When you think about the role of technology in healthcare, the first things that probably come to mind are new treatment methods, fancy diagnostic equipment, and so on. However, we are likely standing on the threshold of a complete transformation of the healthcare industry by something that, at a glance, looks much humbler: wearables that merely provide doctors with information about their patients.
John Hancock, one of the most prominent North American insurers, stated in late 2018 that it intends to stop selling traditional life insurance and will instead adopt interactive policies that track fitness and health data via wearable devices and smartphones. This means the health status of every client will be tracked and considered when the company determines the risks associated with the individual’s lifestyle and habits. Clients with habits associated with shorter lifespans (e.g., smoking, low levels of physical activity, unhealthy diet) will have to pay higher premiums. In the long run, this affects not just the insurance industry but healthcare as well, as clients are incentivized to adopt healthier lifestyles, thus decreasing the strain on healthcare.
Remote patient monitoring
While a small smartwatch isn’t as accurate as a full-scale electrocardiograph with 12 electrodes, it has a significant advantage: you can wear it all day, every day. Measuring pulse throughout the day across a wide range of activities is far from the only health measurement a smartwatch can provide. The more data these devices gather, the greater the possibility for healthcare to establish a preventive model that interprets patient data and calls for treatment before a crisis.
The wide adoption of wearables that track patients’ health stats enables the collection of huge amounts of data that can be used to establish patterns with the help of AI and machine learning. The system will be able to use the data collected from each individual to predict potential health problems before they arise, allowing for cheaper and more effective preventive measures, as opposed to treating a disease when it is in full swing.
Patients tend to forget or forgo taking their medications for many reasons. Wearables can alert people when it is time to take their meds, track when they take them, and inform doctors when they don’t adhere to the prescribed regimen. As a result, medical professionals can monitor how strictly their patients follow instructions at home.
More complete information
Normally, doctors have very limited information about their cases. They have to rely on what patients report about their symptoms and the onset of the illness (data which is often incomplete or imprecise) and the patients’ medical history based on their previous interactions (which, again, may be limited). A wearable device collects all of a patient’s data in real time, it doesn’t make mistakes or forget to report an important symptom. As a result, a doctor gets an exhaustive report on the patient’s condition over time and can make a more thorough analysis, leading to more informed and optimal decision-making.
Widescale adoption of expensive wearables and accompanying tech may look like a significant investment, but it can save healthcare millions of dollars in the long run. These devices allow doctors to track their patients’ conditions at a distance, often eliminating the need to transfer them to a medical facility. Recognizing symptoms at an early stage allows for less expensive treatments.
These applications for wearables in the healthcare industry are still in their infancy, but we are likely to see this market grow at a breakneck pace in the coming years.