Disruption is coming to a healthcare provider near you. Telemedicine, artificial intelligence (AI), interoperability, data analytics and mobile data are poised to have a major impact in the healthcare space.
Each a powerful disruptor on its own, these advancements all come together in a single technology that stands to have a multiplier effect on digital transformation efforts underway across healthcare: medical wearables. From smartwatches to baby wearables and smart jewelry, medical wearables are aiding the move to a value-based care system, one that shifts the point of care from the doctor’s office to the patient’s home.
What’s Fueling the Shift Toward Value-Based Care
With consumer costs rising, it’s no surprise that patients want more from their healthcare. Demand has shifted in favor of a digital, customer-first healthcare experience, while at the same time, federal programs like Medicare have created new payment models that reimburse organizations based on the quality, not the quantity, of the care they provide.
Value-based care models are increasing in prevalence as a result, with a seven-fold increase in the number of value-based care programs across the U.S. in the past five years. These models also tend to reduce the overall cost of care. A recent study comparing patients on a value-based care model with those on a traditional fee-for-service model found that value-based care decreased costs by 12 percent while increasing measurement of the clinical criteria for quality care by 10 percent.
But payers and providers alike face a difficult challenge when it comes to value-based care: chronic conditions make up more than 90 percent of the U.S.’ massive $3.3 trillion annual healthcare spending bill, and patients with chronic conditions are readmitted at a higher rate and utilize more healthcare resources. Without a strategy to improve quality of care and reduce costs for these patients, payers and providers face substantial barriers to the successful adoption of value-based care.
Our current pandemic has also spurred ideas for potential use cases. The ability to test for underlying symptoms, such as heart rate variability and sleep quality, can be used as indicators of infection, prompting the user to go get tested for COVID-19. Early detection can help patients seek out a doctor before they’re overwhelmed by the disease.
Mobilize Care with Medical Wearables
In an environment in which 6 in 10 American adults live with a chronic illness, healthcare organizations must remove care from emergency rooms, where it’s expensive and palliative, and improve healthcare access in patients’ homes, where it’s more affordable and preventative. New medical wearable devices can easily expand care options beyond the walls of the ER and doctor’s office, removing limits posed by scheduling challenges or provider availability, while also affording patients round-the-clock preventative care.
For patient populations dealing with chronic conditions, wearables are a way to change their behavior for the better. With a wide range of applications for medical wearables, interventions can include:
- Incentivizing exercise and weight loss
- Sleep monitoring
- Medication adherence
- Nutritional counseling and tracking
- Heart rate monitoring
- Monitoring blood sugar levels
These new devices typically go everywhere with the patients who wear them, and they’re nearly always on. Medical wearables can collect real-time data on everything from exercise levels (via heart rate monitors and movement trackers) to electrical signals in your heart (via electrocardiogram monitoring). They can also offer greater convenience. By sharing data via the cloud, as some wearables do, patients no longer need to return wearables for data processing, and they can reduce the number of appointments needed for testing.
Popular wearables on the market now include:
- The Apple Watch Series 5, which is FDA-approved for fall detection and heart monitoring.
- The Owlet, a smart sock that can track a baby’s heart rate, oxygen levels and sleep.
- The Bellabeat Leaf Urban, a smart fitness and sleep tracker that looks like a necklace or bracelet and requires a charge just once every six months.
In addition to being highly transportable, these devices make health data extremely personal. Almost everyone knows someone who became invested in meeting their daily step or exercise goals after getting a FitBit or Apple Watch – imagine that same level of patient engagement when addressing some of the most expensive chronic conditions, like diabetes or asthma.
Recently, insurance startup Devoted Health became the first Medicare Advantage plan to subsidize the cost of an Apple Watch, in the hopes that it will incentivize plan participants to keep better track of their health and prevent the development of chronic illnesses.
Bringing Digital Advances Together
Medical wearables both maximize and depend on technologies like AI, electronic health records, cloud computing and analytics. To create cohesive, impactful patient experiences that improve patient outcomes, healthcare organizations will have to build a technology environment that thoughtfully unites them. Payers and providers that do so will emerge as market leaders in the new, value-based care world.
VP, Healthcare Solutions