Health wearables: maximize their value and adoption

Health wearables: maximize their value and adoption

November 5, 2020

Inga Shugalo

Healthcare Analyst

The health wearables market seems to be thriving in the present pandemic. MarketsandMarkets predicts its steady growth at a CAGR of 20.5% between 2020 and 2025. Moreover, the global market is to reach $46.6bn by the end of the forecast period.

Wearable healthcare devices market

But why are wearables and the accompanying healthcare app development on the rise now, when many industries are going through a rough patch? We’ll explore the matter below.

Defining health wearables

There is a whole range of wearables including activity trackers, representing a key embodiment of AI in sports, smart bands, smart clothing, smart glasses, smart headphones, smart watches, and virtual reality headsets. But are they all relevant to healthcare? They are, as long as they support the two main healthcare purposes, which are treatment and prevention. Let’s see how wearable devices fit in.

Wearables for remote patient monitoring

One of the implementations of the internet of medical things (IoMT), remote patient monitoring (RPM) helps provide quality care at a distance and intervene timely to avoid health crises. As a rule, RPM tools are particularly helpful for patients with chronic conditions, the elderly, and those recently discharged from a hospital. In the latter case, monitoring a patient’s vitals may help prevent relapses and harmful health incidents. But how do they work?

A device designed for remote patient monitoring measures vitals, stores the measured data, and transmits it to the authorized provider. Besides, these devices can send specific emergency alerts to providers, caregivers, and/or family members when the measured parameter hits the highest or lowest limit.

A wearables-based remote health monitoring system

RPM devices are of great help for chronic-condition patients, that is for about 160 million people in the US only, according to the 2019 National Health Council Report. These tools help patients obtain quality care at home, eliminate manual data collection and entry, and allow clinicians to focus on readings to get more insights into a patient’s health and the likelihood of a complication.

Along with telehealth solutions, RPM tools have proved efficient amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. RPM software was offered to patients experiencing coronavirus symptoms at M Health Fairview, a healthcare network from Minnesota. The software became part of their COVID-19 crisis resolution program that also provided patients with educational materials and the opportunity to discuss their symptoms and concerns with a doctor without exposure for both parties. This RPM tool was recognized as a helpful method of managing the infection at home, and about 75% of patients stated they would recommend their doctors to their relatives and friends.

Providence Saint Joseph Health (WA, US) made RPM tools a part of their COVID-19 strategy, too. If a patient has some virus symptoms but is well enough to recover at home, clinicians give them a thermometer and an oximeter connected to the digital platforms run by the Providence clinicians.

Clinicians say COVID-19 recovery may be a roller coaster with some symptoms coming and going. On their own, patients can hardly be sure whether the symptoms signal a relapse or it’s a temporary ailment. For this matter, connected RPM tools make an efficient assistant allowing patients to interact with healthcare professionals to clear their doubts or get another treatment.

It gives patients peace of mind knowing that they are being monitored and can quickly convey any changes in their status to our COVID team.

Dr. Michele Ritter

Dr. Michele Ritter

MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Infectious Disease Specialist, UC San Diego Health

What’s more, RPM tools can prove to be an efficient patient engagement technology. By using RPM devices and interacting with clinicians, patients learn how to manage their health on their own. This may induce patient engagement and power the transition from reactive to preventive healthcare. Last but not least, wearables are an essential part of such an industry-wide process as digital transformation in healthcare. Their adoption allows patients to obtain due care right wherever they are via preferred means of communication.

Self-monitoring mHealth solutions

Compared to remote patient monitoring solutions much used in telehealth, the center of an mHealth app is the consumer, with doctors left out of the picture. These apps help their users collect any data with the help of sensors via a preferred mobile device (smartphone, tablet, or other), monitor it, and track the trends. With mHealth apps, users go for self-care without clinicians’ assistance. They only connect with their providers in case they detect some unclear or disturbing trends.

So if consumers don’t need clinicians’ assistance in their health management, why should providers bother with custom mHealth app development?

In fact, these apps bring benefits to healthcare providers as well. First of all, users learn to manage their health independently, so they are more likely to become engaged patients. Besides, according to the 2019 Gallup Poll Social Services: Health and Healthcare survey, about 50% of the US adult participants have used an mHealth app at least once, and over 80% of them believe the tools are helpful.

Secondly, you can extend the functionality of an mHealth app and turn it into a remote monitoring tool. Of course, the number of sensors a smartphone or a tablet has is limited, but this will do for some conditions. According to the researchers from the Queensland University of Technology (Brisbane, Australia), such mobile health apps can help with monitoring anxiety, neurological conditions, and respiratory and dermatological disorders.

Some wearables’ efficiency in tracking treatment adherence exceeds that of doctors’ control. This is the case with the Proteus platform, an integrated tuberculosis care management system. It includes a pill with an ingestible sensor, an mHealth wearable, and a monitoring device. The tool’s vs a clinician’s efficiency in tracking patients’ treatment adherence was reported to be 93% vs 63% respectively.

mHealth apps also find their use in the present turbulent situation. In 2020, Harvard University experts looked into the potential use of mHealth apps in mitigating the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The experts found out the tools could be used to monitor self-isolating patients with mild symptoms at home and address health deterioration timely. What’s more, a combination of an app with self-reporting capabilities and an app that measures and records health parameters can help clinicians predict disease outbreaks and start preparations in advance.

Health wearables in therapy

Monitoring is not the only thing health wearables can do. They may actually be used as part of therapy, such as for stroke recovery, mental conditions, as well as some chronic diseases, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and more.

Stroke rehabilitation is a tough process, and health wearables can help alleviate it. For example, the RAPAEL rehab platform by Neofect helps restore hand movements after a stroke. It is a smart glove helping visualize hand movements with the help of connected sensors. The glove offers over 40 gamified exercises allowing patients to perform some day-to-day activities (such as cutting meat or bread):

Virtual reality wearables can also be an important part of mental condition treatment. In 2019, researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina (Charleston, US) introduced a VR-powered wearable device that allows a patient to share their personal PTSD experience with their clinician. The device not only captures images but also monitors heart rate and sweat gland activity. Integrated with a smartphone, it allows patients to talk to their doctors and have their company when evoking a traumatic experience.

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Driving adoption rates up

How to convince your patients that health wearables are more than your common fitness trackers?

Ensuring adoption of health gadgets takes two steps:

  • Psychographic segmentation of your patients
  • Personal discussion of the digital tools with patients

Psychographic segmentation

Unlike demographic segmentation that relies on socioeconomic factors (age, gender, occupation, etc.), psychographics looks into cognitive aspects driving human behavior. It explores such parameters as frequent activities, interests, and opinions (AOIs), emotional responses, prejudices, and more. The key goal of psychographic segmentation is to divide customers’ behavior into several groups and design messages and marketing campaigns to appeal to each of them. Quite often, marketers don’t limit themselves to psychographics only and employ demographic factors to create complete and informative customer profiles.

This approach has proven useful in healthcare. In 2019, PatientBond undertook a nationwide healthcare consumer study, which looked into healthcare technology and wearables among other topics. To come up with their psychographic segmentation model, the team interviewed more than 4,000 US adults, who were to agree or disagree with the statements provided. The study revealed five distinct groups of patients:

A psychographic patient segmentation model

Following their methodology, PatientBond offers to use three communication tools to appeal to patients in each segment:

  • Email for Self Achievers
  • A digital platform for Balance Seekers and Priority Jugglers
  • Interactive voice response for Direction Takers and Willful Endurers

However, even a carefully targeted offer might not be sufficient to fuel the adoption of health wearables, so it’s better to take precautions and proceed with the second step.

Spreading the word

In view of the new trends in health technology adoption spurred by the pandemic, Accenture reconsidered their 2020 Digital Health Consumer Survey. The team came to a surprising conclusion: 55% of the surveyed patients claimed they would manage their health proactively if a trusted clinician motivated them. At the same time, only 11% of the surveyed reported their doctors recommended a relevant health technology. These statistics give some food for thought.

It’s common knowledge that doctors suffer from overload and, with new technologies in the picture, the load only increases. Clinicians have to spend some more time to learn how to use them and introduce them into their professional routine. So is it that doctors need to advertise digital tools beyond their daily duties? Not really. Clinicians can do it during a face-to-face or virtual appointment, taking a cooperative approach and educating patients about the gadgets available and the data they track.

You can discuss the different devices and apps that may be available with your patients and make decisions together about what makes sense. When you discuss with them what kind of data they could be tracking, either to share with you or to use for self-management, you have an opportunity to explain what these data points mean and where they can be helpful.

Dr. Ida Sim

Dr. Ida Sim

MD, PhD, a Primary Care Physician, Professor of Medicine, University of California

Points to bear in mind

It’s true there are some concerns surrounding health wearables. First of all, they collect sensitive personal data, which makes them vulnerable to hacking attacks. Besides, they are connected 24/7, and not all connections are safely sealed from malicious intruders either. Therefore, it’s for the provider and the wearables vendor to take extra steps and ensure the devices don’t leak any PHI.

Vendors should ensure data transmission is secured. One of the ways to do it is by creating unique digital signatures for connected devices and enabling encrypted communication between them with private keys. Companies that market wearables should also run penetration testing to have security loopholes identified and patched on time. It’s also recommended that clinicians and patients take some precautions. They can monitor their device behavior to detect suspicious activities, for instance, a sudden increase in the volume of mobile data transmitted. It would also be wise to avoid public Wi-Fi networks and access the internet in secure environments only.

Wrapping up

Though health wearables are not at the top of the list of life-saving inventions, they do have a say in the transition from reactive to preventive care. Health wearables are beneficial not only for self-management but also for care provision. They are valuable data sources that provide insights into each patient’s health trends and allow doctors to personalize treatments and management strategies. Besides, wearables help ensure uninterrupted care delivery in turbulent times like the present pandemic. What’s more, the data collected with wearables allows providers to reduce care delivery costs and improve inventory management, avoiding unnecessary hospitalizations with quality at-home care. Health wearables do pose some security issues, but they are manageable when treated in due time.