How Wearable Tech is Revolutionizing Healthcare Services

Matthew Zajechowski
Matthew Zajechowski

Guest post by Matt Zajechowski.

Most people are familiar with wearable technology today and how they track information related to health and fitness of the wearer or the person engaging with it. One in five American’s now owns a wearable tech device. The focus on wearable tech is on for both the consumer as well as the health care providers and the health insurance industry.

Susan Hahn-Reizner, who is on the advisory board of Northwestern School of Professional Studies, has put together a comprehensive infographic that looks at how wearable technology is changing the healthcare services industry.

The Current State of Wearables

The use of wearable tech is still in its infancy; however, users are starting to weigh in on both the benefits of wearable technology as well as the unmet expectations that come with it.

The most popular wearable devices in the market are fitness bands and smart watches. On the consumer side of wearable tech, 56 percent of consumers believe the average life expectancy increases at least 10 years because of wearables monitoring vital signs. Forty-six percent of consumers also believe wearable technology can help them to lose weight and maintain a more active lifestyle.

On the flip side there are many unmet expectations that come with wearable technology. Abandonment is a big issue with wearable technology with more than 33 percent of wearable device consumers using the device less or not at all after a year of purchase the device. Another big issue for consumers is privacy and security breaches that come with this technology. Eight-two percent of consumers have concerns because of invasion of privacy and another 86 percent worry that wearables make them more vulnerable to security breaches.

How Health Insurance Companies Are Pushing Wearable Technology to Consumers

The health insurance company Humana began using wearables to reward fitness activities with reduced premiums, gift cards and health devices. A three-year study of employees who participated in this program showed a 44 percent decrease in the number of sick days taken.

BP distributed 16,000 FitBits to its employees as part of a larger healthcare plan for its workforce. This helped to drop corporate healthcare costs well below the national growth rate. Over the course of 25 years, it’s estimated that wearable technology and remote patient monitoring technologies could help to cut hospital costs and save more than $200 billion. As you can see wearables can help to put a huge dent in cutting healthcare costs.

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Helping to Save Lives with the Apple Watch

Those who are familiar with the new Apple smartwatch will know that one of the big focal points for new technology is in healthcare.  The “Health Kit” is already available, but now Apple is releasing its “Research Kit.” The information that is collected via their Apple watch Research Kit will be used by scientists and hospitals around the world to understand better a whole array of health issues, such as diabetes, breast cancer and asthma.

Here, The Smart Phone Company provides some insight into the Apple Watch and its development into the Research Kit.

The Key to Medical Developments

The main thing that scientists are lacking, to help them in the understanding of diseases, is numbers. To be able to see patterns and trends, it is useful to have much data to compare, and this is where the Apple watch Research Kit comes into play. By being able to measure a number of variables from people all over the world, scientists and researches can have the information that they need at their fingertips.

With the new Apple watch Research Kit, researchers will be able to design apps which, using existing Apple technology, allows them to gather data that previously was only available in the lab. It also gives Apple watch users the ability to check up on their own health and see correspondences between activity and diet, and their health.

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Wearable Technology Future is Ripe for Growth, Most Notably among Millennials, Says PwC

Twenty percent of American adults already own a wearable technology device and the adoption rate – on par with tablets in 2012 – is quickly expected to rise, according to PwC’s Consumer Intelligence Series – The Wearable Future report – an extensive U.S. research project that surveyed 1,000 consumers, wearable technology influencers and business executives, as well as monitored social media chatter, to explore the technology’s impact on society and business. In the last three decades, PwC has examined how technological innovation plays an increasingly prominent role in helping brands set themselves apart in their respective industries and how wearable technology can offer brands an opportunity to establish themselves, particularly in the entertainment, media and communications (EMC), health, retail and technology industries. In conjunction with The Wearable Future report, PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) launched a separate report, Health wearables: Early days, further examining consumers’ attitudes and behaviors toward health wearable technology.

While fitness bands, smart watches and other wearables are already established in the market, many of them have under-delivered on expectations. Consider that 33 percent of surveyed consumers who purchased a wearable technology device more than a year ago now say they no longer use the device at all or use it infrequently. Price, privacy, security, and the lack of “actionable” and inconsistent information from such devices are among consumers’ main apprehensions with the bourgeoning category. In fact, 82 percent of respondents were worried that wearable technology would invade their privacy and 86 percent expressed concern that wearables would make them more vulnerable to security breaches.

That said, 53 percent of millennials and 54 percent of early adopters say they are excited about the future of wearable tech. Among the top three potential benefits:

  1. Improved safety: Ninety percent of consumers expressed that the ability for parents to keep children safe via wearable technology is important.
  2. Healthier living: More than 80 percent of consumers listed eating healthier, exercising smarter and accessing more convenient medical care as important benefits of wearable technology.
  3. Simplicity and ease of use: Eighty-three of respondents cited simplification and improved ease of technology as a key benefit of wearable technology.

And for wearable technology to be most valuable to the consumer, it needs to embrace Internet of Things opportunities; transform big data into super data that not only culls, but also interprets information to deliver insights; and take a human-centered design approach, creating a simplified user experience and an easier means to achieve goals.

“Businesses must evolve their existing mobile-first strategy to now include the wearable revolution and deliver perceived value to the consumer in an experiential manner,” said Deborah Bothun, PwC’s U.S. advisory entertainment, media & communications leader. “Relevance is the baseline, but then there is a consumer list of requirements to enable interaction with the brand in a mobile and wearable environment.”

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Health IT Thought Leader Highlight: Tapan Mehta, Cisco

Tapan Mehta
Tapan Mehta

Tapan Mehta, global healthcare lead, Cisco, brings more than 15 years of healthcare information technology, marketing and business development leadership as Cisco’s global healthcare lead. Mehta is responsible for managing the development and marketing efforts for healthcare solutions including clinical workflow improvement, telemedicine, patient safety, regulatory requirements and EHR integration.

Here he discusses the demand for telehealth, the changing role of hospital health IT, wearable technology and patient monitoring and what Cisco is doing to serve its healthcare clients.

Tell me about Cisco and how it serves healthcare.

At Cisco, we see the healthcare industry as ripe for technology disruption. After doing things the same way for years, we think technology can be the catalyst that brings positive changes to how care is delivered. Drawing from our experience as the worldwide networking leader, Cisco is well positioned to help improve the future of healthcare through networked technologies that transform how people connect, access and share information, and collaborate. New healthcare technologies, like those offered by Cisco, benefit everyone – from patients to providers, payers to life sciences organizations.

What is your role, specifically, and what is the most challenging aspect of it?

I have a global marketing role where my team is tasked to develop healthcare specific solutions, go-to-market strategy and field enablement, as well as serve as the “voice of the customer” by bringing the outside-in view to Cisco and its various business groups.  Healthcare is at a very critical inflection point in the industry whereby there are several key underlying currents in areas such as mHealth, telehealth, data analytics, wearables, etc.  While there are several interesting opportunities to pursue, what makes it difficult is to prioritize them as each segment has substantial market opportunity and growth prospects.

What inspires you and does this translate to your leadership style?

Healthcare is very personal. It touches everyone in the society in some shape or form.  I have been in the healthcare space for the past 15 years and I am extremely fortunate that I am in an industry that is going to go through a transformational change over the next decade. Historically, healthcare has fundamentally lagged behind most industries when it comes to technology adoption, but I perceive that changing over the next several years. Healthcare “consumerism,” combined with government mandates around the globe, is going to force the industry to adopt technology if it truly wants to improve quality of patient care and workflows throughout the continuum of care. I am really excited to be part of this healthcare eco-system, whereby I can make a difference in how our customers do their business and more importantly how quality of patient care can be vastly improved.

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Intriguing Predictions by Analyst Firm Gartner that Are Worth a Look by Healthcare Professionals

I’m not unique in that during this time of year I love to take a look at predictions made by some of the industry’s “best” and see if their predictions make sense, are surprising in a good way or if they are surprising in a stupid way.

With that in mind, I came across an interesting piece in Canadian Manufacturing of all places that features several intriguing predictions by analyst firm Gartner that I think are worth a look here as they have peripheral relation to healthcare.

So, here we go. Gartner’s top IT predictions include:

By 2015, big data demand will reach 4.4 million jobs globally, but only one-third of those jobs will be filled. According to the report: “The demand for big data is growing, and enterprises will need to reassess their competencies and skills to respond to this opportunity. Jobs that are filled will result in real financial and competitive benefits for organizations. Note that enterprises need people with new skills—data management, analytics and business expertise and nontraditional skills necessary for extracting the value of big data, as well as artists and designers for data visualization.”

In a market like healthcare, where highly skilled jobs are often difficult to fill, we should understand this prediction to be very true and one not to take too lightly. Some of these job vacancies will be at health system that needs the data to meet federal reporting requirements. The individuals with these skills will have a great deal of clout as they eventually move into the job market.

Employee-owned devices will be compromised by malware at more than double the rate of corporate-owned devices. “Corporate networks will become more like college and university networks, which were the original “bring your own device” (BYOD) environments. Because colleges and universities lack control over students’ devices, they focus on protecting their networks by enforcing policies that govern network access. Gartner believes that enterprises will adopt a similar approach and will block or restrict access for those devices that are not compliant with corporate policies. Enterprises that adopt BYOD initiatives should establish clear policies that outline which employee-owned devices will be allowed and which will be banned.”

BYOD continues to rear its head so don’t be caught unawares. AS Gartner predicts, you must have a plan for mobile device management and personal device use in the workplace. Ignorance is not bliss, in this case, and since employees are currently using their own devices in the healthcare setting where very important personal information can be exposed, develop a policy, stick with it and let your employees know you have one in place. Circulate it!

By 2016, wearable smart electronics in shoes, tattoos and accessories will emerge as a $10-billion industry. “The majority of revenue from wearable smart electronics over the next four years will come from athletic shoes and fitness tracking, communications devices for the ear, and automatic insulin delivery for diabetics. CIOs must evaluate how the data from wearable electronics can be used to improve worker productivity, asset tracking and workflow.”

Healthcare will play a role in how wearable electronics and traceable devices are used to track the health of individuals, especially in outpatient and in-home care. The data from these devices will flow directly into your EHR and become part of the patient record. Physicians will be forced to learn the benefits of these devices and patients are going to need to accept it.

By 2014, market consolidation will displace up to 20 percent of the top 100 IT services providers. “The convergence of cloud, big data, mobility and social media, along with continued global economic uncertainty, will accelerate the restructuring of the $1 trillion IT services market. By 2015, low-cost cloud services will cannibalize up to 15 percent of top outsourcing players’ revenue, and more than 20 percent of large IT outsourcers not investing enough in industrialization and value-added services will disappear through merger and acquisition. CIOs should re-evaluate the providers and types of providers used for IT services, with particular interest in cloud-enabled providers supporting information, mobile and social strategies.”

The prediction smacks of the ongoing discussion about the EHR vendor market and how much longer it can contain the number of players. Certainly, we’re seeing deterioration of this segment now, though it has been expected to erode more quickly than it has. Expect there to be fewer EHR vendors in the next 12 months, and realize that no vendor is too big to fail (see Allscripts). Prepare early and do your due diligence before signing the dotted line.

I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you agree with these predictions and my assessments? What are yours?