to the cup.

While it may seem texting and payment features add little value for healthcare, these new features actually create a compelling user experience that consumers want to interact with daily. As a result, wearable device manufacturers are accomplishing something that healthcare has struggled with for decades: engagement. And because these engaging devices contain sensors that track health, wearables are helping drive the consumerization of healthcare. A 2016 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that 45 percent of U.S. consumers, ages 18-65, own a fitness band and 57 percent said they are excited about the future of wearable technology as a part of their everyday lives.1

Thanks to the platform approach, wearable devices have shed the reputation of simple, connected pedometers, and healthcare providers are seeing applicability beyond step data. Longitudinal activity data, sleep measurements, and heart rate values — all standard offerings on wearable devices — detail important information for patients with heart failure, diabetes, arrhythmia and more. Wearables in the coming years will contain sensors that collect even more biometric data streams. Combined with the ability for providers to send real-time feedback to patients based on these data streams, wearable platforms are in the front and center of the patient-focused healthcare revolution.

Many healthcare providers are excited for the use of wearables in daily and remote care of patient populations. However, leveraging data from wearables within the health system challenges current care conventions and physician workflows. It isn't realistic for clinicians to monitor, process and act on the mountains of data patients generate across multiple devices from dozens of manufacturers. Instead, the solution is to present the data to clinicians in a simple, contextual feed to ensure that the right actions are taken at the right time. In order to do this, work must be done to help clinicians understand which data are important and under what circumstances.

One example of an effective and comprehensive device data workflow is presented in Sutter Health's remote monitoring program for patients with hypertension. Patients in the program use a wearable device, blood pressure monitor and weight scale that feed data into the hospital's electronic health record (EHR). Each morning, care coordinators review a dashboard of their patients. The dashboard uses color-coded alerts (red, yellow, green) to identify how thousands of patients are responding to treatment at a glance. This strategy allows care teams to focus resources on patients who need attention now, which is not possible in a call center care coordination model.

Clinical applications of wearable devices are still in development; however, the market is maturing rapidly. Data from these consumer-first devices will add more value for patient care as wearable platforms mature and as improved sensors and functionality are added. As healthcare continues to move towards a value-based care system and places more emphasis on the patient experience, providers must look to the future and focus on the opportunities afforded by actionable data collected from an engaged patient population.

Drew Schiller is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Validic, the industry's leading digital health platform provider.

1 http://www.healthcare-informatics.com/article/new-pwc-survey-looks-explosion-consumer-adoption-wearables-now-what-are-implications

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[1] http://www.healthcare-informatics.com/article/new-pwc-survey-looks-explosion-consumer-adoption-wearables-now-what-are-implications

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