Research in September 2014 predicted that wearable technology sales were likely to top $53 billion by 2019 and that more than 100 million devices would ship by 2017. Smart healthcare providers and plans have already realized that this trend simply can’t be ignored — nor should it.
The wearable tech promise
Wearable technologies, also known as portable medical devices (PMDs), offer a promising new way for patients and physicians to monitor and react to health data. As one recent analysis in the journal Design, User Experience, and Usability put it:
“PMDs play a critical role in health management that can lead to reduced pressure on the healthcare system, curtail unhealthy habits, improve adherence to medical regimes, increase likelihood of improved lifestyle choices and enhance the ongoing experience of health management …. PMDs enable people to be acutely aware of and monitor their health and wellbeing virtually at any time in any given context.”
Unlike a root canal or colonoscopy, patients actually like their wearables. A survey by The Guardian found that 82% of American wearables users felt their tech enhanced their lives and 63% said wearable tech improved their fitness. Without a doubt, this trend isn’t going anywhere. As noted in the Design, User Experience, and Usability analysis, “advances in technology, the pressure to reduce public health costs and the desire to make health solutions accessible to a wider patient base are contributing to the growth of the [portable medical device] market.”
A universal tool to access wearables’ data
Certainly, many healthcare players understand the importance of integrating their patients’ favorite devices, but that doesn’t mean they know how. Some attempt to appeal to members by offering a specific wearable device with an app that can track the wearable’s data. The problem is no single tool appeals to every consumer, nor is one device relevant to every condition. Your diabetic user wants to track blood sugar, your CHF patient monitors blood pressure, and the bulk of your population just wants kudos for being more active.
The solution, contrary to popular belief, is not simply to offer a dozen different programs for each disease state, nor is it to buy or build a smartphone app that connects directly to one heart rate monitor, one pedometer, one glucose monitor, ad nauseam. Rather, the solution is integration into a network that intakes data from all of the top trackers on the market and distributes it to whatever smartphone app the patient wants. This is absolutely essential in order to satisfy an ever more savvy healthcare consumer.
As noted by the government’s Health Information Technology office, the healthcare ecosystem should, “make the right information available to the right people at the right times, across products and organizations, to help individuals make fully informed decisions about their health and healthcare and to help healthcare providers deliver safe, effective care” (emphasis is our own).
Fortunately, this network that collects devices’ data right on consumers’ smartphones isn’t a theoretical solution. It exists and is already baked into the top smartphones on the market — Android and iOS devices come with Google Fit and Apple Health (respectively) pre-installed. This is why we’ve chosen to integrate directly with these platforms, rather than individual providers, and we strongly recommend this solution for all of our customers.
Overcoming the tech hurdles
Since data isn’t tied to a single manufacturer’s ecosystem, healthcare software developers face a more important challenge, or rather several important challenges:
- Data isn’t the commodity. We believe that guidance and motivation are far more valuable than data alone. Once you’ve got data to tell you where you are, the real benefit is having a solution that will help you get to where you want to be. Data in a vacuum doesn’t keep users engaged long-term. The healthcare industry needs to offer more. Noom is on the forefront of the transition to tech-assisted coaching over pure data.
- What about privacy? Certainly, the collection and distribution of medical data on a smartphone raises many questions about HIPAA compliance about which thousands of words have already been written and no definite conclusions have been drawn. Suffice it to say, through careful permissioning and security measures, HIPAA should not be a barrier to participation in the Apple Health/Google Fit ecosystem.
- What about EMRs? As medical professionals have known for years now, the electronic medical record industry faces a slew of technological challenges of its own, of which, wearable tech and smartphone adoption represent only a small fraction. It’s an industry ripe for disruption, which we expect to see shift over the coming years.
Taking your data one step further
It’s our opinion that questions surrounding EMRs and HIPAA are likely to be solved with standardized best practices across the industry. It’s the first challenge — the need to offer valuable guidance and motivation based on wearables’ data — that offers the best opportunity for players who want to excel. The promise of wearables is clear: Physicians may soon be able to see exactly what their patient is up to, even when they’re not in the office.
However, as long as we focus on the tracking of data as the most important part of the equation, we miss our best chance to radically change the role of technology in healthcare. Physicians don’t need to just see what patients are doing, they need that data efficiently analyzed for them, and they need an alert when the patient is in trouble.
Likewise, patients don’t need a dashboard that just shows them how many steps they’ve walked in the past week. They need to understand their habits on a larger scale, how they’re doing in the grand scheme of things. And they need automated reminders and motivation, so they can correct behaviors before their doctor even needs to step in. This potential for significant improvement is why we’ve focused nearly a decade’s worth of software development, research, and user testing specifically on technology-assisted health coaching.