Within the next two years, Research Director at Gartner, Alan Antin estimates that 40 percent of large health systems will move from digital health pilot programs to full-scale roll-outs, which is up 17 percent from 2017.
This significant growth is echoed by global research and consulting organisation, Frost & Sullivan, which found that while the worldwide health sector is expected to grow by 4.82 percent this year, technology’s growth within this sector will grow at an unprecedented rate. Healthcare cloud computing will be worth nearly USD 10 billion within three years, and by 2025, 10 percent of the world’s hospitals will be “smart” hospitals, spending more than USD 11 billion in cloud-based technology and data analytics.
From simple step counters, we have seen wearable technology evolve to include heart rate and sleep pattern monitoring as well as patients’ ability to measure blood pressure and other statistics, moving beyond the realms of merely well-being and fitness, and firmly into the field of health.
The shifting responsibility of personal health
Since Fitbit, Garmin and the Apple Watch hit the scene a few years ago, people are ready for more functionality. They trust technology to help guide them to better health, and want to harness the power of wearables and apps to avoid prolonged or unnecessary hospital stays.
More complex apps are emerging, which is firmly giving patients the responsibility for their own well-being and providing a higher level of patient comfort, without compromising the efficiency of an already over-burdened health system. Health data can be uploaded to patients’ smartphones and shared in real time with their relevant care providers, for faster diagnosis and treatment.
Furthermore, with the growth of Internet of Things (IoT) and our increasing reliance on big data, there is a vast potential for patients to use wearable technology to share valuable medical data with their health care providers, enabling real-time diagnosis, interventions and solutions. Information can be cross-referenced with other data sources quickly to give a multi-faceted view of a patient’s physiology.
Changing the paradigm of control
Wearable technology can also put control back in the patient’s hands, allowing them to manage the treatment of complicated diagnoses from home, and in the case of older people, enabling them more independence for longer.
For patients with aged related cognitive illnesses such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s, wearables can prolong their self-sufficiency while also providing peace of mind for loved ones and health care providers. Small tracking devices, embedded in a watch or jewelry can help with “way-finding” when they become disoriented, while wearables can also send reminders to take medication.
In remote areas, a Microsoft HoloLens prototype is already being trialed by aged care provider Silver Chain to provide healthcare in the home for clients in remote regions of Western Australia. The mixed reality headset enables Silver Chain nurses to provide care and advice to patients at home, review and access their care plan and is also worn by patients, for a virtual appointment with their holographic doctor.
Wearables are also making a significant difference in the management of chronic disease. People with diabetes can now actively manage their health in real time, with continuous glucose monitoring (CGM). CGM systems can provide real-time, dynamic glucose information every five minutes via a 14-day sensor inserted subcutaneously. It will provide patients with up to 288 readings per 24 hours providing valuable insight into their glucose levels, rate and direction of change to proactively manage their condition. Data can also be shared with their clinician where treatment modifications may be required, expediting the treatment process.
Wearables and Apps are now also giving patients the power to know if they are predisposed to chronic disease. For example, The Scripps Research Institute has released Scripps MyGeneRank, which enables users to connect to genetic testing and analysis company, 23andMe’s API, and in conjunction with ResearchKit data, they can identify a 10-year risk score for a heart attack or other coronary disease. Users can then add their own behavioural risk factors to see how lifestyle choices could reduce their risk.
Australian health insurer Medibank undertook research earlier this year that demonstrates receiving in-home (vs hospital) care can deliver as good, or better, results for patients, can alleviate stress for both the patient and their support network, and can also decrease the risk of hospital readmission. The company’s study showed additional stress factors with patients getting to and from the hospital (i.e. cost, transport and parking) with 67 percent of its study respondents citing it as a significant stressor.
It seems that patients are increasingly more comfortable to have control of their own health and wellbeing and that clinicians are similarly in favour of that approach. Wearable technology is enabling both parties to have a full overview of patient health, ensuring it is monitored and addressed in real time, while ensuring that patients can avoid lengthy or unnecessary hospital visits and have control over their data and ultimate health.